FYI: David Skylark (James Franco) is a famous talk show host who, along with his producer/soulmate Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen), travel to North Korea to interview/assassinate Kim Jong Un (Randall Park) with the help of Sook (Diana Bang). We loosely use character/ actor names. Sorry, hope u can keep up.
Gabrielle: The Interview has been an opportunity for some to challenge a perceived lack of purity in our application of rights or laws (eg. ‘You only defend the 1st amendment when it suits your tastes/ cause’). Is there wisdom in this?
Alexis: People only ever do anything that suits their tastes or causes. Sometimes tastes and causes can be giving and benevolent, but they are still that person's tastes.
Jamie: The filmmakers obv have every lawful right to create this movie—which they should. This is not Minority Report after all. The film and the controversy surrounding it has made me think of postmodern crit/theory that describes a masculinized western subject who believes HE has the lawful/moral right to commit HIS will to deed because HE is an American (cf. Butler’s Cont Foundations). In this sense, Franco and Rogen serve as America’s optical phallus into North Korea, a position we, the viewer, are expected to identify with. The film desensitizes Americans to their own - and very real - brutality. Would it still be funny if the actors did a cold-reading of the US senate committee’s intelligence report on torture during the Bush admin.
Sennah: I’m disappointed at how the film and its filmmakers got mutated into poster-guys of patriotism and freedom of speech against “terrorists”.
Alexis: I think in this specific situation, I almost regard the involvement of the 1st Amendment as a red herring. Is that crazy?
Jamie:I felt like that too, the 1st Amendment seems like such a pearl-clutching American reaction.
Alexis: I think that it's more about how Hollywood has become the west's loudest Voice and so James Franco is blamed for not saying the right thing on a large scale, rather than expecting ourselves to take responsibility for saying the right thing even in the smaller scale of our own lives.
Jamie: My question is whether or not yall think the main controversy is situated in the actual assassination coming to fruition. How has this film been treated differently than Zoolander, for instance, which also uncovers a plot to kill an Asian political figure?
Sennah: I forgot about Zoolander; good catch! I think it was banned only in Malaysia (and upon a quick search, Singapore as well).
Gabrielle: The Zoolander comparison is interesting. Firstly it’s a much more casual/ offhanded representation of an Asian leader, he’s also a progressive leader who is being targeted for assassination to protect american industry, as opposed to a despotic leader being assassinated to liberate his people (these are very different strategies for America to represent itself).
A: Regardless of how you feel about the representation of the Malaysian PM in Zoolander, he's a single dimensional character and is that not also reprehensible? The Interview, for better or for worse, fleshed out the Kim Jong Un Character - they took artistic, and definitely racist, liberties with- but isn't there value in applying him some humanity? Allowing him dialogue? Giving him a father?
S: I was actually surprised by how Un was humanized; mostly because I didn’t actually expect him to have as big of a role as he ended up having.
G: I thought the actor playing Un was really charming and handsome, so in spite of the character being so disdainful (weak and humiliated on one hand/ evil and power hungry on the other) I was kind of rooting for him :/ I mean, the humanizing of Un is a pretty straightforward Freudian interpretation, it wasn’t exactly nuanced (I know that’s NOT the point). And a lot of the work humanizing Un was ultimately in service of humiliating him.
S: Seth Rogen thanked Sony producer Amy Pascal for “having the balls” to move forward with the film. I honestly don’t think it was bravery that made this film happen; it was naivety. Screenwriter Dan Sterling said, “I had been really naïve about the whole thing; I didn’t see what was controversial about the film. It was never intended to be a ‘message’ movie.”
J: Ew @ Rogen for his “balls” comment.
G: It’s staggering, and honestly dubious, that they didn’t think this film would be controversial!!
A: I'm not sure of any propaganda. Are we to believe that Rogen and Franco were approached by Obama to make this in order to facilitate a sanction? That it's an ad ploy that the POTUS is in on it? I don't buy it (am I missing something?)
G: Beyond the merits of the film as a work of art it is undoubtedly propaganda. The producers at Sony were in tight conversation with The State Department and with a North Korea watcher for RAND named Bruce Bennett. The state department green lit the death scene and Bruce Bennett has actually said the tactical hope was the film would incite revolution in North Korea (source) So it is more than just a satire, it’s a glamorized humiliation/assassination of a foreign leader that has the blessing of the U.S. Government.
Alexis: In a lot of the Rogen/ Franco oeuvre there’s this dance of almost, kind of, subverting typical masculinity in cinema. BUT WAIT, ARE THEY? Is this a new masculinity or Is it post masculinity? Or is it more of the same all dressed up?
S: I was thinking that our dads grew up with smooth-talking, macho male leads and not these bumbling guys with a little belly and a lot of dope. Our generation grew up with these Apatow guys, so this version of masculinity is not new to us; the underdog who acts like a teenage boy despite being a grown-ass man, fighting for his adequacy and respect from his fellow male peers and of course from women. These characters made Pineapple Express, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall so funny to me as a fifteen or sixteen-year-old (god, I feel old).
