A Hologram for the King
Director: Tom Tykwer
Writer: Tom Tykwer
Based on: Dave Eggers‘ novel
Cast: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Tom Skerritt, Ben Whishaw
Seen on: 9.5.2016
Alan’s (Tom Hanks) life has fallen apart quite quickly. He and his wife separated, there’s a weird growth on his back, and his position in his company is being called into question. To at least keep his job, Alan has to go to Saudi Arabia to convince the king to invest in the company’s holographic conference software. When he gets there, though, the king is nowhere to be seen and Alan is completely overwhelmed by the way business is being done. But with the help of driver Yousef (Alexander Black) he starts to find his way, literally and figuratively.
A Hologram for the King feels completely inconsequential. It’s nice enough that I could have liked it, it’s problematic enough that I could have gotten angry about it, but instead it simply didn’t seem to affect me at all.
I don’t know yet if there is an official name for these kinds of films, but there is definitely a subgenre at work here: the Western person who goes to another country to find themselves, usually somewhere in Asia (India probably more often than not) where they will encounter different customs and through that encounter learn about themselves and discover a new will to live. See The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel or Eat Pray Love. To a certain extent, even Rock the Kasbah fits. Whether or not those movies are completely into orientalism and racism, or whether they manage to be a little more subtle varies, but one thing is for certain: they are deeply entrenched in the Western perspective and the country they take place in is a more or less well-painted stage for the journey of the Western person.
A Hologram for the King is no different. It manages to fall somewhere in the middle of orientalism and actual complex representation – just enough to avoid the worst criticism, despite the fact that the main supporting characters are a funny sidekick of color (played by an American actor who doesn’t appear to have any racial background in the Middle East, but I could be mistaken about that) and a beautiful, mysterious, exotic woman (played by an Indian-English actress because brown people are all the same). Both those characters are saved by the good performances from Alexander Black and, above all, Sarita Choudhury, and Tom Hanks’ likability does its part to appease as well.
If we disregard the really very problematic racial politics at work here (and let’s face it – it was obvious from the get-go that this would not exactly be unproblematic, so at least I knew what I was getting into), A Hologram for the King still remains surprisingly half-hearted. It’s entertaining and time passes quickly as you watch it, but there’s no substance there that will actually leave you satisfied for very long.
There are nice moments here and there, but the film never really comes together. My diagnosis would be that too much got lost in the transition from book to film, though I haven’t read the book – maybe it struggles with the same problem. Be that as it may, A Hologram for the King doesn’t really impact – with anything.