Reel Talk

The Day Shall Come and the Commodity of Terror

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We live in a pretty terrifying world, one that seems custom made to hurl all manner of horror at us at a regular interval. Climate catastrophe, economic turmoil, and a president of the United States who casually mentions Civil War to cover up his many terrible crimes. Things are rough. But, as is the human way, we typically find ways to laugh about it all. Because otherwise life would be too bleak to survive. Humor is a coping mechanism, a way for us to process the never-ending grind of despair that is our modern world, and as a result it has become a test to find what we can and can’t joke about. There are certain topics that no matter how lighthearted you attempt to poke fun at it, there’s just no way to find levity. But, sometimes there are topics that you’d think would be impossible, and yet people succeed. Such as terrorism. When I heard about the film Four Lions, I assumed there was no possible way that it would work. A goofy British comedy about Islamic terrorists, told from their perspective as they bumble their way through suicide bombing? Yeah, doesn’t seem like a crowd pleaser. And yet, against all logic, that film is largely seen as a success. So, apparently trying to see if  the iron can be struck twice, director Chris Morris has tried another stab at the world of comedic terrorism with The Day Shall Come. And, while it isn’t a completely success, it’s certainly an interesting film.

The film tells the story of a man known as Moses Al Shabaz, a self-proclaimed prophet living in Miami who has essentially created his own religion. Borrowing on aspects of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, along with historical figures like General Toussaint L’Ouverture and cultural figures like Black Santa, Moses has created church and commune that is primarily lived in by his family and some random former gang members he’s convinced. They live a quiet life, trying to grow their own food while hypothetically discussing the concept of forming an army of black people capable to overthrowing white supremacy. But, it’s mainly about farming. That is until he catches the eye of a group of FBI agents, specifically agent Kendra Glack. She works for a group that scour the country for potential terrorists, then essentially goad them into extremism, offering them weaponry, then arrest them for trying to buy weapons. It’s an extremely shady concept, essentially entrapment for terrorism, but they’re apparently quite successful at it, and have decided that Moses should be their next target.

They reach out to Moses through the form of an informant pretending to be a sheikh working with ISIS. The fake sheikh approaches Moses, and offering him a substantial amount of money, and weapons, to fuel his war against white people. Moses has absolutely no interest in weapons, it’s a central tenant of his religion, but he does need quite a bit of money to fund his farm and pay his rent, so he agrees to go through with it. But, much to the FBI’s frustration, Moses continued to ruin their plans, doing everything he can to get the money and avoid the actual weapons, even going so far as attempting to turn the sheikh into the FBI to get a reward. And, eventually things escalate to the point that the FBI encourages Moses to obtain some nuclear material so that he can sell them to a white supremacist organization. But, that also falls apart, because it turns out that the white supremacists are also undercover operatives trying to seek out terrorism, just working with a different agency. But, thanks to that inter-departmental miscommunication, Moses gets identified as a terrorist with ties to nuclear weapons, creating a national emergency that Kendra and the other FBI operatives have to handle, arresting Moses and jailing him and his followers on trumped up charges, sending innocent people to jail to further their own career.

 

 

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When I first saw Four Lions, I didn’t really know what to make of it. I certainly found parts funny, but by and large I remember finding it a little offensive. But, the more I sat with it, the higher it rose in my estimations, falling into that incredibly dark comedic world of movies like the Death of Stalin. So, based on that previous experience, this movie may end up rising in my opinion. But, as it stands, it didn’t quite hit the mark. The movie didn’t end up being as funny as Four Lions, and just kind of ended up making me more frustrated than I’d expect. For two very different reasons. On the one hand, it turns out that the sort of scam that Anna Kendrick’s character was running is something the FBI has apparently been doing quite a bit, which resulted in some real-life frustration I wasn’t really expecting, coming away from this movie with something new to be mad about the government for. But, I also felt like the movie just didn’t take as many chances, and generally misused the potential that this plot could have had. I’ve seen some people criticize the film for telling a very American story from a British perspective, giving us black characters trying to overthrow white supremacy that never really acknowledges the rampant white supremacy in the country today, and featuring them dealing with corrupt law enforcement while never having that be as big a deal. Which, I kind of agree with. Obviously it’s hard to ding a movie for what it wasn’t, but it still feels like a strange move to miss so many obvious elements that just end up making the film feel much less sharp than Four Lions.

However, if there was one thing about this movie that really stuck with me, it was the idea of what the FBI was doing, and the fact that it’s apparently all real. After September 11th the United States completely lost its mind, becoming completely obsessed with the idea of terrorism and retribution. It’s known that organizations like the FBI were dictated to putting all of their time and energy towards Islamic terrorism, forgoing any work that they may have been doing on other things, like domestic white supremacist terror. And, things don’t seem to have changed. Whole swaths of the US government seem to function just to seek out and destroy terrorism, all while keeping a blind eye to any other issues in the world. Terrorism has become an addiction to this country, to the point where we are apparently pushing otherwise non-violent people towards terror just so that we can catch them and appear to be making some sort of progress. Terror has become a commodity in this nation, something to make a livelihood off of, and it has resulted in a culture so used to terror and fear that we’ve become numb, all while letting more legitimate sources of worry just pass us by, because it hasn’t been deemed worthy of our time. Because those other things aren’t flashy enough, and don’t provide enough accolades from the people who have been tasked with fixing it.

 

The Day Shall Come was written by Chris Morris and Jesse Armstrong, directed by Chris Morris, and released by IFC Films, 2019.

 

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