China Travel Writer

“The Interview” Perfectly Summarizes Controversy Surrounding “The Interview”

“The Interview” Perfectly Summarizes Controversy Surrounding “The Interview”

Congratulations, Kim Jong-un. I wasn’t planning on watching The Interview before the country you control allegedly hacked it (and undeniably complained to the UN about it). It was just a stupid Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy right? Not entirely right.

Writers like Adrian Hong of The Atlantic panned it even before it was released, for trivializing and ignoring important issues.

“It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror,” she said. “It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs.”

Wrong. It is indeed a comedy intended to make money, and it is furthermore full of stupid jokes about bodily functions. What do you expect from the genre? But, super serious journalists like Max Fisher of Vox are kind of overanalyzing it (just a little) when they write–in reference to a joke about whether Lil’ Kim has ordinary human bodily functions–that, “While Kim is thought to speak English, it’s difficult to imagine him ever discussing his ‘pee and poo.’”

No, shit, and I bet he also doesn’t invite clownish Western journalists to interview him in his private palace.

UPDATE: One more thing about that joke. It is in fact widely reported that Kim Jong-il claimed in his official biography that he doesn’t defecate. So even that widely panned joke was a real political criticism. That it sounds so stupid says more about the Kim mafia than it does about the critics. Admittedly I didn’t think to look into the matter until after I posted it, and Hollywood Reporter was already on it.

But he does do other crazy things, like complaining to the UN about a film and hosting basketball games with Dennis Rodman. The caricature of him in the film is not too far off as far as satirical bromance films go.

In fact, The Interview makes some good points about Kim and helps spread the messages about his regime’s human right’s violations. What follows are a few observations about the political and entertainment content of the film:

“The Interview” is a Perfect Portrayal of the Controversy Surrounding The Film Itself

A controversial media production is being made. Critics attack it for trivializing the atrocities of North Korea or even helping them. The mass media, which is focused on celebrity wardrobe malfunctions and such trite nonsense, obscures North Korean human rights abuses.

Could the makers of The Interview know that the story they wrote would end up playing out in the American media before they released the film? One telling line comes at the 12 minute mark when Franco’s character, Dave Skylark, the obnoxious celebrity interview host, shares with his producer Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) some information about Kim Jong-un and says, “Read the bottom. After all the death camp shit.”

A moment later another staffer runs in to announce that Matthew McConaughey appeared to be having sex with a goat.

“The Interview” Portrays Chinese Trains Perfectly

Early on, Rapoport has to go to set up the interview, and he rides in a sleeper train with three-bed rows, sitting on the lower bunk with his fellow occupants, denying their offers for cigarettes and laughing. It is just like any foreigner’s first time riding a Chinese train. He looks at the Chinese girl sitting across from him and says hi, and she shyly smiles and says hi back, laughing, in the way of a Chinese person who has met few foreigners and is intensely interested, just as Rapaport is his first time being in China.

“In my country, it’s pronounced Stallone.”

Skylark’s comment when Kim shows him the tank Stalin gave him. It was pretty funny seeing Skylark and Kim taking the tank for a joy ride and shooting at trees. I’m not sure whether he would do that in real life, but it’s not really too “difficult to imagine” when his father was the biggest client of Hennessy in the world. (In The Interview, Jong-un is shown sipping margaritas.) It’s not out of character for him to be playing with his expensive toys while the citizens of the country he controls starve.

“I’m 31 years old. The fact that I am running a country is batshit crazy.”

When Skylark and Kim (Randall Park) are shooting hoops, Kim makes this comment, adding, “What am I to do when 24 million people look at me as their leader, their god? What am I to do when my father’s dying wish is for me to carry his torch?”

Freewill and Bad Circumstances

One of the subplots is about both Skylark and Kim’s inability to win approval from their fathers. Brush it off as a silly storyline to keep the film going, but it has some relevance* in a story about a dynasty. Sam Harris, about his book Free Will, said Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein is one of the worst people in history:
“This is a guy who, when he would see a wedding in progress in Baghdad, would descend with his thugs and rape the bride. In some cases he would torture and kill the bride. … The fact that we killed him is a very good thing. … But simply walk back the timeline of his life. Think of him as a 4-year-old boy. … He was also a very unlucky child. He had Saddam Hussein as a father. He was the four-year-old boy who was destined to become the psychopath Uday Hussein.”

Harris’s viewpoint is pretty controversial, as some discussions on Quora attest, but it’s important to remember that while his view would discourage people from vengeful thoughts, he would still support using the justice system to keep dangerous people from threatening us, the same way we would shoot a bear if they attack us but not hold moral judgments against that bear.

“Retribution on this view doesn’t make much sense. We don’t seek retribution against bears,” he said.

I quote Harris because Skylark said to Rapoport, after playing basketball with Kim, “He was just born into a bad situation.”

Again, it’s still a controversial question, and I don’t have a clear view on it, but I thought it was worthy of being raised for consideration, if only because I wanted to quote Sam Harris in a movie review.
(*According to the documentary The Real Doctor Evil by Journeyman Pictures, Kim Jong-il really did appear to have problems walking in his father’s shoes.)

Does “The Interview” Educate?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, many of The Interview’s critics say the film obscures the UN human rights report.

The UN report says,
“[I]t is estimated that between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are currently detained in four large political prison camps.”

A 2002 report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reported there were between 150,000 and 200,000 political prisoners (via the Washington Post). The WaPo accounted for that discrepancy by writing, “While the report’s authors noted that numbers in the camps seemed to have decreased, there were still 80,000 to 120,000 people in the camps, imprisoned without trial for crimes as minor as criticizing the Kim dynasty or trying to organize Christian services.”

The Interview quoted the 200,000 figure when Rapoport and Skylark were reviewing their facts together, and they also mentioned 16 million malnourished and $800 million annually spent on North Korea’s nuclear program.

If people are concerned about educating the world about human rights in North Korea, a number of facts interspersed into a megablockbuster along with the broad storyline about it is one way. People consume facts more easily when they are encapsulated in stories and pop culture. It is not as if all of Seth Rogen’s fans were just aching to read the 400-page UN human rights report in its entirety.

Finally, I’ll make one more comment on the humor, it was kind of funny at 5 am in the morning after researching for an article on Jeb Bush all night.

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