Ever since my father played Chris Morris’s On The Hour tapes to me as a child, the indignant, smouldering tone and vernacular of the central figure stuck with me. I may not have got the jokes as a young lad, but his imagery was as potent as that of any other wordsmith. Growing up watching this talented producer, the subject matter and delight in the bizarre consolidated my admiration further.
Although a topic very much typical of this fearless satirist, Four Lions is unlike anything you’ve seen from Morris before. The atmosphere and lexicon we can identify in his news format work and in Nathan Barley is as absent as drug-addled Jam from this debut feature length film which farcically deals with the dynamics of a hapless 4-man terrorist group.
Barry, Omar, Waj and Fessel are stumbling towards an intended terror attack with garbled religious ideals. Fessel says they should bomb Boots because they sell condoms, which allows ‘white slags’ to have sex. Barry is willing to convert his strong opinions into any type of ridiculous convictions, ‘Your Dad ever bought a Jaffa Orange? He’s buying Nukes for Israel. He’s a Jew’.
It is the contradiction rife within all our belief systems that Four Lions masterfully exposes. Wild ruses are backed up by unseen figures of power and violence is justified by flaky literature. Morris’ chaotic band of idiots are no different. If you have doubts about your actions, it is the devil’s influence, and if somebody gets blown up by accident – it was God’s will. The kernel of these convictions is in some ways no different to many conversations I’ve had with Christian friends. Religion wraps itself in a self-justifying, yet contradictory comfort blanket and Morris has his finger firmly upon it.
Despite what many suggest, Morris does not actively seek controversy. The Paedophile Special, for example, was magnifying an important problem for the satirist. The explosive hysteria surrounding the issue, which he exposed and stripped naked, required a fittingly over the top treatment.
It would be false, of course, to say that terrorism isn’t a controversial topic, but Four Lions achieves a sensitive, endearing and ridiculous look at the mechanics of it. Morris is not saying terrorists or Islam is stupid, he’s exploring the dynamics of humans. Terrorists are people, and people are absurd. Waj is a central character key to this analysis. His daft remarks have the impact of many of Shakespeare’s malapropic characters, giving unintentional clarity to the situation. The luckless terror cell, like us, end up questioning their journey.
A successful farce which will appeal broadly, Four Lions will inevitably lead people to suggest Morris has ‘gone soft’. This is a lazy assumption, essentially nailing him to a mast of controversy from which he cannot deviate. In fact, he’s made a balanced, hilarious and thoughtful film which places one of our worst nightmares under a comical microscope.
I would not say Four Lions is utterly convincing for the full 101 minutes, and it is not my favourite example of his work. But for a man that deals with only what he sees as important, he’s done exactly what he set out to do. And how. Morris has proved that he doesn’t need a shroud of controversy, or a strict allegiance with a certain style, to show he understands the world like no one else.