Complicated courtroom drama has mature themes, language.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Insult is a 2017 Lebanese movie in Arabic with English subtitles that examines long-festering wounds reverberating from the 1970s Lebanese Civil War. Tangled in the accompanying emotions are biases and stereotypes held by Lebanese Christians toward Palestinians who took refuge in Lebanon but also participated in wartime massacres. Some of the movie's political messages will require some knowledge of Middle Eastern geopolitical history, and some ugly feelings expressed echo Nazi attitudes toward Jews espoused during World War II. A massacre is described. So are difficult conditions in Palestinian refugee camps. Most of the action takes place in a courtroom, where these old prejudices are argued in the form of a contemporary lawsuit between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian man who insulted each other. Strong language is heard: "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," "bitch," the "N" word, "pr--k," and "ass."
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What's the Story?
Against a backdrop of prejudice among Christian Lebanese against Palestinian refugees in their country, THE INSULT follows a childish fight that becomes a disruptive social phenomenon. A surly Lebanese man named Tony (Adel Karam) reacts rudely when he hears the Palestinian accent of a construction worker, Yasser (Kamel El Basha), sent to fix his leaky, illegal drainpipe. Tony vengefully destroys Yasser's repair, which prompts the workman to call Tony a "f---ing pr--k." Although Tony's biased behavior provoked the incident, he demands an apology from Yasser, whose second-class status gives him no leverage in the situation. Yasser goes to apologize but hears anti-Palestinian rhetoric blaring from Tony's TV. As Yasser hesitates, Tony spits his own venom, wishing the Israeli general Ariel Sharon had wiped out all the Palestinians. Yasser is incensed and punches Tony, breaking two of his ribs. A judge, sensing much more to their stories, declares them both wrong and throws the case out of court. After a series of indirect events result in the premature birth of Tony's baby, Tony sues Yasser for pain and suffering in a higher court. Lebanese and Palestinians riot outside the courtroom as the case becomes a political embarrassment that involves the country's president, who pleads with the men to kiss and make up for sake of social stability. Tony's hatred of Palestinians becomes a bit more comprehensible when his lawyer shows film footage of a Palestinian and left-wing Lebanese militia massacre that took place in Tony's childhood village in the 1970s.
Is It Any Good?
This film is smart and blunt as it goes about trying to prove how very personal politics can be. The Insult works to underscore the ridiculousness of stereotypes while acknowledging the real experiences that can spawn them. The Christian Lebanese here offer their justifications for denigrating Palestinians as a group, and Palestinians are given equal time to enumerate the offenses committed by the Lebanese. At times Lebanese complaints about Palestinians are so vicious and ugly as to echo the irrational blame heaped on Jews by Germans of the Nazi era.
As the film repeats arguments over and over, viewers may feel bludgeoned, but it becomes clear that the insult that began the movie's central saga is trivial compared to the larger resentments harbored by both sides in response to decades of bloodletting and oppression at the heart of the court case. Teens old enough to follow the arguments may be swayed one way and then swayed the other when rebuttals are presented, underscoring the notion that even terrible wrongdoing can be justified by fancy-talking advocates. In the end, the movie suggests that there are no good reasons to hate, and that we can just as easily choose to reject bias in the effort to achieve peace.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the complexities of Middle Eastern politics. In what context is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict referenced in The Insult?
Lebanese Christians' conflicts with and prejudices against Palestinians seem to echo Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Why do you think Lebanese people who voice such feelings are called "Israel lovers" in the movie? Why would that be a bad thing in the environment presented here? And why would a Lebanese person hurry to deny a pro-Israel position?
Does the movie clearly spell out the reasons for the characters' biases, or do you think non-Middle Eastern viewers would need more background to understand the movie fully?
- In theaters: September 14, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 1, 2018
- Cast: Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha, Camille Salameh, Diamond Bou Abboud
- Director: Ziad Doueiri
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: for language and some violent images
- Last updated: March 3, 2023
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