The Interview is the most important film of 2014.
Does that sentence depress anyone else? It really should, because it’s undoubtedly true. The film that will have the greatest impact on the world at large is not Boyhood or Selma or even The Raid 2; it’s the newest comedy from Seth Rogen and James Franco.
To be clear, I loved This Is The End, and though I’m not a huge fan of Seth Rogen’s laugh I think he’s a talented writer/actor. And I like James Franco too. I have no problem with either of them. But I wouldn’t follow either of them to the ends of the earth. I don’t like their work so much that I would be willing to put myself in any sort of danger to support their work.
So why did it have to be The Interview that was asking me to do exactly that?
By now, you’ve likely heard that Sony has officially canceled the Christmas Day release of The Interview. That event took place after I wrote the rest of this article, which sort of threw a wrench into things, but it doesn’t change the point of the article, so it’s still being published. This all came in response to the Guardians of Peace, who perpetrated the hack against Sony, threatening some sort of horrific violence (invoking 9/11 in the process) against any theater that shows The Interview.
Was it a credible threat? No, probably not. I don’t think there’s any way North Korea (assuming Guardians of Peace is related to that regime) could pull off something like that, and people who know a lot more about this stuff than I do agree. But, and this is the big but, what if it is credible? Because the reality is that the group doesn’t have to bomb every theater showing the film to make their point. They only have to bomb one of them. And while I never believed anything would happen, I also wasn’t going to take my chances at a movie theater on opening day.
But I kind of wanted to. I didn’t want to before this whole thing happened, because The Interview was never something I intended to see in a theater, but now that all of this has happened, I feel compelled to stand up for it. Because what has happened to The Interview sets a terrible precedent on so many levels. (And now that the Christmas release has been canceled, it’s even worse; although the eventual release may be stronger for it… we’ll see.)
If you have been following the stories that have come out of the Sony hacks (which Flixist has taken an official stand against covering), you know by now that it hasn’t been a great year for the project. And while I stand by the decision to not cover the attack on this site, I also think that what those The Interview-related emails in particular tell us about the way the film industry works behind the scenes is fascinating and worth understanding. Of particular note was the revelation that Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai stepped in to meddle with the project directly, something that hasn’t happened in 25 years. The point of contention was the actual death of Kim Jong-un (which the entire movie builds towards). While it has not technically been censored in America (though it will be internationally), it has been absolutely and unquestionably toned down.
A clip has circulated online featuring a later version, which features a far less explicit version than those on the creative team had intended. In fact, the version as presented there (and thus as will play onscreen) is kind of… nothing. Really. Even without the leaks, it would be pretty obvious that things had scaled back, because it just looks weird. And it looks weird because Sony is scared. And Sony has every right to do what it wants with its own properties… but at the same time I can’t pretend like I’m not bothered by the whole ordeal.
(On a vaguely related note: the fact that US state officials have backed the project and believe it could potentially be useful propaganda is kind of incredible.)
I may not always put much stock in other critics’ opinions, but the 46% on Rotten Tomatoes and the 54 on Metacritic thus far aren’t exactly inspiring numbers. (By contrast, This is the End received 83% and 67.) They imply, at the very least, that this may not really be a film worth fighting for. Why couldn’t it have been Team America: World Police (77% and 64) that set off North Korea? Why did it have to be a film that is probably mediocre?
Imagine if Hotel Rwanda had caused this kind of thing to happen, if Rwanda declared the film an act of war, or if The Act of Killing was seen by the Indonesian government as worthy of a terrorist response. Those are films that people would get behind and fight for, because those are films that show something significant. They’re films that could make a difference. The Interview was never going to make a difference, in part because it’s fictional, but also because it’s a Seth Rogen movie. Seth Rogen’s movies are generally enjoyable, but they don’t go beyond just being fun to watch. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in the face of a horrible terrorist threat, “It might be kind of funny” is hardly something worth dying for.
I don’t believe anyone will die for The Interview, but in the face of threats of horrific violence, you need to weigh the thing you’re fighting for against the potential dangers. By choosing a film that very few people legitimately care about, the power dynamic has shifted. Many people would normally stand up for art’s right to exist, but voices are silent, because it’s The Interview and not The Act of Killing. It all seems so pointless. I don’t believe that Sony should bow to these terrorists, but I also can’t blame theaters for removing it from their lineup. The whole situation is so completely fucked, but the fact that it’s a Seth Rogen film at the center seems like some cruel joke. The kind of joke that Seth Rogen would turn into a movie.