This film about a small cell of Sheffield-based terrorists who conspire to wage Jihad against the West by slaughtering innocent civilians is, believe it or not, extremely funny.
The film follows the group of suicide bombers as they attempt to hatch their plan, undergo training in Afghanistan, dodge the police and execute their attack. The process is chaotic, marred by constant bungling, stupid arguments and slapstick farce. But writer and director Chris Morris underlines that what interests him is the human reality of terrorist groups: “Terrorist cells have the same group dynamics as stag parties and five-a-side football teams. There is conflict, friendship, misunderstanding and rivalry. Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks.”
Morris is doing what he is best at — producing a shocking film about modern life that invites the viewer to think critically about taboo subjects. There are two traps that the film avoids — it doesn’t shock for the sake of shocking; and, in inviting the viewer to think about a group of Islamist terrorists as people, it doesn’t attempt to explain away the utterly reactionary nature of their project.
The points where people, innocents or terrorists, are killed, are shocking. The deaths serve to puncture the farce and remind us of the horror of the subject matter.
When Muslim convert Barry argues to fellow bomber Faisal that it’s OK to blow up the mosque that his father visits, because “has your dad ever bought a Jaffa orange? Well, then! He’s buying nukes for Israel - he’s a Jew!” (a line of argument which is unfortunately sometimes used on the left...), it’s almost touching to see the stupidity of the terms in which he understands the world, but it’s also chilling — he is definitely a murderous anti-semite (and sexist and homophobe).
The police and the state come in for a pasting, too — racist, violent, hypocritical and incompetent. It’s an accurate portrayal — but as with the bombers, the humanity of the agents of the state, their bungling and the pressures acting on them are hinted at as well.
Not many political conclusions can be drawn, but the film performs the most important role of comedy — it breaks down the taboo about its subject matter, and emphasises that we have to understand terrorism as a human activity, as human as any other.