This article was originally published at Right Now: Human Rights in Australia,
By Maya Borom.
Mira Nair’s film adaptation of Pakistani author Moshin Hamid’s bookof the same name provides a delicate introspection into protagonist Changez’s (Riz Ahmed) struggle with his western consumerist driven identity and his eastern cultural, religious and familial background. This struggle is told as a first person narrative to investigative journalist Bobby Lincoln who has approached Changez to interview him for an article that he is writing. It quickly becomes apparent that neither man is who they are perceived to be and that they both struggle with identity issues in the face of adversity.
Set in New York, America and Lahore, Pakistan, the film retells Changez’s journey from Princeton University to Wall Street, where he works as analyst for Underwood Samson, a consultancy firm that specialises in wealth creation and consolidation. Changez’s high intellect and ability to predict areas of a company that can undergo a restructure in order to increase company profit endears him to Jim Cross (Kiefer Sutherland) who quickly promotes him through the ranks. Changez doesn’t just pursue his love of money and success, he also falls in love with a photographer (Kate Hudson) whose fractured personality increasingly mirrors his own struggle to find his place in the world.
[The Reluctant Fundamentalist] presents two versions of singular events and it is the viewer who must determine whether the actions or non-actions of Changez (and to an extent Lincoln) will lead him towards an extremist viewpoint.
Changez’s moment of epiphany comes when he is asked to dissolve a publishing company responsible for publishing poetry and creative works. This directive doesn’t bode well for Changez whose father is a well known poet in Pakistan. The dissolution of the company would effectively shut down a creative industry to support a commercial decision; because of the values instilled in him by his father, Changez understands that sacrifices for communal good are sometimes required. His refusal to engage with the corporate direction pushes him onto an alternative life path and, coupled with the events and aftermath of 9/11, takes him from New York back to Lahore to begin new life.
Though the title of the film is suggestive, there is little, if any, direct reference to religion and religious fundamentalism – it is alluded to by the kidnapping of an American professor by known terrorists – but it remains largely on the periphery, as background noise to the relationship of Changez to those around him. It presents two versions of singular events and it is the viewer who must determine whether the actions or non-actions of Changez (and to an extent Lincoln) will lead him towards an extremist viewpoint.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist’s strength lies in it’s presentations of the human psyche and the idea of the ‘other’ as dangerous. It illustrates how innuendo and fear can transform friends into enemies, how race and religion can result in profiling and lead to detention and persecution. It illustrates how governmental policy can lead to disastrous outcomes – where innocence is lost and where darkness can take it’s place. However most importantly, it illustrates the power of suggestion and lets the viewer, with their own biases and understanding, resolve in their own mind the path that Changez will ultimately tread upon.