Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? (2008) Movie Review

Morgan Spurlock, the man famous for putting on the pounds eating McDonalds three meals a day for thirty days in Super Size Me, is back and he’s on a mission, a global one this time. He’s decided that he doesn’t want to bring his unborn child into a world where the US can’t find one lone man who is spreading terror into the hearts and minds of millions… billions, really. Spurlock has decided to take his quest to the wide, wide world and ask everyone he finds, “Where In The World Is Osama bin Laden?”

Spurlock is famous for turning his documentaries into a personal issue, including everyone around him, even to the point of including his own wife (who was his girlfriend/fiance in Super Size Me). So, in that spirit, I’ve decided to include my own family in this review, Spurlock-style.

Knowing that the subject would be a little heavy, my wife and I started our adventure by explaining to our twelve year old daughter about the history of al-Qaeda, terrorism and Osama bin Laden with special consideration towards their roles in 9-11. Her response was fairly typical. “Daaaaaa-aaaad.” I’m not quite sure how she always manages to turn into two, or more, syllables, but she does while rolling her eyes.

After a fantastic dinner, prepared by our seventeen year old daughter and her boyfriend, we all sat down to enjoy a trip through the mind of Morgan Spurlock.

Spurlock starts the story with a funny scene where his wife announces that she’s pregnant with their first child. A goofy kind of paper puppet animation sequence, which starts with the Spurlocks making their way through the horrors of New York City and ends with them in a raft reflecting on the fact that America can’t locate one man hiding in “Afghanipakiwazeristan.”

I don’t think it’s necessary to give a play-by-play description of the movie to whet your appetite. This material is controversial but what makes Spurlock’s approach so unique is that he doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s a typical American man with a desire to make the world a better place for his wife and child. So very many documentarians tell an engaging story and make their case by interviewing influential and interesting people who are directly involved in whatever event they’re talking about, whether it’s the life of a famous person or a historical event. Spurlock, however, is able to tell his story well by spending most of his time with average people in the countries he visits. We see the surprising opinions of people in Egypt who believe their own government is corrupt, the hopelessness in the eyes of several families living in the worst kind of poverty in Morocco, the indignation and outright rage of people in Israel and Palestine and so many others toward media attention and the effect it’s had on their homes and lives. Spurlock, in my opinion, does what many will be offended by, he laughs and tries to keep a positive attitude and listens, really listens, to the people he meets. Sure, he gets a little obnoxious, at times, but what may seem like harmful naivete to some could actually be a clever journalist playing the part of the every man in order to teach the viewer something important.

Okay, now for the obligatory interviews in this documentary.

First, I decided to ask my lovely wife what she thought about the movie. The woman is beautiful, but deadly, so after a quick training session on the patio outside our apartment where I almost, but not quite, intimidated one of our cats, I felt I was ready to find out her honest opinion. I found her at her desk in a reflective mood. “This man was absolutely endearing. This is a man who is awkward and idealistic in a ‘My Name Is Earl’ kind of way. He talked to real people. His aim was to attempt to give the average American a broader view of life and real people in the Middle East, the view of American culture and American government from the outside, and a better understanding of the effect of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars on those countries. The way he did it was subtle and brilliant. He talked to real people in the Middle Eastern countries that he visited which were mostly war torn countries that make the worst ghetto in America look like the White House. But in the middle of the all this is his comic view of everything. It is that light touch that enables the viewer to open themselves up a little and be comfortable with a subject that is heated in this country and across the world.”

Next, I decided to travel back to the living room and talk to the seventeen year old and her boyfriend, who are my resident experts because they took a “political terrorism” class in college earlier this year. A class that got them added to the Homeland Security watchlist, I might add. The seventeen year old said, “I thought it was absolutely spectacular. It definitely played to the audience. It was funny and catchy enough to make it easy to follow. Most ‘political’ movies present their perspective in a way that is so contradictory that, in the end, it’s just confusing. The problem is they polarize the issues and it makes the viewer have to choose a side. This movie didn’t do that. It chose a ‘hot-button’ issue and reflected on it in a way that showed what it was really about rather than how it’s usually portrayed. He talked in a humanitarian way rather than talking about politics. That’s what I loved about it.” Her boyfriend seemed to feel, pretty much, the same way. “I felt like it presented the Middle Eastern viewpoint with a childlike niavete. By wrapping such a deep issue in such a simple manner it’s able to inform and enlighten the average viewer. Sure, it didn’t touch on the intense social complexities of the issue but it’s message was clear-cut. We are all human.”

Okay, so the twelve year old had a slightly different, and infinitely more brief, take on the entire film. I tracked her down in the dining room where she was in her typical vegetative state in front of her laptop, writing and chewing on her headphone cable through our entire interview. “It was really educational, even for people my age, and entertaining at the same time. I liked it. That’s all.”

Well, we’ll end our documentary the same way all documentarians do, even Morgan Spurlock, with a heartwarming conclusion that sums up the overall “moral” of the movie and leaves you with a sense of having been enriched by your vicarious ride along with a man who wants to be able to locate the most wanted man on earth. Spurlock, of course, survives his ordeal or he wouldn’t have been able to finish the movie and he doesn’t find bin Laden. We would definitely have heard about that one on the news. However, what started out as a quest to get in the mind of an al-Qaeda terrorist turns into a very funny and satisfying trip through the psyche of an average man with his priorities in the right place and an open mind. Amazingly, he finds a lot of people, just like him, in some of the most remote places in the world. That, above all else, should give us hope.

Morgan Spurlock (director) / Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock (screenplay)
CAST: Morgan Spurlock … Himself
Alexandra Jamieson … Herself

Buy Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden on DVD