'One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star'- Nietzsche
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A lot of people don’t know it, but when Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, was a young man he attended a high school in Switzerland, where, among other things, he developed a taste for Western fast foods and a certain degree of proficiency playing point guard for the school basketball team. As with the other kids on the team, he also developed a love of the NBA and its stars. Like just about everyone, Kim was in awe of Michael Jordan’s on-court skill set.

Rating 7.5 (IMDB)

Directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

With James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang

When Kim took over the reins from his deceased father, it was hoped in the West that the young man’s exposure to freedom and capitalist consumption would lead to a greater appetite for both, and a rapprochement with Washington. Surely that was the expectation when Google’s Eric Schmidt and Joel Cohen, along with globalization executive Bill Richardson – all of whom have strong ties to the State department – visited North Korea in January 2013, just before the release of the Schmidt-Cohen futuristic tome, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, hit the bookshelves. One can readily imagine the trio pushing the inevitability of open markets, and trying to ‘honey trap’ Kim by suggesting that if he were to adopt the Google surveillance system Kim could appear to ‘open up’, while continuing to exert total control through algorithms and all-pervasive surveillance. “Works for us,” Schmidt might chirp.

Well, we’ll never know what was said, but it’s clear that the unofficial State department entourage came away empty-handed. And it wasn’t long afterward that tensions were ratcheted up again. And then the mainstream media began to excoriate ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman for traveling to North Korea to indulge Kim’s NBA basketball fanaticism, because, they cried, Rodman should be ashamed for entertaining Kim while a Korean-American, Kenneth Bae, was being imprisoned for alleged proselytizing and Bible smuggling. Rodman’s harassment seemed to have racial overtones, especially given that the Schmidt-Cohen-Richardson trio had barely eked out a pizzicato on Bae’s behalf during their fugal concerto for capitalism.
Shortly thereafter, young Kim went from being a potential reformer to the same old, same old crazy North Korean dictator. Kim played right into the nut job depiction, rattling his missiles; arresting a second Bible-thumper; kidnapping a South Korean movie director and forcing him to make a monster movie; and engaging in risky military escapades on the border.
So that’s the milieu and mood that forms the backdrop of the Goldberg-Rogen film, The Interview.
James Franco and Seth Rogen play best buddies, Dave Skylark and Aaron Rapaport, who produce a TV ‘news show’ that features interviews with celebrities that are gossipy and tasteless. The pair are exceptionally pleased with themselves, like Narcissus and Echo, and especially triumphant after white rap star Eminem comes ‘out of the closet’ during the 1000th episode of the show, causing pandemonium in the public (and in the studio). But when the pair meet up with an old Columbia School of Journalism friend, now a senior producer for 60 Minutes, who mocks the pair’s trash journalism, they are crestfallen. Until…they learn President Kim Jong-un loves their insipid program and wants to meet the pair for an interview. Their jubilation at the prospect of interviewing Kim in Pyongyang bears complexity when they agree to a plot to act as CIA assassins during the interview, during which Skylark is to deliver a lethal dose of ricin during a handshake.
Is the movie funny? The 7.5 IMDB rating would suggest that, yes, it was plenty funny. Certainly, the premise is absurd and comedic, and the acting of the principals was a splendid reach for laughs. And it’s unlikely Rogen-Franco-philes will be disappointed. But how funny it is might depend on whether you find risible a film that begins with a little girl chanting down America, singing her earnest wish for the Land of the Free to perish in “its own blood and feces.” Personally, I was creeped out.
And then after that, well, it became a familiar Rogen-Franco movie. The pair were in the Dumb and Dumber mode. Franco was especially over-the-top pulling Jim Carrey-type faces, and seemingly lampooning a number of famous interviewers, including, it seemed, Jon Stewart. There were some chucklesome moments, but it was definitely a lineup of shtick aimed at young shallow men – guys into the everyday sports argot that includes not-so-secret tasteless sexist jokes (not one woman in the movie had any power not stripped away from her by an objectifying sexual appeal), and there was a tremendous amount of homo-eroticism, involving not just bonding jibes between Franco and Rogen, but also between Franco and Park (who plays Kim), which revolves around how “empowering Katy Perry is” with her lyrical sexual ambiguity, and the relative effeminacy of Margueritas, which Kim’s dad has condemned as a “gay” cocktail (but which film Kim likes, in his secret shame).
Language is coarse and lowest common denominator-oriented. There is comic book horror. There is an awful lot of Asian linguistic parody, which seemed intent on copying the Borat phenomenon of a few years back. Skylark delivers white-appropriated Black hip-hop shoptalk regularly. And Jews may cringe to know that Kim is saved from a ricin death when the leader aborts a handshake when he is told Rapaport, who is intent on following through on the CIA plot (while Skylark becomes best buds with the fat totalitarian), that Rapaport is “a Jew,” causing Kim to recoil. There may be found a lot of hilarity, for some, to discover that Kim “has no butthole. He has no need for one.” When the clownish buddies lose the ricin package, the CIA sends in a drone, a la Amazon’s delivery ambitions, with more poison, contained in a phallic device that Rapaport is forced to hide up his ‘butthole’. Essentially, he is forced to rape himself for the viewer’s delight.
I dunno. Sometmes you have to weigh up the costs of the humor versus the karmic gravity of the subject. I enjoy apocalyptic humor as much as the next zombie, and the like, which Rogen and Franco exuded with some delight in their previous film, This Is The End (2013), but I got thrown off by the recent stoush over allegations that North Korean agents hacked into Sony in retaliation for the making of the film, which, even as comedy, has not-so-funny overtones in calling for the assassination of Kim. I mean, deposing ‘dictators’ seems to be an Obama specialty, and little of it has been funny, given the utter chaos the maneuvers have created.
Also, I feel bad for Koreans, North and South. While I haven’t visited the North, I have lived in South Korea earlier in my journeys, and was sometimes overwhelmed by the sense of emptiness and vacated spirit there. After all, the Japanese once literally raped and razed their way through the country with such devastation that Korea became a traumatized wasteland you can still feel. No doubt, the release of the movie by Sony, a Japanese corporation, was especially confronting to North Koreans. That’s if the hacking even took place as advertised; the “breach” certainly boosted the distribution and sales figures for the film.
In a perturbing development, ‘human rights activists’ have vowed to mass deliver 100,000 copies of the film to the North Korean populace by means of balloon, in the off-chance that viewing the film will incite regime-change rioting in the streets. Imagine if the CIA had commenced their toppling of Chile’s Allende democracy with an airdrop of Woody Allen’s Bananas.  The propaganda machine is at full throttle, folks.
In the end, if you found it funny that time President Obama told his media guests as a national press dinner that he’d drone to death certain musicians if they made passes at his daughters, then you’ll probably like The Interview and its mindless humor. Me, I keep thinking of the innocent people who’ve been droned, killed without a trial or a warning, including American citizens; and I can’t ever imagine laughing at that.
And I didn’t find it particularly comforting or funny when, after North Korea was publicly (and thinly) accused of hacking into Sony, President Obama said, in all seriousness, “They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.” No one from the press laughed. Funny, that.

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