Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

The first time we met Morgan Spurlock was with Super Size Me, an “insightful” study of the ill effects of fast food when eaten 3 times a day, every day, for thirty days. Although I am still not sure that a full-length documentary was needed to state his obvious thesis, I am the first one to admit that his stylistic blend between Michael Moore’s discourse and Jackass’ sensationalistic display of masochism was entertaining. Now, Spurlock is back with his new documentary Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden. Always ready to compromise the warmth of his household and his wife’s psychological welfare, Spurlock decides, on the brink of welcoming his first child to the world, to go on a worldwide hunt for the infamously persecuted and notorious Osama Bin Laden.

From the very beginning of the movie, Spurlock does not hesitate to bring forth matters of East versus West with a stroke of hilarity and insanity. As the movie introduces the self-imposed scapegoat’s new mission, the viewers’ senses are bombarded with a computer animated title sequence simulating a fighting game (much like Mortal Kombat), featuring Spurlock and Bin Laden as opponents using their turbans, moustaches and “terror rain” as ammunition. We are then shown Spurlock’s laughable boot camp training on the eve of his big oriental trip, which consists of simulating hostage situations, grenade and sniper attacks and learning how to shoot firearms; a sequence that does little besides making everyone involved in the process look like rednecks playing Cowboys and Indians. At that point the question in my mind was not whether Spurlock’s discourse was appropriate or not, but mostly whether I was watching a documentary or a mockumentary as the lines between both were increasingly getting blurred. That being said, while questioning the movie’s relevance as well as the filmmakers’ mental sanity, I could not help but laugh wholeheartedly.

It is not before Spurlock actually sets foot in the Middle East that the subject matter becomes more substantial – relatively speaking of course. Making his way through Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, Spurlock’s quest to find Bin Laden is gradually dissuaded by the discourse of the bystanders he accosts. His campy demure is humbled as he slowly grasps the gravity of the situation in the Middle East and realizes that the Arab world is filled with three-dimensional people with varying political opinions. In the end, Spurlock’s witch hunt for Bin Laden becomes but a subplot as his tainted eyes are opened to a much more complex reality of the war on terror.

Although his catharsis is far from being a revelation to most of the viewers who will see this film, his tenacity to face the Arab world and ask its people questions most politicians would never dare to ask is commendable. Spurlock’s ability to seek people’s true opinions about the current political climate, no matter how authoritarian the regime they live in can be, is definitely rewarding and inspiring, despite the ephemeral nature of the conversations. On a more factual note, Spurlock does sometimes (albeit rarely) manage to break new grounds, as he becomes one of the few to tackle the taboo that is Saudi Arabia, branding it as an extremely conservative and religious state, but mostly as one of the last places left in the Arab world that can inconsequentially harbor terrorists. Moreover, he puts forth interesting theories, including one stating that the Western military presence in the Middle East, notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted, as they could not otherwise attack the Western world on Western land.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden is far from being an intellectual or informative documentary. On the other hand, Spurlock’s film, unlike Michael Moore’s, does not seem to have an agenda. There are no anti-bush or anti-Muslim fundamentalist tirades, only real people of all kinds stating their real opinions about real issues, which is refreshing considering the state of the media these days. Spurlock does resort to stating the obvious once again with his sophomore effort, but sometimes stating the obvious is what people need to put things back into perspective. Most people are so hung up in politics that they forget the simple things that truly matter; notably that with dialogue comes peace. Although mostly unsubstantial, goofy and over-the-top, this documentary’s more subtle instances are quite inspiring.

Review by Ralph Arida