Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, or Borat 2, was released on Oct 23, 2020, 14 years after the original in 2006.
Both films have a similar basic premise: a fictional Kazakhstani journalist known as Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) enters the United States to essentially stir the socio-political pot in both. Both Borat movies are intended as comedic mockumentaries, poking fun at or exposing certain aspects of American culture. Both are relevant to the time they were released, using timely real-world events and people to both evoke laughs and thought. The main change in the sequel was getting real-world events and people relevant in 2020, instead of 2006. But what does this mean for the movie? How does the popular culture of the current year impact a movie like this compared to the pop culture of 2006’s influence on the original?
To answer this question, let’s first look at Borat 1. The film does not follow a traditional plot format, opting instead for a clear beginning and end and filling the middle with events that only relate to each other with the inclusion of the title character, Borat, their tendency to deal with offensive, frowned-upon, or otherwise “taboo”, and an overall focus on anything pop culture. There are two ways the movie can be seen, basically: as a funny and thought-provoking look into American culture, or as a racist, misleading failure. At the time of release, there were critics on both sides of the fence, and that is because Borat is a film that does not pull any punches. It went all-in on the offensiveness, often making jokes at the behest of Jewish people, even blaming them for 9/11, portrays Kazakhstan in a negative enough light that the country attempted to sue Cohen, and portrays the American populace as unwitting and, in a word, stupid.
At the same time, though, the film is clearly making a statement about negative beliefs that certain people hold and is not portraying these beliefs in a positive light. Random Americans are often interviewed throughout the film, who give their honest and uncut opinions on aspects of pop culture, which is often offensive. There is even a scene in which the title character performs a song about fixing his country by eliminating Jewish people, and he gets a crowd full of real people to chant “Throw the Jew down the well!”. Aside from trying to be offensively funny, this scene is offering insight into these real attitudes that real people hold, whether it be Borat’s representation of feelings toward Jewish people in Kazakhstan or the feelings of certain Americans. Despite these sometimes heavy issues that the film tackles, it overall maintains a very light and satirical tone, which almost makes the social commentary more impactful when the viewer has to look past the veneer of a comedy and actually think about the topics it raises.
Next, observe Borat 2. This time around, a more cohesive story is followed, as Borat is released from a gulag after the first movie failed in-universe to deliver the Kazakhstan Minister of Culture, a monkey named Johnny, to U.S. President Donald Trump. Immediately in this more traditional kind of story, the current-day implications are clear. Consider the time the movie was released, less than 2 weeks before the U.S. Presidential Election – Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and members of the Republican Party are frequently discussed and sometimes shown. In a particular scene that went viral after the movie’s release, current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani is caught on film seemingly touching himself in the presence of Borat’s daughter, Tutar, who is posing as a journalist, all in service of Borat convincing Trump to respect his country. Based on Trump’s alleged history with sexual assault, the implications are clear, and despite Guiliani’s claim afterward that he “felt good about myself that he (Cohen) didn’t get me”, the unscripted sequence speaks for itself.
Speaking of Borat’s daughter, she is a setup for another issue the film tackles: gender oppression. In certain countries and cultures, including Borat’s depicted culture, women are still oppressed and discriminated against for simply being a woman, and Tutar is no exception. She eventually dismisses Borat and sets off on her own, and although the methods through which she realizes her independence are displayed comically, there is still a clear message being made, strengthened further when Tutar becomes a reporter covering a women’s rights march in Washington. In fact, a whole different topic also arises during this segment, with Tutar claiming that the Holocaust was fake and that she had learned this information from Facebook, taking an obvious jab at fake news and a self-parodying one at antisemitism, much like the first movie. Coronavirus is also a common gag in the film, with an absolutely insane plot twist near the end that Borat himself is actually patient zero and his travels are the reason for the spread of COVID-19. These are examples of where some issues are taken lightly, as in only included for a joke, and some are treated with some level of seriousness. Overall, the second film focuses more on the former than the latter.
So with all that said, back to the original question: how does pop culture at the time change the way a socio-political comedy mockumentary is made? There are several differences that have been pointed out so far. The first film frequently interviews random Americans for their uncensored opinions, but the second film does not- perhaps there was fear of violence, as America is experiencing more and more civil unrest and political separation. Borat 1 was generally less specific in mocking people and situations, while Borat 2 centered directly on hot modern day talking points like the Trump administration, Coronavirus, fake news, and the like. However, despite the more specific nature potentially sounding like the film could be more of a serious documentary, it actually seemed to be played for laughs more than the original, in which almost every scene and joke appeared to have a statement being made behind it.
In terms of quality, both movies are very well made, but 2020’s happenings offer lots of content that was easy to simply insert into the sequel, while the original perhaps had to get a little more creative in what it decided to show and how.