The Guardian’s Phil Hoad points out that, not only do Sacha Baron Cohen’s The Dictator and Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator seem cut from the same cloth, but there are enough similarities between the two comedians that Cohen has essentially picked up Chaplin’s comedic mantel, albeit for our modern, naked-man-wrestling sensibilities.
In addition to lampooning their era’s respective despots, Hoad draws deep parallels between the naivety and lanky spasticity of Borat and the bumbling innocence of Chaplin’s The Little Tramp, asking what other physical comedian commits as well to playing an innocent terror. “Both characters shuffle along on similar lines: the naif, adrift in a fast-expanding world, but buoyed up by an unshakable optimism,” Hoad writes. “The Tramp navigated the snakes and ladders of early 20th-century American life; Borat is doing the same in the globalised maelstrom nearly 100 years later.” Bruno, Hoad says, didn’t work because Cohen sacrificed the guilelessness that make all of his character, as well as Chaplin’s, so winning. Then again, it’s hard to make those kinds of historical assumptions from our modern vantage point. If Chaplin had had the technology to make a penis digitally speak to the audience, might he have been tempted to use it? The world will never know.