Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 52 min.
Our content ratings (0-10): Violence 7; Language 8; Sex 8/Nudity 2.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.”
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
are smooth lips with an evil heart.
An enemy dissembles in speaking
while harboring deceit within;
when an enemy speaks graciously, do not believe it,
for there are seven abominations concealed within…
Back in 1940 Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator, and now, almost 75 years later, we have co-director’s Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg’s The Interview. Both dealt in a farcical manner with murderous dictators, and both created controversy. However, there are few other similarities, thanks to the raunchiness and cartoonish violence of the second—which, of course, is expected when Seth Rogan and James Franco are involved. Before actually viewing the film I was prepared to write it off as another example of looney Rogan’s humor similar to his take-off on apocalyptism This Is the End. Turns out the new film, though crazy and far too explicitly sexual, filled with scatological language, and blood-gushing violence for most church groups—nonetheless embodies a couple of insights well worth pondering. Whether the latter are worth all the chaotic troubles that North Korea allegedly wreaked upon Sony Studios, I will leave you to debate.
By now you must know the basic outline of the story, one about late night talk-show host Dave Skylark (James Franco) and his self-doubting producer, Aaron Rapoport (Rogen) striving to prove to disparaging journalists that they can do more than just interview a star whose big secret is that he covers his baldness with a wig. Discovering that dictator Kim Jong-Un (Randall Park) enjoys American pop culture, and is even a fan of their show, they wrangle an invitation to go to Pyongyang to interview the dictator, though on his terms—Skylark must use only the questions prepared by the dictator.
While they are preparing to travel CIA agent Lacey (Lizzy Kaplan) approaches the two about assassinating Kim—we are told that the North Koreans now have a nuclear rocket able to reach America’s West Coast, and that Kim is threatening to use it. Thus they are equipped with watches loaded with gimmicks for communication and strips of adhesive laced with a poison that can be transferred to the enemy with a handshake, killing him 24 hours later, thus allowing the pair to be extracted from the country.
Of course, our buffoons fumble the ball, the wrong man receiving the poison, thus requiring the CIA to send a drone at night with more poisonous strips. I will pass over the repulsive details of how Aaron smuggles the canister back into Kim’s fortress/palace. There is also the beginning of a romance (or a tryst) between him and the dictator’s aide Sook (Diana Bang), but the center of attention in this middle portion of the film is Dave and Kim becoming buddies. On the way to the place Dave sees a well-stocked grocery story and a pudgy looking boy, so he begins to question what he has been told about the people starving to death. He and Kim enjoy riding around in a Soviet-era tank, a night of karaoke, drinking and dancing, and carousing with some naked call girls. Thus he decides to abandon the plan to kill his “friend.” There is more than an echo of Dennis Rodman to all of this—the American and the dictator even enjoy playing basketball together in one segment. (The hoop has been lowered so that the dictator can make slam-dunks!)
However, Aaron is not convinced that their genial host is what he claims to be, a misunderstood man with father-relationship problems. Dave offers the plausible argument that killing one evil man would only result in another one gaining power, and might lead to worse. This triggered thoughts of how over the decades the CIA had hatched so many plots—the 1953 deposing of Pres. Mossaddegh in Iran; the 1973 military coup and assassination of Pres. Allende in Chili; the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan years—so many of which created more problems (such as the erosion of the moral authority of America) than they solved.
The other serious theme, especially of interest to people of faith, is what might be called the unmasking of powers. Kim is regarded as so god-like by his people that they accept the myth that he does not go the bathroom because he has no butthole, to use the movie’s term. When Kim assures Dave during their basketball that he does indeed have an anus, the latter is able to work this into his live (yeah, as if this would be allowed—reminding us that the film is a fantasy as well as a farce) interview. By the time of the interview Dave has had a change of heart after discovering the grocery market was a fake, so he out manipulates the man who had manipulated him so skillfully. There follows a bloody climax akin to those of a Sylvester Stallone movie. One that was bound to offend the North Korean government even more that what had gone before.
After WW 2 and the horrific truth about Hitler’s became fully known, Mr. Chaplin had second doubts about his film, saying that he might not have made it if he had been fully aware of the concentration camps. I suspect that the makers of The Interview probably do not feel this way. What do you think?
This review with a set of discussion questions is in the Feb. 2014 issue of Visual Parables.