Most people know the difference between good and evil, but sometimes the demarcation lines are not so clear, especially in fictitious Hollywood films. Luckily, in the case of the latest political satire, The Interview, it’s quite clear: the bad guys in the film correspond quite directly with their real-life counterparts. Is that a good thing? Co-directed by Evan Goldberg, the CIA gets involved in a high-profile interview with North Korea’s infamous leader, Kim Jong-un and orders an assassination. The movie goes on with this theme until the rather gruesome assassination actually takes place in his helicopter. The result of this production? As everyone knows by now, before the release, the North Korean government threatened Sony with “merciless” action and terrorist attacks against cinemas that played The Interview. What most people don’t know however, is that this type of thing is not just reserved for the big Hollywood movies, and there is a precedent even in TV. The Guardian reported (back in April 2010) that the US television series South Park was censored for the second time, after death threats of fatwa over the 201st “Muhammad” episode, which had the prophet dressed in a bear costume. The fact is, he was dressed as a bear on purpose, as he could not be shown as a cartoon in the wake of death threats against Danish cartoonists by Islamic extremists, who see any depiction of Muhammad as a gross insult to their religion.
So what we see now coming out of this film release is not so new, but is now being treated more seriously than ever. The advent of attending that Tuesday night movie special and having to navigate through a police presence in front of the building is NOT something we ever want to see. This falls in line with the ever growing reality of movies that have the potential to bring about real change and are therefore censored by paranoid foreign governments. Many recent blockbuster movies have been censored and banned in Arab countries, such as Exodus and Noah (as I comment upon in my previous blog), and even older films based on Christian themes such as The Last Temptation of Christ. In fact, New Regency pulled out of a planned film adaptation of the graphic novel Pyongyang, which was a truly sad day for creative expression and fighting for the First Amendment on home soil.
Here in Israel, there actually is a military connection between North Korea and Israel’s recent defensive war efforts , but unfortunately, not a good one. In the decades following the Korean War, the Korean People’s Army developed tunneling and underground bunker systems, empowering such terrorist organizations like Hizbullah by sending them specially trained engineers that specialize in constructing cross-border tunnel systems. It’s a fact that there currently exists many tunnels underneath the DMZ separating North and South Korea. Hizbullah in turn teaches these engineering methods to Hamas, as I note at the end of my book: The A.R.K. Report. Not to mention the dictator’s periodic nuclear threats to the West, and by extension Israel, this totalitarian regime should continue to be exposed in the Western mainstream media for what it is. I think that ComingSoon.net got it right, saying the film was “hilarious, but it will probably get us nuked!”
So important was this politically, that the White House in general, and the President in particular got involved to facilitate its release on several new media fronts. And rightfully so. What was the effect at the end of the day? TorrentFreak estimated that The Interview had been downloaded illegally via torrents at least 1.5 million times in just 3 days, and is the top-selling Google Play/You Tube movie of 2014. Obviously taking the release quite personally, the North Korean National Defence Commission subsequently released a statement singling out President Obama as being the “the chief culprit,” calling him “reckless like a monkey in a tropical forest.” What’s with the name calling? Sounds like a line from the movie itself!
Far from the extremist Muslim threats of burning the movie are the regular folks that actually lead everyday lives in countries like Iran, a society that was so open before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In fact, I have (older) American friends that reminisce of being invited and attending at lavish film festivals there in the 1970’s. There are human rights organizations that are not afraid to buck the tide though, and the Fighters for a Free North Korea are planning on distributing DVD copies of The Interview via balloon drops in the apparent hope to encourage even the smallest step that might inspire a revolution of their own.
On a personal note, I’m not condoning making movies about assassinating leaders. On the contrary, films like White House Down and Olympus has Fallen can indeed have a negative impact on public opinion, especially in an election year. But in this case, The Interview is just such a wild ride, perhaps too wild (think Dumb and Dumber and Airplane! on steroids), but does provide some necessary comic relief in such an unstable world. One of my favourite lines in the movie occurs when the protagonist has a change of heart, saying: “I’ve spent a lot of time with Kim, and I think he’s not a bad guy!” Let’s face it, there is nothing like poking fun at an evil regime through the medium of comedy, whether in film, newsprint, or theatre.
The Interview will surely open doors for other courageous moviemakers to confront controversial, totalitarian regimes, exposing them in new and creative ways (if you can get past the course content!). And that’s not only a good thing, it’s a great thing.