If Sony pictures wanted to stir up a buzz over a film, they could hardly have orchestrated a better series of events than the geo-political drama that played out ahead of The Interview: a mysterious cyberattack on Sony reportedly originating out of North Korea, followed by threats of violence against any theater that dared to show the film, followed by an abrupt Sony decision to pull the film, followed by a tweetfest escalating all the way up to the White House, followed by, finally, a Sony reversal and release of the film online and to independent theaters.
On the face of it, The Interview serves up about two hours of slapstick buffoonery – something on the order of a Three Stooges flick with some gratuitous cheap sex and Rambo-like combat to round out the R-rated mix. But precisely because of geo-political realities, there’s more to The Interview than your typical Hollywood comedy. Here’s the story in sum:
Dave Skylark and Aaron Rappaport are the dynamic duo of a popular TV talk show, Skylark Tonight. Dave is the face, and Aaron is the off-camera brains and (speaking generously) conscience. When Skylark Tonight gets preempted by breaking news about nuclear threats from North Korea, Aaron finds himself struck with a crisis of journalistic insignificance. He grabs Dave and makes him promise that they will aim for better content in the future.
The next day, Dave discovers that Kim Jong-Un is a fan of the show and storms into Aaron’s office with their key to journalistic significance. We should totally interview him! This would be big! And so, against Aaron’s better judgment, the adventure begins.
The CIA gets wind of it and shows up at Dave’s door with a proposal: “Take him out,” the hot Agent Lacy mouths until the dense duo gets her drift, and soon the two dudes are off to Pyongyang armed with nothing but their wits and a single ricin strip with which to poison the dictator.
[Spoiler Alert!] Though it doesn’t go the way the CIA or the duo planned, after a lot of antics, they do eventually eliminate Kim, along with a good portion of his personal guard. And that’s end of it. Cue up “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.”
Then again, don’t. Given the real world events, there’s a lot to chew on here, and quick answers may be shallow and injudicious. Should we cheer Sony’s gutsy decision to make a film about a pressing geopolitical issue and the subsequent resolution to release it, even in the face of threats? Or should we decry the film’s cheap sex, sophomoric scatological humor, and superficial treatment of a political situation that is the source of untold real suffering and death?
I lean toward yes, and yes. There’s much that’s both right and wrong about The Interview, so responding to it requires setting the various issues in context and treating them accordingly. I’ll look at it from a few angles and then offer some points to ponder.
The Good, the Bad, and the Perilous
Political theory: The Interview unequivocally puts two nations, America and North Korea, which operate according to two different theories of social organization, on clear, unambiguous display. America was founded on the principle that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and therefore of right ought to be free and independent from government tyranny. North Korea acknowledges no God, and is a totalitarian dictatorship in which the Supreme Leader is the closest thing presented to the people as a god.
According to American liberty, the state exists to serve the citizenry, to which it is accountable. It is for this reason that we call state employees public servants. In Communism, the citizenry is expected to live for the collective, which inevitably becomes synonymous with the state, which in turn recognizes accountability to no one. The two systems are mutually exclusive, and I think Sony is to be commended for using the real-world example of North Korea, rather than a fictional nation, to draw world attention to the evil still extant in our midst.
The Interview also shows, both in the internal plot and through the public brouhaha that took place around it, the importance of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. In America, for good or for ill, we poke fun at our leaders regularly. In The Interview, we see what can happen when doing so is disallowed. In the film, literal combat breaks out in the control room to keep the cameras rolling when the interview isn’t going according to the dictator’s prearranged script. Then, in real life, the leadership of North Korea threw a public hissy fit, but not just for show. Real threats of violence and death were issued.
From a political point of view, The Interview is primarily inane spoof. As Alistair Nicholas argues over at MercatorNet, it doesn’t even rise to the level of political satire. Still, no one, least of all a pompous narcissist, likes to be ridiculed. Who can say what kind of effects for the oppressed people of North Korea may proceed from this kind of “emperor has no clothes” tale? This is where The Interview gets its highest kudos from me.
Life: Life is cheap in North Korea. The reality of prison camps and a starving populace, though not shown, is at least mentioned and put on the table to be dealt with. That is good. But when Kim’s turncoat assistant Sook gets her hands on an automatic rifle, she mows her countrymen down like she’s competing in a video game. Yes, there are times and places for taking up arms, but the way she does it is, well, cheap. Sadly, Dave and Aaron, though they don’t go on a shooting rampage, aren’t much better in this respect. We see that in the way they go about their sex lives.
Sexuality: Sex drives all three of the male lead characters. To Dave, getting sex is reason enough to lie and even kill. He’s hesitant to sign onto the assassination plot … until he realizes it will give him access to Agent Lacy. Aaron’s not much better. When Sook throws herself at him, he doesn’t think twice about risking her life to have sex with her on the spot, even though he has a live ricin strip stuck to his palm.
Sex is also the way insecure men validate their manhood. Kim Jong-Un says he has lots of it – with women – to suppress any suspicion he might be homosexual. (You’d think the LGBT lobby would be all over this, but I haven’t heard a peep.) The only character that’s genuinely loved for who he is is the dog, Digby. Dave and Aaron risk their lives to take Digby home with them. “Protect that puppy with your life,” Dave says to Aaron, as they’re making their escape. In The Interview, dogs are for loving and protecting. Women are for having sex with.
