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April 14, 2008
From Amman to Philadelphia: Around the World With Morgan Spurlock
The man who ate every
meal for 30 days at McDonalds and chronicled it on film has, believe it
or not, dreamed up a stunt even more dangerous for his new movie.
director Morgan Spurlock is back with a new documentary called Where
in the World is Osama Bin Laden? The movie will be gradually
released throughout April. Spurlock screened the film near the
University of Pennsylvania in early April and hosted a Q&A afterwards.
The film itself is far from perfect, but it covers more ground, and gets
to the bottom of the Middle East in ways not seen in any documentary
From its title, one
would think the film was about the failure of the United States to find
Bin Laden, and where he might be. But the movie is less a search for Bin
Laden than a survey of a post-9/11 Mideast. Spurlock, who found himself
about to become a father, said he took a hard look at the world he was
about to bring a child into, and wanted to have a better understanding
Therefore, he decided
to take a tour of the Middle East, talk to people and see what he could
find out – a tour that took him to Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco,
Israel, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan and the border of
Pakistan, though he thought better of actually entering the region where
Bin Laden is purportedly hiding out.
In fact, Spurlock's
greatest accomplishment may be that he somehow persuaded his wife to
allow him to leave the country during much of her pregnancy. His
first-person style and left-leaning outlook have drawn obvious
comparisons to Michael Moore, but Where in the World is Osama Bin
Laden? owes less to Moore than to Thomas Friedman – indeed, it often
feels like a 90-minute film version of one of those Friedman columns
where he learns the whole state of the world from a cab driver in
civilian Spurlock talks to in the film, from Cairo to Amman to Kabul,
has the same sort of position: American people are great, but it's your
government we can't stand. It's unclear if this was actually the
consensus, or merely the footage he chose (Spurlock said he shot
thousands of hours), but this is the point made by the film, and it
seems to be Spurlock's position as well. Calling the film anti-American
would be wrong, however. Spurlock speaks at length about his love for
his country, and later embeds with troops in Afghanistan.
What the film doesn't
have a lot of, though, are answers. If Spurlock has an opinion about
how, exactly, America should have responded to the 9/11 attacks, he
doesn't share it in the film.
The film is at its best
when Spurlock is talking to people in these countries, and actually
draws a lot of distinctions between people from different nations –
especially how free, say, Jordan is as opposed to Saudi Arabia. (In one
scene, Saudi officials demand he turn off his camera.) The movie is at
its worst, though, with jokey cartoons and graphics, as exemplified by a
video game simulation in which the filmmaker and Bin Laden fight one
In the Q&A after the
screening, I asked Spurlock what he would have done if, prior to the
release of film, Bin Laden had been captured or killed. He responded
that while rumors of a capture had spread right after he started
shooting, it was never really much of a concern.
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