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‘The Interview’: A Puerile Movie That Started a Culture War

'The Interview': A Puerile Movie That Started a Culture War

It’s still bizarre to think that the year’s most controversial movie came not from a provocateur like Lars von Trier, but from Seth Rogen. Yet “The Interview” has become the movie of the moment, a dick joke movie that’s now a symbol of freedom of expression in art and an “act of war” against a totalitarian regime, according to those who didn’t want it to be seen.

io9’s Annalee Newitz thought it was a terrible movie, but she also wrote that it largely “hits its mark” as a political satire, both against totalitarian governments and U.S. media:

All of the best jokes are about how the media covers politics, with [Franco] standing in for “news is entertainment” tabloid types and Aaron standing in for the reporter with a conscience…Later, when Dave tries to tell Aaron that Kim is really a great guy who is just misunderstood, Aaron reminds him: “This guy is a master of manipulating the media — and you are the media!” “The Interview” is full of funny asides like that, reminding us that what we’re really watching is a story about how political debates have been reduced to entertainment debates in the U.S. media. Even Kim’s greatest political vulnerability is actually tied to entertainment. He sings Katy Perry when he thinks that nobody can hear him!

Newitz continues saying that while part of the controversy is definitely over how the film “explicitly endorses killing a political figure, with no irony whatsoever,” it’s also a film that exposes media hypocrisy while exemplifying it:

It’s a terrible flick, released entirely to make money for a company, Sony, that has routinely victimized consumers with vendor lock-in bullshit and awful DRM that makes many of its products unwatchable unless you use “authorized” devices. There’s a reason for all the half-hidden glee people have felt watching the Sony leaks. It’s not because we’re evil bastards who want to hurt people by reading their private email. It’s because we all — Americans and North Koreans alike — hate the way corporations manipulate us into buying their shit because we just want to have a little fun with our stories and games before we fucking die.

I like “The Interview” a good deal more than Newitz (though it wouldn’t even make my top 50 films of the year), but she’s right that the film is at its most effective when criticizing U.S. media, and that it’s somewhat hypocritical in the end. The film tries to humanize Kim Jong Un and make an argument that killing him would only make things worse, only to (SPOILERS for those who somehow haven’t figured out what happens at the end of “The Interview”) totally demolish that idea by ending with a big set-piece that lovingly details Kim’s death in slow-motion, then celebrate the U.S. media figures who did it. The film is better in its middle section, when Franco’s character is so charmed and flattered by Kim that he doesn’t piece together that this might not be regular treatment in North Korea.

The Interview” isn’t exactly sophisticated geopolitical or media satire, but that doesn’t make it any less effective, and its lack of sophistication might be in its favor in the end. Rogen and co-director Evan Goldberg are a couple of goofball entertainers playing with “important” subject matter in a farcical way, just as Rogen and Franco’s characters are a couple of goofball entertainers who can’t take on an important subject without turning it into a farce (Kim loses control not because of military power, but because of a poorly-timed shart). In both the movie and the real life situation, that there are dick and shit jokes doesn’t dilute its power. A lightweight entertainment that’s ultimately of little consequence caused an international media and cultural shitstorm, and “The Interview” manages to be both about that and the ultimate example of it.

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