The Reluctant Fundamentalist (IFC Films, R)

film reluctant-fundament_smWhat unfolds can be seen as a tale of promise gone wrong, but it is also one, like Changez, that asks the viewer to put aside assumptions and wait for the full story.



film reluctant-fundamentali

The Reluctant Fundamentalist tells the story of Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), born to a poet’s family in Lahore, Pakistan who struggles to achieve the American dream of graduating from Princeton and being recruited by a very large and powerful New York City venture capital firm. He has everything including the killer instinct to liquidate jobs and companies to capture their value. He sees only the value and not the thousands of lives that he throws into turmoil. This changes after the 9/11 attacks. He becomes the object of unwanted interest. There are random strip searches and questioning based only on his skin color. We watch as he moves from bloodless capitalist who blurts out “I love America” (with an intensity and honesty that would make even the most conservative flag-waver proud) to a man who readily admits his awe and appreciation while watching the towers disintegrate. We see a wall slowly rise between him and his girlfriend Erica (Kate Hudson), his fellow employees and the man who has put him on the fast track to corporate success (a surprisingly good Kiefer Sutherland.)

The tale, which is based on Mohsin Hamid’s best selling book, is told in flashback from present day Lahore where Changez is a professor at a local university. He is being interviewed (or perhaps interrogated) by Bobby (Liv Schreiber), a local journalist, regarding the kidnapping of another professor who is suspected of being in the CIA. Changez agrees to talk with him only if he can reveal his full story. What unfolds can be seen as a tale of promise gone wrong, but it is also one, like Changez, that asks the viewer to put aside assumptions and wait for the full story.

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another individual, or place yourself in their position, and to act accordingly. It is the source, I believe, of many of the finest things we have done as a people. It is also something that is in decreasing supply over the last few decades. Our businesses have become obsessed with immediate gain and profit despite its effects on a large portion of our population. Our justice system seems weighted in favor of a fortunate class and our politics all too often appear shortsighted and fear-based.

When the twin towers came down in 2001 their destruction unleashed an inner uncertainty and fear that caused many to “circle the wagons.” Empathy was reserved for only what we believed most fervently in – flag, religion and family. It was a normal reaction to what was a very big event in our history. But it became the justification for narrow-minded responses and many abuses. The American empire of 2001 had vast resources – monetary, military, and technological – and its response, especially with a public that was easily led, was massive. At this point we were asked to believe we were at war and the enemy was out there. Terrorists were dark skinned and their religion was not like ours. This reaction is not unique to America.

Director Mira Nair weaves together the varying stories – Changez’s rise in the corporate world, the growing radical element in Pakistan, and the increasingly intolerant path the U.S. takes after it is attacked – and builds a powerful tale of how our beliefs, indeed our collective empathy are sacrificed to core emotions that blossom when stressed.

This is a good movie. The performances are excellent throughout, despite the mis-casting of Kate Hudson who, while still alluring, is in a role that she is 10 years past playing. The Reluctant Fundamentalist, at its heart, tries to explain why a person would choose to throw his lot in with people who use violence and a blind allegiance to leaders who, at best are demagogues. It tries to explain the larger purpose we have on this planet and why we need so desperately to sharpen our own empathy. And it also reveals the futility of both these charges. To a large extent the film succeeds, though it leaves many more questions than answers. Even after some time to mull over this film, I find myself further from sure of “what is right.” That might just be the sign of expanded understanding and a good film. | Jim Dunn

About Jim Dunn 126 Articles
Jim Dunn grew up in NY in the 70s and 80s. Even though that time in music really shapes his appreciation it does not define it. Music, like his beloved history is a long intermingled path that grows, builds and steals from its past. He lives in Colorado with his lovely wife and a wild bunch of animals.

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