Within the smallest possible parameters of consideration, The Interview, a comedy about James Franco and Seth Rogen assassinating real-life North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is simply unfunny. However, considered in the wider context of the attention it garnered from North Korea, the United States, hackers and potential terrorists, it becomes far more interesting. Simply by virtue of its undeniably transparent attempt for controversy, the otherwise forgettable film exposes current popular understandings of North Korea, terrorist relations and censorship.
Prior to the film’s scheduled release in Oct., parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment, distributor Columbia Pictures and the U.S. government were threatened by the North Korean government should the film be released. The film was pushed to release on Dec. 25, apparently after being subjected to edits to make it more suitable to North Korean preferences. After this, Sony’s computer systems were hacked and their contents made public, revealing little of interest beyond Joel McHale’s frugality (as well as 47,000 unique social security numbers, though that didn’t seem as newsworthy). On Dec. 17, Sony cancelled the theatrical release of the film, only to release it online for rental and purchase a week later in response to criticism. President Obama himself stated that Sony, “made a mistake. We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States. I wish they’d spoken to me first. I would have told them: do not get into the pattern in which you are intimidated” (ABC).
Given the full view of the dilemma, it’s worth considering what constitutes censorship, that is, “the suppression of speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions” (Wikipedia). Yes, the edits of the film to make it more acceptable to the North Korean government, and the seemingly final cancellation of the release would technically constitute censorship. The depiction of Kim Jong-un’s death, preference for margaritas and Katy Perry music is surely “politically incorrect” as far as North Korea is concerned, and the alleged terrorist threats against western audiences would by extension make the content “harmful”. However, as the technical definition of anything is rarely the end of the debate, it’s worth considering the cultural weight of the censored content.
Have you seen The Interview? It’s a poorly executed buddy comedy that exemplifies the worst of western film humour, and amounts to little more than the cinematic equivalent of a third grader saying a swear word they learned from an older sibling just to evoke nervous giggles from their classmates. It is without a doubt the worst Rogen comedy I’ve seen (with Pineapple Express being one of my favourite comedies produced in the US), but what it isn’t, is important, or revolutionary, or ground breaking. While there may be a principle at play here in that no film, no matter how bland or unworthy, should face censorship, that really doesn’t make up for what a worthless hour and a half the film is.
The Interview is not a relevant, edgy take on US/North Korean relations, nor is it an investigative documentary revealing the inner workings of a closed-off republic. It’s a time-wasting, pointless, entirely American exercise in futile controversy, and to what end? As of publication, The Interview has made $15 million online, becoming Sony’s most successful online film and clearly its most newsworthy