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Sundance Review: Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?

Morgan Spurlock may be a documentary-maker searching for truth in this crazy mixed-up world, but he’s also largely an entertainer. His work, especially his latest doc Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?, falls into the category of "infotainment" — with an emphasis on the "tainment."

The movie starts with Spurlock describing his awakening from a blissful life to the reality that his wife is pregnant. Suddenly he's tortured by all the horrors in the world that his unborn child might face — including the still-at-large Osama Bin Laden. During a hokey animated intro, he explores these awful things and decides to go on a personal manhunt for Osama Bin Laden — during his wife's pregnacy — because he wants to make the world safer for his baby. The movie then follows this timeline of nine months or so: He has to find Bin Laden and make it back to the U.S. in time for the baby’s delivery. This timing strikes me as ridiculously foolish, and it makes every scene in which Spurlock bemoans the fact that he’s missing his wife’s pregnancy ring empty and false, as this timing was completely his choice.


The timing thing aside, he does go on an exhausting journey to find Bin Laden. He explores the places and institutions that shaped Bin Laden and talks to people who knew him. He also spends a lot of time polling Middle Eastern people on what they think of America, which, you may imagine, is not often favorable. Spurlock actually takes this part somewhat seriously, and it becomes a focus of the film, proving that Bin Laden is from a particular culture that contributed to his perception of America. As one interviewee says to Spurlock, Bin Laden is part of a much larger problem; finding this one man will do nothing to eradicate the root issues.

More of my thoughts on Spurlock's doc if you read more.

The general tone of the movie is one of humor and frivolity. Spurlock tries to make the content more palatable by presenting his quest for Bin Laden as a video game. He also utilizes cartoons and goofy music to fill us in on some of the history that influenced these modern-day opinions of American foreign policy. Even when he’s chatting with real people who are making impassioned statements about politics and religion, truly matters of life and death in many of these societies, Spurlock makes jokes, edits the film to make it funnier, and seems to be smirking. I'm all for comedies, and certainly for humorous documentaries because life is often funny. But there is something about Spurlock’s frequent "wink" in this particular film that makes me uneasy.

In the Q&A session with Spurlock following the Sundance premiere, one person said she thought the cartoons and graphics were a bit too much, that more information races by during these segments than we can possibly digest. Spurlock responded that his goal was just to get information out there to people who might not ordinarily hear any of it. He wanted to open up a discussion amongst ordinary theatergoers, and simply presenting a bunch of talking heads isn’t going to do it. I agree with this, but what if we can’t see the info for the tainment? What if, as happened with me, people watch the movie and enjoy it enough but two days later forget entirely what the point was?

Bottom line: The movie is certainly funny, and never boring. I applaud Spurlock’s effort, and I think he’s an inventive filmmaker who gets stuff seen that probably wouldn't have been explored otherwise.

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