This film has been threatened, cancelled, re-scheduled for release, and subjected to more free advertising than any other movie this year and has been the talk of entertainment for weeks. Just last week it looked like we’d have to wait for The Interview to be released on DVD before we could see it, but thanks to Seth Rogan’s enthusiasm it is available to any teenager with a smartphone. The cries of North Korea really were the icing on this cake of triumph.
Seth plays second fiddle on screen to James Franco who is an entertainment TV show-host in the USA. And what a worthy parody of that wretched business, at the beginning (SPOILER ALERT) is an interview with Eminem in which the latter dead-pans a personal revelation to hilarious effect. Okay so not much of a spoiler, but I didn’t wan’t to risk anything. Franco succinctly embodies Americas shameful obsession with celebrity culture, in the face of the proudly hard-news people who work on Sixty Minutes. In an attempt to show everyone what he’s worth, Franco — I forget the name of his character — decides to interview Kim Jong Un, and his resourceful producer (Rogan) manages to make it happen.
The CIA get involved and it is decided that the two will travel to Pyongyang to interview the tubby dictator, and assassinate him by slow-acting poison. The first point of objection I have is that they refer to Kim Jong Un as President of North Korea. Undoubtedly this is for an expedient plot (It makes very little difference) but it may interest readers to know that Kim Jong Un is not the head of state. He is the head of the armed forces and head of the communist party, but the head of state is in fact his deceased grandfather, Kim Il-Sung. Upon his death in 1994 he was declared the eternal president, and North Korea is as Christopher Hitchens used to say; a necocracy, or a thanatocracy.
Gouty Jong Un is only de facto president, but as I said this makes very little difference. I’ll go no further in expounding the narrative, except to say that the totalitarian regime was illustrated well by a few choice scenes. In particular, there is a bit where Jong Un is howling with grief over something you will have to see the film yourself to know, everyone else in the room starts to howl and cry, including Franco. It references the masses of people tearing out their hair in sadness before a picture of Kim Jong Il after his death. Everyone knows they must cry, and knows that they will face punishment if they do not do so convincingly, but no-one knows for sure whether the person next to them is genuine or not.
This is living within the lie, as Vaclav Havel wrote in his fantastic essay on totalitarianism; The Power of the Powerless. What happened in 1989 to the Warsaw Pact nations was that the fragile bubble burst. People knew the government was awful, and crucially they knew that their feeling was universal. Why do people in North Korea believe that Kim Jong Un can talk to dolphins and does not defecate? They don’t, they just can’t be sure that other people don’t believe it too. That is the fragility of totalitarianism, every person is a threat, and any disobedience could mean the death of the regime. The movie makes that case, albeit in a typically crude Seth Rogan way.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and I hope others like it too. Dictators who claim godlike dominion over 24 million people, or even just the inhabitants of their house, deserve to be ridiculed and repudiated. North Korea has seen its internet and cellular networks disrupted, possibly by America through China. This means the only place on earth on which we can be sure The Interview will never be shown is North Korea. It may seem utterly ridiculous that this film is any threat to Kim Jong Un’s regime, given how far-fetched it is. But the irony is that it’s much more plausible than that. If that fragile bubble were to pop, and a few North Koreans were to refuse to live in the lie, the regime that teeters on Kim Jong Un’s gouty legs would not be able to resist the tug of gravity.