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The “Borat” Sequel Is a Parable of Russian Interference in American Politics

  • October 27, 2020

As you’ve heard, Rudy Giuliani disgraces himself at the end of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” The rest of the movie is funny, cringeworthy, ultimately delightful, a brilliant and layered exploration of the banality of evil, and a parable of Russian interference in U.S. politics. (Many spoilers lie ahead.)

Sacha Baron Cohen reprises his role as a journalist from a fictional country that happens to share a name with Kazakhstan. As in the first “Borat” mockumentary, which was released in 2006, he gets unsuspecting and almost unsuspecting Americans to explain or expose the customs of the country he calls “U.S. and A.” The United States is a darker place now than it was fourteen years ago, and the cultural standards that Borat explores this time around are terrifying. Perusing the animal cages at a farm-supply store, Borat enthuses, “I hear McDonald Trump, he cage Mexican children!” and high-fives the store owner. Together, they pick out a cage for Borat’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Tutar (played by the Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova). Later, a propane tank catches Borat’s eye. “How many Gypsies could I finish with one cannister?” he inquires. “However many you had in the van,” the farm-supply guy replies. “Let’s say I wanted to finish lives of twenty Gypsy—would this be enough?” Borat asks. “Maybe the bigger one,” the farm-supply guy advises.

The premise, such as it is: Borat has been dispatched to the U.S. and A. to deliver a present to Vice-President Mike Pence, on behalf of the leader of Kazakhstan. At a mailing center, a middle-aged, white male employee facilitates Borat’s negotiations with the imaginary government back home, which are conducted solely by fax. Taking dictation from Borat and reading the responses back to him, the employee is privy to the fact that execution awaits Borat if he fails in his quest and to a back-and-forth in which Borat and his interlocutor settle on the right gift for Pence: Tutar. The guy doesn’t bat an eye. At a crisis pregnancy center, Borat and Tutar lead a pastor to believe that Borat has got his daughter pregnant. The pastor is visibly uncomfortable with this knowledge, but still argues against an abortion: “It really doesn’t really matter how we got to this moment. . . . God is the one who creates life, and God doesn’t make accidents.” A plastic surgeon, on the other hand, is willing to cut into Tutar to correct her nose and enlarge her breasts in order to make her more desirable to men, though he reassures her that she does not appear to have what Borat and Tutar call a “Jew nose.”

When Borat spends five days of quarantine living in a cabin with two QAnon followers, Jim and Jerry, they tell him that the Clintons “make this plague” (in Borat’s words) and, reportedly, drink the blood of children, drawn directly from “their adrenal glands,” which Jim seems to believe are situated somewhere in the neck. But when Borat shows Jim and Jerry an instructional manual for the parents of girls issued by Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Agriculture and Wildlife—specifically a page in which doctors are shown penetrating a woman in labor, and another in which a male baby walks at birth—Jim and Jerry break the news to Borat that his government has deceived him. “It’s a lie. It’s a conspiracy theory,” Jim says.

The movie layers conspiracies and conspiracy theories deliciously. The perfect totalitarian subject, Borat is ever ready to believe anything and nothing. Did a monkey, shipped from Kazakhstan, eat itself? Did the Holocaust ever happen? (Tutar tells him it’s a hoax not long after she discovers Facebook.) Does the coronavirus exist? (Borat writes a song with Jim and Jerry which declares the virus a liberal fiction.) And, of course, Borat is attempting to carry out a conspiracy of his own, of sorts: he must deliver “Sexy Gift to Rudy Giuliani in Last-Ditch Attempt to Save Borat from Execution and Make Benefit Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan.” Kazakhstan’s leader, Premier Nazarbayev (played by the Romanian actor Dani Popescu, who bears no resemblance to the actual Nursultan Nazarbayev, who ruled the real Kazakhstan for twenty-eight years), works out of a dusty dungeon in a dilapidated Presidential palace in Almaty, and wants to join the glorious community of strongmen who are chummy with McDonald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro, Kim Jong Un, and “Kenneth West.” Naturally, Nazarbayev wants to ingratiate himself with a gift.

Like the real-life characters of Robert Mueller’s investigation, Borat and Tutar have no clear political agenda and no great strategic plan, only a deeply provincial sense of wanting to touch power. Borat has little to offer: a monkey that meets an early demise, a bag of cash, and a young woman. He is a hustler who will promise anything. In his quest, he evokes the Moscow lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and her motley crew of entrepreneurs; it was Veselnitskaya who secured the famous 2016 meeting in Trump Tower during which she had been said to be able to offer up dirt on Hillary Clinton—dirt she didn’t appear to be able to provide. He evokes Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, the two Soviet-born businessmen who helped Giuliani do whatever he was trying to do in Ukraine, or who were hoping that Giuliani would help them do whatever they were doing in Ukraine, or both, provided that any of them knew what they were doing other than trying to take advantage of the others. Like Parnas and Fruman, Borat and Tutar find Giuliani to be an easy mark.

More than anyone else in the Trump-Russia orbit, Tutar evokes Maria Butina, the Russian who went to prison for insinuating herself into the National Rifle Association and the National Prayer Breakfast. Butina was never accused of espionage, and doesn’t appear to have been anything but a believer in some of America’s most conservative ideas—but, in the American imagination, she is a spy. Like Butina as we imagine her, Tutar sidles up to older men who find her irresistible in order to make benefit her diminished nation. She appears to gain access to Giuliani by introducing herself as a journalist from a conservative news outlet called “Patriots Report.” She arrives for the interview in the costume and coiffure of a Fox News bot; she flatters Giuliani and touches his knee repeatedly, and he melts.

Like the Russians from the Mueller investigation, Borat and Tutar succeed even as they fail. “Now we are part of the global community, influencing elections around the world,” Borat narrates offscreen, as the camera cuts to show a giant hangar filled with women wearing Russian-style kerchiefs seated at desktop computers. A young girl is typing a Facebook post: “Speaking as a black man, I love Trump.” The path to global greatness is paved by troll farms. But where there is one conspiracy, another, greater one is always lurking—like the credits and intertitles of this moviefilm, which flash for a moment in Russian Cyrillic (not Kazakh), only to be obscured by English. At the end, Borat learns that his secret mission was, in fact, an entirely different secret mission. Of course it was.

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