What’s good about The Interview is that the Supreme Leader of North Korea is shown to be a corrupt, hollow man – an insecure, empty soul leading people astray. What disappointing about it is that leadership in America – in this case media celebrities – are also corrupt and somewhat hollow and insecure, but it’s not so obvious unless you’re thinking according to a clear, coherent moral philosophy.
Dave is just as addicted to the worship of the masses as Kim, but he’s so morally blind, he doesn’t see Kim as he is until it’s almost too late. (In real life, he’d have never left North Korea alive.) He and Kim are quick pals, reveling in some drugs, sex, and a joy ride in a nuclear tank one day, and arch enemies to the death the next.
Given the kind of leadership we see in America, both onscreen here and to a lesser extent in real life, it’s questionable whether America possesses either the moral clarity or courage to identify, let alone face down and defeat, a tyrant such as Kim. Or Putin, or ISIS. It’s obvious that the makers of the film think we have it; it’s not obvious that we actually do have it. Arrogance and moral blindness are a perilous combination.
Reading Between the Pixels
Still, I think even this complicated mess called The Interview shows how the truth claims of Christianity are not completely lost on America at large. The underpinnings are there. We just need to learn to identify them and help people reconnect the dots, if they will. Consider the following:
Political theory: According to postmodern multiculturalism, all cultures are equally good, and no particular political arrangement for society is to be preferred over another. To suggest that your own is better in any way is considered arrogant. But The Interview never even thinks about equivocating. Freedom is better than tyranny. This position can only be maintained in a theistic worldview. In a nontheistic paradigm, tyranny is just another word for Darwinian survival of the fittest. There is no reason to prefer one over the other.
Human nature: According to secular humanism, people are basically good. The reason people do bad things is either because they make mistakes or because they were thrust into a difficult situation. Dave even makes this excuse for Kim at first. Then he sees that Kim can be a murderous deceiver, ready to blow up millions of people to salve his bruised ego. Neither this Kim nor Dave’s reaction to him comport with the secular humanist view. But they’re perfectly consistent with the biblical understanding of human nature.
Sexuality: According to postmodern secularism, there is no particular order for sexual expression. Really anything goes, though most secularists still add that it should at least be consensual. Since all the lead characters in The Interview seem to be driven by sex, there’s not as much to draw out here except for one brief line in the closing scene. Aaron was attracted to Sook from the start, and eventually got in a quickie with her. Then, when he leaves North Korea, she opts to stay behind, and he feels dejected. “She was your true love,” said Dave, attempting to console him.
Whether or not she was, whence cometh this idea that sex should be tied to love and permanence? It’s rooted in Judeo-Christianity, not secularism. But that’s what Aaron, the character with a conscience, really wanted. He didn’t want just cheap sex; he wanted a relationship. Sex is kind of like icing. In the right time and place it’s nice. Separated from its context and pursued as an end in itself, it makes you sick. All the sex in The Interview is animalistic, cheap, and kind of sickening. But Aaron’s wistfulness as he leaves Sook betrays a disillusionment with it that is inexplicable in the purely secular view of sex.
Ethics and Morality: According to postmodern moral relativism, there is no objective standard for right and wrong. Right and wrong are matters of personal opinion, and no one’s particular opinion has any more merit than another. But The Interview is clear about a few moral absolutes. Dave is infuriated when he discovers that Kim had a fake grocery store, complete with painted food-laden shelves, erected for Aaron and him to see on their drive from the airport to the Kim compound. And he’s also appalled when he sees that Kim could go on a murderous rampage at the drop of a hat. But if morality is relative, there’s really no grounds for these reactions. According to the Judeo-Christian worldview, however, his reactions are perfectly legitimate. In fact there would be something wrong with him if he reacted otherwise.
Life: The same logic applies to the film’s overall view of human life. According to Darwinian naturalism, the reigning origins metanarrative, humans are highly evolved animals, nothing more. If this were actually true, there would be no reason to object to one man rising to prominence at the expense of the masses. In fact to do so would be supremely Darwinian of him. We should admire it and aspire to do likewise. But Kim and his regime are rightly, soundly condemned as ruthless oppressors. This censure only makes sense in a Judeo-Christian context.
There’s actually more that could be said along these lines, but I’m going to move on now, assuming you get the picture.
Even The Stones Cry Out
When Jesus entered Jerusalem before his final Passover and crucifixion, the crowds rightly hailed him as their coming King and Messiah. But the reigning temple elite would brook no competition. “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” some demanded. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:40)
What I see Christ saying here, at the risk of overgeneralizing it, is that all creation bears witness to its Maker. I think in a similar way, even a ridiculous R-rated flick – one that has no intention or even knowledge of doing so – can bear witness that the Judeo-Christian worldview gives us the most accurate, compelling, and true vision of realty going. The stones cry out, indeed.
Or, in the case of Dave, Aaron, and Kim, the stoned cry out.
- State Purposes: Utopian Creep and the Struggle for Human Rights & Freedom -“Liberty, based on God-given inalienable rights secured by legitimate government structures, is the heritage of the American people. But liberty in America today is under perilous threat from a utopian creep.”
- Statist Analysis: A Review of Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, by Mark Levin
- Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West – the story of Shin dong-Hyuk, born and raised in a prison camp, escaped to America.