Although the identity of the hackers behind the Sony cyber attack aren't confirmed, it's clear they were part of North Korean efforts to silence free speech, and yesterday's decision to capitulate and cancel The Interview from screening in theaters across America on Christmas Day seems like a clear win for cyber terrorists. It not only means that most will never see Seth Rogen and James Franco's latest film, The Interview, which pokes fun at North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, but also proves that satire is more powerful than ever (at least with fascists and dictators).
Ironically enough, The Interview makes for one of the more sympathetic depictions of Kim Jong-un and North Korea in recent memory. Utilizing Rogen and Franco's typical bromance format, the film follows in the footsteps of This is the End by bringing lowbrow stoner humor into a setting that might typically be reserved for a blockbuster (in this case an infiltration of a totalitarian regime), emphasizing the human nature of the film's characters and demystifying the drama present into a celebration of the duo's characteristic loser aesthetic. A smart combination, the style allows for three dimensional human characters and deep relationships, as well as a bit more visual flare, creating an engaging experience as well as a perfect satirical platform.
The film stars James Franco as Dave Skylark, a schmoozy U.S. talk show host who specializes in TMZ-style celebrity news, as well as Seth Rogen as his producer, Aaron Rapoport. After a particularly exciting "get," in which rapper Eminem comes out as gay on Skylark's show, Dave takes Aaron out to celebrate, which causes Aaron to take stock of his life and wish he had become involved in more serious topics as opposed to celebrity news. Searching for a way to transition into more political fare, Aaron becomes excited when he finds that North Korean Supreme leader Kim Jong-un is a fan of Skylark, arranging for a visit to North Korea to interview the dictator.
What follows is an increasingly over-the-top romp as the CIA recruits Aaron and Dave to use their time in North Korea to assassinate Kim Jong-un. The seemingly straightforward plan encounters complication after complication, as Dave and Aaron bumble through a task strictly outside of their comfort zone.
At first failing due to incompetence, eventually the two become split on whether to press forward with the plan at all, with Dave developing a fondness for Kim and Aaron falling for a local propagandist. It is here where the film perhaps makes its strongest point: that Kim Jong-un is as human as the rest of us. Refashioning the dictator as neither god nor devil, depending on the viewer's sympathies, the film casts Kim as a young man put into a difficult situation for which he was never quite prepared, showing him as a slang-using fanboy who has a fondness for fast cars (and explosive tanks) and Katy Perry. Though the movie still condemns North Korea for its fascist policies, its inclusion of Jong-un as just "one of the guys" redefines the dictator into a tragic figure, questioning North Korea's insistence that he is so perfect that he, as the film's North Korean government claims, doesn't even have a butthole.
Though some viewers might find this overly sympathetic, by knocking Jong-un from his pedestal, The Interview subverts his desired depiction as a man of status and causes one to consider the impact of such a man having as much total control over his people as he does. Perhaps, then, this would be where North Korea might find most of its fault with the film, as while it does give a a humanizing protrait of Jong-un, they would rather he be seen as a God, a concept that Rogen and Franco clearly can't help but chuckle at.
Rogen and Franco themselves, as always, continue with their brilliant on-screen chemistry, bickering like an old married couple and sharing a closeness not afraid to play with the physical. It's not uncommon for the two to hug and make sexual innuendo toward each other through the movie, even kissing at one point, and a particularly memorable scene finds Rogen being forced to engage in a little, umm, experimentation with what basically amounts to a dildo. The duo is infectious, and their charisma adds to the film's gripping nature.
As we move into Oscar season, it seems the Rogen/Franco comedy story will remain the Hollywood news event of the moment (they've canceled all their planned appearances as of now). When will you catch The Interview? Only Sony execs know that answer, but as of now there is no announcement about VOD or DVD. So it will probably be left to the hackers to share the movie far and wide. When the world is ready--or not.