Indian director Mira Nair’s new film THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST based on Mohsin Hamid's novel short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, literally collides with current events and the ethos that perhaps formed the psychology of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects. This is a movie about desire, disappointment and disillusionment between two worlds that are harder and harder to keep separate, hurtling towards one another with a speed that seems unstoppable. It is also about the “roots” of the formation of one’s basic ideology, and how “beliefs” can blossom and decay via explosive circumstances. We see the intersection of two vital individuals, each embracing their expatriate countries, whose lives are pulled in opposite directions, based on the events of September 11th 2001 and their own personal collision course toward catastrophe.
The movie titles appear on the screen from the last letter of a name spelled in reverse – an indication of the back and forth in time and the cultural breakdown between two changing societies – America and Pakistan. We first meet Changez (complexly portrayed by Riz Ahmed) in 2011, ambitious, and self-confident in a café in Lahore, Pakistan talking with an American journalist/author named Bobby (Liev Schreiber), a man ingrained enough in this region to speak fluent Urdu. Bobby is there to interview Changez about the recent kidnapping of a respected American professor in the school where the young man teaches. This abduction turns out to be the catalyst that moves the film’s plot, giving it a sense of tension while merging with the Pakistani protagonist’s interior and exterior moral conversion. Through the recording sessions we travel back ten years and experience this brilliantly original young man – a Princeton graduate complete with a lovely artist/photograher girl friend (Kate Hudson,) living a privileged life in his adopted homeland and his transformation into a “reluctant fundamentalist.”
Ten years before, Changez was a Wall Street analyst mentored by Jim Cross (a terrific Kiefer Sutherland) whose robotic body movements are in perfect synch with the conglomerate that he leads, its powerful global tentacles dug into corporations all over the world. We also are witness to Changez’s own ruthlessness in business and his indifference to the livelihoods of the workers his expediting cost-cutting decisions affect. Changez’s conduct propels him to greater success in his grasp for the “American Dream.” But everything changes after the horrific attack on the World Trade Center Towers, launching a xenophobic response from some of Changez’s colleagues as well as public service employees that he encounters on the streets of NYC and at airports while traveling for business. Racism, the abrogation of civil liberties, and profiling intrude on Changez’s idyllic corporate environment as well as his intrinsic values, and he eventually returns to Pakistan - too smart to be conscripted by any "terrorist" group though his political sympathies have been inherently altered.
Music and song – voices filled with longing and poignancy are also at the core of this film and contribute to its enigmatic surroundings. Contrasting visual environments - the dark and mysterious ambiance of Pakistan vs. the clear, brisk light of New York City felt too pat and obvious, but I was moved by the story of this sensitive young person whose life is shattered by unforeseen violence, and the impact it made on his belief system. I cannot help but think of the prisoners who have been locked up in Guantanamo Bay prison camps for 10 years and how those years of confinement, without a trial, have radicalized those who might have been innocent. The ideas in this movie are worth pondering over and over again. The tragedy continues.