There’s a double meaning to the title of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” filmmaker Mira Nair’s great, gripping and complex drama based on the 2007 novel by Mohsin Hamid about the roots of extremism.
On a superficial level, “fundamentalist” refers to religious identity, one unfortunately most often associated with Islamic terrorism these days. And the story — about an ambitious, Pakistani-born Wall Street financial analyst who becomes disenchanted with the United States after 9/11 — certainly suggests that most obvious reading. In that interpretation, the reluctant fundamentalist is an assimilated Muslim forced into anti-American radicalism by America itself.
But the hero Changez Khan (Riz Ahmed), whom we meet at the outset as an older and wiser professor of revolutionary studies at Lahore University, isn’t quite what he appears. The other meaning of “fundamentalist” refers to Changez’s prior life in the states, where, as a young man, he was paid big bucks to fix broken companies, coolly evaluating — and, if necessary, streamlining — a business’s “fundamentals.” That means he was often in the position of having to fire people, a job that might inspire reluctance in anyone with a heart. (The name Changez Khan is a variant of Genghis Khan.)