Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? (2008) dir. Morgan Spurlock
Morgan Spurlock’s “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?” arrives on DVD this week. His easy-going and accessible style fits in well with his new topic of discussion, 9/11 politics. The story is framed around his futile ‘search’ for Osama Bin Laden, but in doing so we get us a surprisingly frank and informative lesson on 'the war on terror' from all sides of the conflict.
Like “Super Size Me” before he gets going, Spurlock tells us what his journey is and shows us the preparations required. It makes for a great sequence as Spurlock learns about survivalist training in case he’s kidnapped, interrogated, or caught in a gunfight. His poor wife is once again part of the story, this time she's pregnant and has to go through pre-natal procedures alone while Spurlock's off combing the globe for terrorists.
Spurlock's agenda includes travelling to 5 different Islamic countries if not to discover where Bin Laden's hiding, then to get a sense of how the war on terror is viewed by the rest of the world. He goes to Tunisia, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia. Each country is different, some liberal and laid back, some up tight and strict. Spurlock reveals many misconceptions about attitudes towards America, which hopefully could filter up to the American government and help make the world a safer place.
Morgan Spurlock makes his documentaries like he was dared into them. He's able to connect his audience to his subject matter because his discoveries are our discoveries, which allows us to learn about big business, international politics, war, science and all other topics from his point of view. A cinematic guinea pig of sorts. Important to this technique is his image - his printed t-shirts, his ironically stylish handle-bar moustache, and a regular domestic life which often comes into conflict with his work.
In Hollywood terms, he’s the ‘everyman’ character. A regular guy, like you or I, put into extraordinary dramatic situations. Jimmy Stewart was that guy, Harrison Ford was that guy. Morgan Spurlock is that guy. Michael Moore used to be that guy too. Arguably Moore’s schtick doesn’t hold as much weight as it did ten years ago.
What Spurlock has over Moore, aside from youth and good looks, is what appears to be a neutral point of view. Perhaps it's a façade, but before he embarks on his journeys both in “Super Size Me” and this film, we never get the sense of an agenda, or proselytizing or manipulation. In this film Spurlock’s journey stems from a genuine curiosity about what people in Islamic countries think of America, Americans and its ‘war on terror’.
Ironically Spurlock experiences the greatest hostility in Israel when he tries to ask the same questions he's asked everybody to some orthodox Jews on the street. Of course, Israel is an American-backed country, and one of the reasons for the fundamentalist backlash against America. The mere presence of Spurlock and his cameras causes a major incident of conflict against the crew. There’s no faking the fear and shock on Spurlock’s face at the resentment.
Contrast against these moments is a common man’s comic sensibility. Spurlock uses animation and fun videogame-like graphics to visualize the important information. Like a mother who gives her child the nasty medicine disguised with some yummy ice cream, Spurlock purposely avoids all intellectual barriers from the discussion and gives us the statistics and information with a healthy chaser of humour.
Spurlock makes difficult subject matter fun and exciting. He'd make a good schoolteacher, and most certainly a great dad. The denouement offers us a wonderful moment for Spurlock, a newborn child of his own born into a complex and often contradictory world he's continually trying to make sense of. Enjoy.
"Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?" is available on DVD from Alliance Films