After all the controversy over the alleged North Korean attacks and the American response to it, The Interview, a movie that caused the recent stir in the US-North Korea relations is, as it turns out, not worth the hype. Another day, it would have looked like the movie itself needed all the controversy in order to generate the steam for the shallow execution of a promising premise.
The medium of cinema has enriched the understanding of international relations and brought it into the cinema halls and living rooms. From Dr. Strangelove's explanation of the then needless global race for nuclear capability without fully developing laws and norms to govern the weapons of mass destruction to Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator, a satire that is uncomfortably closer to reality than imagined, movies have romanced international relations. In between these, there are movies like Charlie Wilson's War, Hotel Rwanda, Babel, and the more recent and controversial Argo have done a wonderful job of explaining tragedies, victories and betrayals that changed the course of global order.
Personalities of leaders, dictators and democrats alike, have also been a favourite topic in movies like the timeless Gandhi, The Iron Lady and The Last King of Scotland. Ordinary individual lives and individual perspectives on great tragedies have also been treated well in movies like The Schindler's List, The English Patient, The Railway Man, the ageless classic Seven Samurai.
Generating such list can be an endless task if one looks at the World War epics, the Bond series, the Mission Impossible series and the recent favourite Iron Man, Captain America and the likes which look into transnational crimes, impending wars, drugs and trafficking etc.
Where does The Interview fit then? The short answer is nowhere. If one were to pen down such list once again ten years down the line, its more likely that this Seth Rogen and James Franco effort will be remembered as a movie that could have been. It is funny in parts but even if you had tolerance for vulgar content, you will feel that its lewd content as well as facile treatment let down a fantastic premise.
North Korea remains perhaps the most mysterious place on planet earth today. Did this movie tell you more about it? No it did not. Did it break any conceptions? No, it did not. What this movie did not learn was that dictators can be removed but it takes more than a short-term bravado to rebuild countries and political systems. That is because beyond doubt, The Interview is the ultimate American fantasy about a regime that has yielded little to the pressure over a long period of time. It is also in a way a statement of a strong contrast between the North Korean control fetish and the American entertainment news where freedom has led to overzealous as well as crass reporting on celebrities. Importantly, this is also the reason why two of the protagonists of The Interview meet and victory of the good over evil prevails despite everything that could go wrong indeed going wrong in the process.
Perhaps its biggest fault is that this movie also does disservice to the efforts to bring North Korean in the mainstream. It may not happen within a short time but there is no reason to derail whatever has been achieved so far. Therefore it would be interesting to see how South Korea officially and socially sees the movie. Evidence suggests that South Korean movies about North Korea in the recent past have generally avoided talking about the regime, especially since a conciliatory approach took prominence.
The Interview in the end is a silly effort that has done more damage than good for not only the tradition of cinema's relation with international relations but also to the contemporary East Asian politics and for that reason is best avoided.