The DictatorLarry Charles, script: Berg and Cohen (USA 2012)Sacha Baron Cohen; Anna Faris; Ben Kingsley
Viewed: Empire Newcastle upon Tyne29 May 2012; Ticket: £3.50
The Dictator (D) opens with a dedication to Kim Jong ll issuing a spoof claim that it’s a film that is designed to be a satirical political vehicle for Sacha Baron Cohen’s (SBC) performance.But it’s not;D is SBC as a vestigial archetype a repository for a recurring psychic type: the trickster.
D is uninteresting from the point of view of its formal filmic qualities. As film it simply lurches from one cameo set up to the next, to drag the plot line through its beginning middle and end.The plot is a rigid mechanical structure that lacks the fluidity improvisation or relational complexity that characterise other filmic comedians such as Chaplin, the Marx Brothers or Woody Allen.D is a crude construct, but a construct that reflects, in script and performance, the essence of its core intent: transgression. The eruption of the forbidden and the shocking out of the shadows into consciousness.
The cinema was full (it was the Tuesday cheap seat night) and the crowd had come in expectation of a laugh.But what constitutes a laugh?SBC is not a clown.He never really gets into the shit in any meaningful sense.SBC is the nightmarish emanation arising out of the tension between the animal and culture: grossly sexual, stupid, and although not really evil he does the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelated ness.He is saved by his almost divine animal nature.SBC’s role is that ofthe Trickster, the violator, a serial malicious profane transgressor.
Violator of the sacred.
SBC in all his films plays: the Trickster. A psychic figure who occupies a latent place in our psychic functioning and who spontaneously manifests in external expressive representational form when the gap between the stated values, the cant and shibboleths of civilised culture and our own animal nature, reaches points of extreme tension.
The phantom of the trickster haunts us….a faithful reflection of an undifferentiated human consciousness that has barely left the animal level. (Carl Jung: Four Archetypes)
The Trickster manifest is a projection of our needs.
At a time when Western Liberal Culture is characterised by discourses of quasi religious intensity in respect of: human rights, women’s rights, individuation, the sanctity of mother family and children: enter the trickster to hold up to us the reversal and opposing debasement of these values.To allow us smash through the tensions of civilisation in the darkness of the cinema.
In the same spirit as in the Medieval church where a simpleton was elected anti-Bishop during Epiphany and presided over a mass attended by donkeys where the congregation brayed in liturgical response; so BSC sticks his hand up the vagina of the mother whom he has just helped give birth, and retrieves his ringing mobile phone he’s left in her uterus.Both actions stem from the Trickster role as a mythic archetype:manifest violation of the sacred.And both actions are part of a psychic reaction to a dominant cultural imperative.They transgress or reverse carefully defined spacial borders as a radical gestural performance that is aimed specifically, if temporarily at sabotaging the psychic legitimacy of the dominant discourse.
D’s main effect is not to be funny but rather to shift psychic response from the unconscious to the consciously maifest.A cathartic shift that is often necessitated by an overwhelming of our defences and resistance to the stimulus of the antics of the tricksterIf D is not by and large actually funny the movie nevertheless educes laughter from the audience.Laughter that is the expressive ejaculative response that we have recourse to when we have no other immediate means of release from physical and emotional tension.
The Trickster’s radical transgression, even in ritual form, causes a sudden rise in psychic/emotional stresses as we witness a sacred phenomenon systematicallyassaulted.The releasing outlet for this tension is laughter; remembering that the rictus of the laugh shares a common physiological root with the rictus of aggression, which is also consequential to a sudden rise in unbearable tension.
Tricksters, as mythic characters have very crude natures. There is no point in expecting subtlety from them.They are physically gross and sexually explicit, their sex organs prominent and dominant when and where least appropriate as when the Dictator is taught how to masturbate himself by Zoe the health food store manager.
The targets of human rights, feminism, United Nations, democracy, mother and apple pie have no political significance, only a collective mythic imperative to debase and upend.
Superficially D tries to lay claim to making some form of political statement.It’s opening dedication toKim Jong, and in the penultimate sequence when BSC as the Dictator delivers a speech to UN officials satirically praising democracy as being the most desirable form of government because in democracy: 1% of the people own 99% of the wealth, in democracy the poor pay all the taxes andthe rich pay none, and in democracy the gaols can be full of specific poor ethnic grouping.I think the claim to be a political satire is spurious.SBC’s delivery of his UN speech is the weakest part of his performance, as if he realised the speech/diatribe was of course undermined by the nature ofhis role as Trickster.In this sequence SBC’s delivery seems mechanical formulaic and underplayed.It’s not political rather the weakest part of the Tricksters repertoire of transgression.
SBC inperformance has strong representational qualities kin to the Trickster.The beard and the thinness of his body both play a part in suggesting a manifestation from the depths. The beard (and its loss) is a wondrous cheap device perfect for the guise of trickster and SBC’s thinness has a menace such that although a tall man he’s thin enough to slip inside your defences and unbalance you; slim enough to slip inside your urethra. And SBC’s delivery has a quality of the ventriloquist’s dummy, the removed insinuating of a wicket schoolboy automaton.
According to Jung The Trickster is a vestigial figure surviving from a barbarous consciousnessof aqn early phase of human consciouness: a collective shadow figure.As architype the Trickser remains pyschically close to us often revealing his presence in popular culture.He can be repressed but never goes away, never entrirely absent from our collective life.