April 24, 2016

Random Acts… Bridging cultures in ‘A Hologram for the King’

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies at 4:35 pm by dinaheng

When you’re divorced, depressed and about to be downsized, what do you do?

If you’re business executive Alan Clay (played by Tom Hanks), you go to Saudi Arabia to sell a deal to save your career. That is, if you can find a way to bridge the cultural divide.

Hanks’ portrayal of Clay’s journey in search of personal and professional salvation is what saves “A Hologram for the King,” in theaters this week, from being a disjointed mess. The Lionsgate film, based on the novel by Dave Eggers, makes an earnest attempt at showing the many differences that puzzle Americans about Saudi culture, but gives few explanations about the traditions that created those differences.Dinah Eng

Clay, alone in an unfamiliar land, befriends Yousef (Alexander Block), a Saudi taxi driver who takes him through the desert to “the King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade,” a virtual ghost town of half-built buildings, where Clay hopes to sell a state-of-the-art teleconferencing system to the Saudi government.

Trying to set up a meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, Clay must navigate the bureaucratic obstacles of a receptionist who gives no answers, a Saudi manager who leaves him mid-meeting, and his own stressed-induced panic attacks.

When a boil on his back sends him to the hospital, he is treated by the empathetic Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Shoudhury), a Muslim physician who must navigate the complexities of a woman’s role in Saudi society while asserting her authority in a male-dominated profession.

As Clay builds a friendship with Yousef, and explores romance with Zahra, the businessman who came to Saudi a lost soul begins to find new meaning in life.

The movie, shot in Morocco, has sweeping desert scenery and offers a credible substitute for Saudi Arabia, which denied permission for filmmakers to film there. Writer-director Tom Tykwer, who visited Saudi Arabia’s ghost town “King Abdullah’s Economic City,” shot photos that served as inspiration for the movie’s ghost town.

For those who may never have the chance to visit the Middle East, the film shows realistic cultural challenges that Westerners face. Clay’s encounters with different people along the way, however, are often shown without explanation, leaving the viewer confused about what just happened.

How he finally gets to make his sales pitch, and what happens to his deal of a lifetime, is told with irony and humor.

What makes the film worth seeing is the message that regardless of where we come from, cultural differences can be overcome, for friendship and love truly know no boundaries.

 

 

 

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