A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that even though this documentary includes animation and director/star Morgan Spurlock's trademark humor, it's not aimed at younger children. It deals with difficult themes -- terrorism, morality, birth, and death -- in ways that are both entertaining and sophisticated. Violence is a theme throughout the movie, coming up in conversations about terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, and U.S. aggression. Actual violent images are infrequent; conservative men in Israel who resent the film crew's intrusion act aggressively, and there are shots of tanks and armed men in Gaza. There's brief imagery of Spurlock's wife giving birth in a tub; language includes a couple of "f--k"s and other profanity.
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What's the story?
Pairing physical antics and intelligent humor with serious themes, Morgan Spurlock's WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? poses a question that's both literal and metaphorical. Like Spurlock's Super-Size Me, it follows a sort of quest structure: Spurlock, moved by the upcoming birth of his first child, travels to the Middle East not to discover precisely where bin Laden is hiding, but to reveal the world in which he lives. After growing a beard and taking a brief "self-defense" training course (rendered in goofily funny segments), he travels to Egypt, Morocco, Israel, and Palestine, as well as the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The hunt leads him to understand as much about how the United States is viewed as about how he and other Americans view the world.
Is it any good?
While the movie's framework occasionally appears too cute and its resolution too obvious (we're all humans, and we need to figure out how to get along), Spurlock's project remains worthy. This is especially clear in his encounters with individual people -- variously receptive, skeptical, and curious -- who say repeatedly that they resent the U.S. government but want to like its people, who reject stereotypes and embrace laughter, complexity, and, most often, openness. "If I've learned anything from action movies," Spurlock says as he embarks on his adventure, "it's that complicated global problems are best solved by one lonely guy"; his joke becomes a kind of mantra as he deploys his charismatic personality in pursuit of connection with the people he meets.
There are some exceptions to the receptiveness and good will, as when Spurlock is accosted on the street by angry Israelis who think he's "intruding" in their land, or when he visits a schoolroom where students are obviously careful in their answers to his questions, since they're being watched by their teachers. And despite lighthearted delivery methods like animation and "baseball cards" for accused terrorists, the movie's fairly basic analysis of U.S. history suggests a sobering mix of ineptitude and short-sightedness. But other instances -- as when Spurlock visits a poor family whose father wishes to provide food and education for his children so their lives might be better, or when Spurlock laughs or commiserates with his many different hosts -- are touching. The film closes with a montage of faces, a collection of portraits collected throughout Spurlock's journey -- old and young, smiling and not, inquisitive and worried -- all suggesting their differences, shared aspirations, and familiarity.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the movie's primary message -- that learning about other cultures and traditions leads to understanding and loss of fear. Do you agree? How does the movie use comedy to address serious ideas like violence, terrorism, poverty, and global politics? Is that approach successful?
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