The September 11 Tragedy leave marks on a lot of people, it was not only a national tragedy for the people of United States, but for the International citizens of the world, whether they are directly affected or not. The events represent terrors and embodiment of peril that resurfaced and shook everybody that the world is vile and bitter. Peace and pacifism is a still a concept, not a realised reality just yet. Its significance not only change the nation, it shook and tilted the landscape of our world altogether.
Documentaries and feature films (as well as books, music, and other form of arts) has been made whether as a commemorative effort or simply highlighting effects and after effects of the incident since then. The latest one was Katherine Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty (2012), which was based on realistic events and centers around the manhunt of the man who orchestrated all the terrors. Others focus on the effects on people’s life instead, from hollywood’s own Extremely Loud Incredibly Close (2011) to Bollywood’s My Name Is Khan (2010). This time an indian, hollywood film director, Mira Nair adapted the work of Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
The movie was told in a flashback format, where our lead actor Chungez Khan (Riz Ahmed) is being interviewed in Lahore, Pakistan. The Interviewer is an american reporter Bobby Lincoln (Liev Schreiber), who were planted there to aide the CIA to retrieve an american citizen that was kidnapped and now involved in a hostage situation with a Pakistani terrorist movement.
Chungez story started when he left his family in Lahore to attend an Ivy League school. He was about to graduate with Summa Cum Laude when he was scouted by Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) who later became his mentor as he secure his job in a major corporate. His job is to appraise a company’s worth, asses its weaknesses, and came up with suggestions to increase its efficiency and revenues. His brilliance and ambition ensure his steps as he climbs the company ladder, meanwhile his relationship with an artist Erica (Kate Hudson) highlight his personal life as well. Life is great for Chungez, he’s living the American Dream just like what he always wanted.
While he was on a business trip abroad, the 9/11 tragedy occured, and when he returned to the homeland everything in his life went amok. The prejudice and bigotry are getting more out of hand and after he strained his relationship with his family and receiving repeated blows to his personal life, Chungez made the decision to return to Lahore for good. As he settled into his new life and role as a lecturer in Lahore University, Chungez are taking a hard look at himself, battling both internal and external conflicts, and found himself under similar prejudice.
Ambiguity is found throughout the movie. The movie opens in Lahore with a scene of Chungez family gathering interspersed with scene of the kidnapping (accompanied by a powerful pakistani song that just blews me away there!). Throughout the movie, i kept questioning Chungez as a human being, is he good or evil, did he really went rouge and help the terrorist, and wonder whether or not he still in the pursuit to claim his American Dream. Just like Bobby is trying to figure out about Chungez during the interview. As the movie ends we were still in the same boat as Bobby, manipulated by clipped information and half-truths. In the end, we learn how he tried to define himself against stereotypes, which was one of the most profound point in the movie, we are not defined by what we are, instead we should be measured by what we do. Even if he returned to his country, it does not mean he took it as a defeat and sulks in despair, he was still a changed man, his traditional roots blends with new values and sights he picks up along the way.
Like i said, i found the issue signified by September 11 Tragedy to be very relatable in so many levels. Mistrusts, misguided judgement, suspicion, prejudice… It is very humane and asks us, the viewers, to emphatize and re-evaluate our behavior again.. And as we put ourselves in Chungez shoes, we were asking the same question he asked himself and how we choose to define ourselves in the eyes of others.
Riz Ahmed carries the persona of Chungez in the entire movie with magnetic brilliance and almost single handedly carry the entire movie by his performance. The way emotions play on his face attracts me and i enjoy the contrast of character when he defines Chungez in earlier part vs the later part of the movie. Kiefer Sutherland, who i loved on TV, kinda just there as is, i wish he could do a bit more though. I wonder why Mira Nair insisted on casting Kate Hudson, who was then in the middle of breastfeeding,i’m not usually fussy about an actors/actresses physical appearance, but isn’t it obvious she looks post-preggers there? Just bugs me.
Mira Nair tried to adapt the book valiantly. There are scenes that stood for me, like the strip-search in the airport which really bothers and give me discomforts just from the suspicion thrown at Chungez alone. I found some parts probably would be better to be left in the books, due to its cliche nature when visualised on screen (though i kinda adore the idea of American Dreams in the eyes of Chungez family, it was relatable to me and my peers how we absorbs american pop culture and have our own version of the american dream). Still, Declan Quinn delivers a beautiful and captiviating colors throughout the films. It really was a good movie that has potential of greatness.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist are screening exclusively at Blitzmegaplex, catch it while you still can! :D
All pictures are taken from IMDb.