The Reluctant Fundamentalist

April 28th, 2013

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The Reluctant Fundamentalist

A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family's homeland.

Release Year: 2012

Rating: 6.0/10 (417 voted)

Director: Mira Nair

A young Pakistani man is chasing corporate success on Wall Street. He finds himself embroiled in a conflict between his American Dream, a hostage crisis, and the enduring call of his family's homeland.

Writers: ,

Country: , ,

Release Date:

Filming Locations: USA

Technical Specs


User Review

Surprising, moving and clever

Rating: 9/10

When I read on the Venice Film Festival schedule that the opening film, the Reluctant Fundamentalist, was going to be about 9/11, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. There have been just too many films, books, short stories, documentaries and so on on the subject and I didn't feel there was much left to say without risking to be too rhetorical or predictable. I attended the screening expecting a mediocre film, but what I watched instead was a surprising, moving, complex story that deals with a series of issues, the most important of which is not 9/11 but human emotions.

The film is about Changez, a university teacher in Lahore who also appears to be right at the centre of the conflict between Pakistani and Americans, as another teacher was kidnapped and most of Changez's students are being watched carefully by the CIA. Then Changez meets Bobby, an American journalist who will end up to have more in common with him than we first thought, and we learn about Changez's past in Pakistan and America, to find out that there's so much more to both of them.

There are several reasons why the film worked for me, but the main one would be that it doesn't only focus on one side of the story, but forces the viewer to assume both sides at different points. I have to admit I immediately sided with the journalist at the start, and I think it's because of the blurry way in which the film starts, that immediately makes us suspect there might actually be something that Changez's students are hiding. The viewer is literally thrown into a strange world that he doesn't understand, and the first thing he does is to take the side of something he does understand and that he is familiar with, and that is Bobby, who seems to be a journalist and whose background we seem to be able to understand. In a way, we are almost relieved when he appears, as before that moment everything moved really quickly and the story wasn't very clear yet. I found this a clever choice, as everything will be reversed at the end. But we do change sides quite soon in the story, as we get to know Changez's past and find that there was something we can recognize in it too: he went to university in America, he was successful, he was in love with the "American dream" and he spent many years in the country. When he talks to the journalist he makes an unexpected reference to CSI Miami, something that was in a way unexpected but also reassuring in the context of kidnapping, bombing and revolutionary ideas. His character is not as intimidating or mysterious as we first thought he was, and we actually find that it's easy to relate to him too. In a way, both Changez and Bobby look slightly out of place in the bar in Lahore, and yet we get the impression that if any of them said something wrong, something really bad would happen.

When we go through Changez's past abroad, we do get a sense of his character through the small things he does or says, in a way. He seems to be a very positive, successful, ambitious character that means well, dreams big and is attached to his family, but we find out quite soon that he is also a cold, calculating person who knows exactly what he wants and won't stop until he gets it. It starts at work, when he suggests to fire a huge amount of people to make a company be more productive, without thinking of the repercussions on people's lives. It continues in his love life, when he gets together with a girl whose previous boyfriend had died a few months earlier, and when she feels like she is cheating and can't have sex with him he doesn't comfort her but suggests to her to "pretend I'm him". Just like Changez, his love story is flawed from the very start.

And if Changez is flawed and living an illusion who is doomed to end, his love interest Erica (played by Kate Hudson) is also a broken, damaged character who doesn't even really get to redeem herself at the end. Her very reaction to his suggestion shows her inability to move forward and makes her sad and depressed. We understand straight away that the relationship means something different to her than what it means to him, and this is proved in the wonderful scene of her gallery opening, that is probably one of my favorite scenes in the film, where she portrays her love story as a hollow, shallow, cold pretense and also marks its end and a point of non return for Changez as well.

Our sympathies change as the story evolves, we don't know who to trust and who to dislike, but the answer is that there is no right or wrong. That is, I think, what the ending wants to show. Some people will see it as a positive one, others will see it as the beginning of the end. Different people will get different messages from this film and understand it in different ways, and I think that's what the director wanted. As for me, I'm probably a pessimist, but as the credits scrolled down and I prepared to leave the cinema, the scene that came to my mind (and that sums up the whole film to me) was the one in which Changez asked his students, during a lecture, to forget about the "American Dream" and help him build/find a "Pakistani Dream" instead.

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