G: Sennah yr younger than all of us!
S: I think the problem is that we’re still growing while watching them, but they’re staying the same... do I sound like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused?! Whether they’re the straight man, “nice guy,” mopey underdog, or blasé stoner (or a combination of it all), they ultimately have the same goals and desires: get control/respect, get the/a girl.
A: So what’s the new male trope of 2015? I’m not sure we’ve outgrown man babies yet and Dan Harmon’s continued success proves it. What’s the new female trope? I’ll hate the world forever if it’s Lena Dunham.
S: Oof, yeah I feel the same. WAITING 4 MAN BABIES TO GROW UP: 2K?? And waiting for Lena Dunham to become irrelevant since 2K12, basically.
G: One recent trope is the anti hero (walter white, Don Draper, Rust Cole) and with it the “bad Fan” (if you haven’t read Emily Nussbaum’s article about it , you should!). I’m hoping for more Julia Dreyfus from Veep and Mindy Lahiri type female characters (like women who are allowed to be shitty). But I’m forever hoping for TV characters that are just, like, good. Like Tami Taylor.
J: I fucking love Tami so much! Mingus and I used to think we were like coach and Tami - me as Tami obv.
S: I came to like the use of “Firework” in this film! It was a surprising and unexpected trigger, and didn’t feel like a shtick because its meaning and use shifted every time it was repeated. What felt shtick-like and ultimately failed for me was the homoeroticism/queer-baiting as a comedic tool.
J: Just because they seem to be a bit more aware of how problematic their jokes are, it doesn’t make it okay. They are never critical or attempt to resolve or question any of these issues productively. Giving bro culture a more relaxed, stoner pace does not make it less offensive.
S: Is the “bro” demographic, and arguably the first target audience, going to leave this film reflecting upon their own attitudes about sexuality? If so, good; but I’m waiting and willing to hear about it.
G: I’ll admit this is the first Rogen/Franco/Apatow film I’ve seen. I think Rogen is funny in other things (and like 100x more doable than Franco) but this is really not my type of humour. So I can’t speak for the rest of their bromance oeuvre, but I think a lot of this supposed dismantling of masculinity is just posturing. I mean, by the 1000th asshole joke I wasn’t really thinking critically anymore.
J: As much as I think Franco is a shit, I think he is 1000% doable.
A: DITTO. DOUBLE DITTO JAMIE.
S: Spider-man was formative for me in so many ways EURRRGH).
Alexis: I felt like the Eminem gay panic in contrast with singing Katy Perry in the tank later on reframed some of the more problematic scenes from early in the movie.
J: Coming-out narratives are a sensitive topic, which some ppl, even in the US, even to this day, are habitually denied (Leelah Alcorn). This isn’t a joke or “the greatest moment in gay history!” as Rogen states. It is arrogant to assume that Eminem coming-out would be such a coup for the gay agenda. This particular scene (and maybe even the entire film) represents an exploitation of queerness on so many levels, including that of US-sexual exceptionalism, in that it uses America’s newfound pro-gay stance as leverage against an“unprogressive” and “primitive” North Korea (which has no visible LGBT community).
GM: I hadn’t initially thought much about the Eminem coming out thing but my roommate pointed out how Eminem gets to use this scene as a way to both; demonstrate how chill, brave and progressive he is; diffuse a lot of criticism of his homophobic lyrics (although I’ve always thought Eminem’s aggression was more therapeutic, inward looking than outward looking); while not having to actually take on the risks of coming out (cuz he’s not actually gay).
J: Ya! Slim’s acceptance is totally advantageous.
S: A review in The Guardian said this "[...] putting two American dinguses in North Korea is rich source material for racial stereotyping, but the jokes, are, by and large, self-aware; the laughs at the expense of the dumb racist." Do you agree with this statement?
G: I get suspicious whenever the ‘self aware’ angle is used to defend offensive comedy, it’s so often a deflection tactic. It’s easy to claim self awareness and difficult to disprove it. It’s quite clear that every Korean character in the film is a projection of American stereotypes about Korea, but this is never dismantled in a meaningful way for me.
J: The racist stereotypes are never atoned for, BUT in the end the “dumb Americans” DO gain a little perspective, because ONLY they are seemingly capable of such cathartic depth. They say what they want and do as they please--and get away with it.
A: I thought Rogen looked uncharacteristically happy and bright eyed during his visit to China montage- he seemed respectful and sweet to his seatmates- I think thats probably how Rogen as a person feels about people from China or Korea. I thought as the director, he made a conscious choice to shoot that generously and I saw it as a small gesture.
S: I think my first (only?) chuckle of the movie was when his seatmates imitated his laugh haha. It was cute.
G: Yea, it felt like as scene from another movie.
