James Franco and Seth Rogen's North Korea–focused buddy comedy is still stupid, but it feels serious too.
When The Interview came out in 2014, almost none of the discussion around it had to do with the movie itself. Everything had to do with the hubbub it caused. The film—in which Seth Rogen and James Franco undertook a mission to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—was surrounded by controversy, having been condemned by the North Korean government and subsequently thought to be the cause of the Sony Pictures hack. Its premiere was canceled, as was its wide release, making it a centerpiece of discussions on censorship and free speech. It ended up finding a home in just a handful of theaters and a VOD release.
It's been difficult not to think about the film again in recent weeks with how prominently North Korea has been in the news. Watched in 2014, The Interview was purely fun—if only because there was nothing in it that seemed like it would ever become a reality—and the little, specifically Korean details (the differing dialects, the shift in music) were weirdly gratifying to pick out as someone of Korean descent. On that same token, watching it now, as 2017 starts to come to a close, it feels much sharper, and more uncomfortable to watch. As someone whose entire family lives in South Korea, the idea of a conflict between America and North Korea has always been frightening, and much—if not all—of the humor that I'd found in The Interview has dissipated.
There are a few details that hit closer to home than ever. Nuclear missile testing is what sets the events of the movie in motion, mirroring North Korea's current, continuing testing and the resulting global concern. Then there's role of the media, now one of the most contentious topics and tools in American politics as "fake news" and "alternative facts" take root as common phrases. Granted, the situation is a little simpler in The Interview. Aaron and Dave (Rogen and Franco) are only granted an interview with Kim (played by Randall Park) under the condition that the North Korean liaison has full control over the questions asked. As Dave starts to bond with Kim, stating that he "[sympathizes] with people getting dumped on by the media," Aaron tells him he's being foolish. The whole point is that the media is being manipulated, including Dave himself.
The movie hits upon a particularly cogent point while trying to carry out this thread of the plot: The intersection between entertainment and politics isn't quite as black and white as people might take it to be. Softball talk-show appearances and the rehabilitation and normalization they seem to provide have been uncomfortably prevalent since the election cycle, and Aaron initially protests the interview between Kim and Dave because he believes they'll be playing right into that role.
On a broader level, the movie doesn't really try to be too overtly political despite the characters in it. Ultimately, it's a buddy movie, and the political trappings are just a cover for how silly the movie actually is; the fact that Katy Perry's "Firework" plays a prominent part in the plot should make that obvious. And as a buddy movie, The Interview is a perfectly breezy time, with Aaron and Dave citing the ultimate example of the genre (Frodo and Sam, of The Lord of the Rings) as they try to survive in uncharted territory. Kim is only introduced almost an hour into the movie, though Park's performance is great to the point that any recollection of the movie for those who haven't seen it recently will likely be of him.
To that end, one gets the sense that The Interview wasn't really meant to stand the test of time. The jokes are still funny a few years later on a technical level, but they're not particularly remarkable apart from the context they're stuck in. The political angle of the movie is of a specific moment in time—it just so happens that (as improbably as anything else in the last year) the moment in question has returned, and very quickly at that.
It's worth noting that a similar drama is playing out on a smaller scale with Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin. Obviously, the political moment being depicted in the film has passed, but the Russian cultural ministry adviser has called it a "planned provocation," and there is a rumor that the film may be banned. The thing about The Interview is that it's not a political comedy as much as a comedy that happens to involve politics, whereas The Death of Stalin follows in the footsteps of Iannucci's previous works, the cutting The Thick of It, In the Loop, and Veep.
But there's no such thing as dividing one from the other anymore, as Dave and Aaron find out: There's no ignoring the recent (and rapidly escalating) developments between the US and North Korea. It's too pertinent now. After all, what finally turns Dave against Kim is the realization that he's "gonna blow up the world just to show that he's the shit." At the time of its release, the politics of the movie were mostly in relation to its release; now, they're inextricable.
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