For better or worse, The Interview has probably become the most controversial film of our time. Ever since the first trailer came out, the media has extensively covered the back and forth between Sony Pictures and the government of North Korea through both official and unofficial channels, from Sony’s early concession to edit out a shot of Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un’s face being melted like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark from the film’s final cut, to the near total cancellation of the film’s release as a result of threats by pro-North Korean hacker group The Guardians of Peace. While there still remains much contention over whether the so-called Guardians have any official connection to Kim’s regime, their threats of terrorist action in retaliation to the film’s release do seem to echo the official statement released by North Korea’s state run news agency that “making and releasing a film that portrays an attack on our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated.”
I was right with everyone else who was outraged when it looked like we might not ever get to see this movie. Refusing to allow foreign tyrants to interfere with the way we conduct our lives is, after all, literally what our country was founded upon. However, unlike the many critics who clamored for its release on free speech grounds and immediately balked when they finally saw what they’d been campaigning for, I didn’t really expect much of it as an actual film. I think that’s why I ended up liking it so much.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a great film. The first act is edited in an incredibly sloppy and jarring manner and more than a few of the jokes fail on a level of basic timing and delivery. But once our bumbling heroes arrive in North Korea and meet their intended assassination target, something kind of amazing happens. And that thing is Randall Park’s masterful performance as Kim Jong-Un
I think most people my age, including myself, couldn’t help be reminded of Team America: World Police when this movie started getting major press. However, I think the comparison is rather inept in terms of how differently the leaders of North Korea are treated in each film. InTeam America, Kim Jong-Il is a villain of cartoonish proportions. He is a caricature that is clearly not meant to be taken seriously or make any kind of serious point about the real figure. Not so with The Interview’s treatment of Kim Jong-Un.
Where Team America’s North Korean dictator is laughably overblown, The Interview’s Kim Jong-Un is, at his core, a radically human character. Over the course of a few scenes where Kim entertains James Franco’s character in a nod to the infamous story of Dennis Rodman’s real-life visit to North Korea, their dialogue touches on such human issues as the pressure of having to live up to a family legacy, the frightening nature of being gifted with immense power without having the experience necessary to wield it, and the very human issue of never being able to fully be comfortable in one’s own skin. As an audience member, one begins to pity Kim, even as we are subsequently shown that, after all, he is still a bully and a maniac.
This is why I think Kim was right to be afraid of this movie.
A large reason for the longevity of the Kim Dynasty is the Kims’ ability to weave a mythic cult of personality. During Kim Jong-Il’s reign, he was notorious for the lies that he spread about himself. According to the state propaganda machine, his birth caused a spontaneous shift from winter to spring and he was able to walk and talk by the age of six months. In his later years, it was said that he was able to control the weather with his mind and was responsible for the invention of the hamburger. Though he has not been in power long, similar claims have continued to be made of Kim Jong-Un. The movie itself makes a recurring joke of the supposed fact that Kim neither urinates nor defecates.
You see, being portrayed as a super villain is easy to dismiss as wicked Western propaganda, but having your cinematic self shown as a flawed, relatable human is the worst possible thing for someone whose power is dependent on his ability to convince his people that he is a living god. Especially when his people have been trained by his own propaganda machine to believe everything they see on television.
It’s a bit unfortunate, then, that the people of North Korea will never get to see the movie. Although, according to a December article byBusiness Insider, there is a high demand for bootlegs of The Interview amongst the country’s population, so who knows? In the meanwhile, why not enjoy the film for yourself? While it may not be the blistering political satire so many expected, it is a passably funny movie that paints a surprisingly detailed portrait of a dark and complex man.