Bin Laden Still Not Found, but Film's Search Is Not in Vain

'Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?' Gives Audiences a Grassroots View of the Middle East

Photo: MAN ON A MISSION. Director Morgan Spurlock's new documentary begins as a quest to find the elusive Al-Qaeda leader.
The Weinstein Company/Courtesy
MAN ON A MISSION. Director Morgan Spurlock's new documentary begins as a quest to find the elusive Al-Qaeda leader.

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With the exception of Peter O'Toole, it's usually safe to say that white guys and camels typically don't mix well.

In his latest documentary, "Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" Morgan Spurlock sets off to the Middle East not to disprove that statement, but to undertake an even more impossible task: to find the world's most wanted man, Osama Bin Laden.

The search begins as Spurlock (of "Supersize Me" fame) and his crew set off for the Middle East. He also does ride a camel-if not only briefly and for largely photographic purposes. But at its heart, the film offers an intriguing look at the Muslim world from a non-news, ground level and ultimately more personal viewpoint.

"Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" opens with Spurlock finding out that his wife, Alex, is pregnant. Inspired to make the world safer for his unborn child, Spurlock decides to attempt what the U.S. military has failed at: tracking down and finding Bin Laden. Because of this, the film is structured so that his wife's pregnancy and Spurlock's journey run as parallel stories. The fact that his pregnant wife is at home about to pop increases the drama of the plot-even if at the same time it causes the film to walk the line of sentimentalism.

The beginning is flashy; it is laden with animation, snazzy music and video game references. And admittedly, this made portions of it painfully goofy. The jokes attempt to poke fun at very serious issues, and at times were successful, but at others were not witty enough to be effective.

A large portion of the film reeks of "infotainment"-a piece geared to a wide, easily distracted audience. But at the same time that is probably also its greatest strength: its ability to unfold an issue in a method not typically attempted by the media at large.

The film really gathers steam when Spurlock and his crew are let loose on the streets and in the deserts of the Middle East. He visits places connected with Bin Laden's life, all the while searching for answers. Along the way, he chats with ordinary citizens.

The interaction with random people of all sorts is refreshingly honest. "We love the American people, but we hate the American government" was a common response elicited by Spurlock's question of "What do you think of America?" He also asked, "Where is Osama Bin Laden?" a question that often provoked confused glances, curse words and laughter.

Aside from the friendly faces, he encountered people who were hostile toward Spurlock and Americans in general. Some of the most foreign images come out of Saudi Arabia, where Spurlock traverses a shopping mall as women in black burqas ride nonchalantly up glass escalators.

What "Where in the World" does so well is draw the audience into a foreign world, and then petition that audience to think about that world from a human perspective. The film is by no means revolutionary in its conclusion: The idea the people all around the world have the same hopes is not really new. But while Spurlock did not find the world's most wanted man, the film provokes the audience to take a step back and think about their lives in comparison to the lives of the people interviewed.

"Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?" succeeds in making the Middle East become much more real to viewers, who-truth be told-will most likely never ride a camel.

Pose atop a camel with Arielle at [email protected]

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