A: I think that in art with an angle (as this film seems to be) there is real value in speaking the language of the people you're talking to and unfortunately, the west has an incredibly racialized sense of humor. You can't preach at young kids from the King James bible, and you can't start at post-racism with bros.
S: I have a hard time finding value in art speaking in its target audience’s language when the language is so harmful and tactless. I mean, in many ways, I consider myself part of the target audience of Rogen/Franco films: I’m a fan of their previous films, I’m a young adult, I’m North-American, but here there’s this racialized humour that appears to have booted me out of its target area. I’m definitely not surprised that Hollywood isn’t making movies for this part of my identity and trying to speak in a language that is inclusive of non-whites. But just because I’m not surprised doesn’t mean I’m not hurt or angry.
J: They are portraying a version of their specific white, American ideological framework, and as such an interpretation of the American public imaginary (which is just as slanted as the North Korean propaganda ministry, in my opinion). They do not apologize or attempt to explain or revise the bad humour—or give it proper context.
S: YES, THIS. I can see how they sort of maybe try to apologize in moments like when Rappaport is embarrassed by Skylark saying “Konichiwa” in North Korea.
G: But Franco’s character is way too dumb. I think it loses the ability to be a comment, to be satire. It really just makes other racist characters seem less racist in comparison.
S: Right. Rappaport had too many of his own racist moments that I couldn’t overlook or forgive. I was still so shocked and offended when he would say things like “You no Skylark. You secret agent”. I don’t think white people can satirize non-white people without being offensive and hurtful because they are ultimately the ones with control. It scares me that self-awareness and satire have become buzzwords to excuse racism. This is one of the most dangerous forms of oppression; the oppressor can claim logic, sympathy, and understanding of their harm—when in reality, they will never experience or know the extent of it.
Sennah: Thoughts on Diana Bang's character, Sook? In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Bang says that she liked how her character is the one who saves the day, and doesn't consider her to be a stereotype. I’d argue that most of the meat of her character development is offscreen in another storyline not shown to us, which is a damn shame.
A: Firstly, why call her Sook? I know it's a Korean name but it's purposeful and one of the most problematic spots for me. It vibes me like it's in the same galaxy as the Fook Me and Fook Yu twins from Austin Powers, and that is the ultimate WORST.
G: I got a Joan Holloway vibe from Sook. I’m into these women who are such consummate professionals (even when your profession means being nice to assholes) but have a much deeper and more nuanced understanding of the world around them (which you get from not barging in and talking over everyone).
A: The drama of the film is entirely these two poor shmucks (Rogen and Franco) coming to terms with how much they love each other. The woman trying to save a starving and oppressed people will figure it out all by herself (not even a wee montage of this, boys?). That being said, she kicks ass and at least these guys recognize that left to her own devices, a woman will solve all the problems.
J: I see Diana Bang’s character as a (calculated) object, and her own agency is simply a reaction to the film’s male characters (as mentioned, her own development is not even worthy of onscreen time).
G: The Miley Cyrus camel toe conversation Sook has with Rogen is one of the lone funny moments in the film. There was something sweet about it, the way Sook complimented Americans on their creativity, it felt genuine. It was a shame that nothing like that was extended to North Koreans. I feel like the first sex scene with her and Rogen was SO cringeworthy. The way she got so upset about what a bad leader Kim Jong Un is that she lost her sex mood
A: Many times before we've seen Rogen have sex with women who are essentially sex goddesses; while he is shown as fumbling, unsexy and awkward. Heigl's character in Knocked Up had to be blackout drunk to sleep with him the first time. I love how obvious it is that Sook is faking that level of attraction- cause thats what it looked like when Heigl did it too. I hate that they end up together. I think that undermines everything I just said and Sook a lot. Even when she's doing it for political reasons, a woman can't fuck a guy without wanting to be with him forever.
Gabrielle: What else should we be watching? Talking about?
A: I think we should be watching blockbusters, old and new. I think they are fascinating cultural thermometers.
S: Honestly, I wanted to avoid The Interview at first. I remember seeing its trailer in the theater over the summer, and feeling uncomfortable and offended. Then all the controversy came pouring in, and my discomfort towards it heightened; I really didn’t want to see it then. But this discussion swayed me into realizing that I should watch it in order to better understand and investigate my own feelings and reactions, as well as to get a better grasp of other opinions.
G: Yeah I was not at all interested in seeing this film until I saw the potential of having this kind of public convo.
S: Though we can argue about whether or not its attention is “deserved,” in the end I’m thankful that this has given us opportunities to dissect a mainstream film, its reception, and the meanings/significance. I echo Alexis; we should be watching Blockbusters. And we should be watching documentaries, and short films, and music videos. We should be watching stuff that never made it to our cinemas, for one reason or many others. We should be watching the news, livestreams, Youtube clips. We should be watching it all, so we can talk about it all as much as possible.
J: I agree. Blockbusters provide interesting examples of cultural and psychic “excess” (the exclusion and shaming that takes place in between the lines). Do we always have a social responsibility to engage with pop-material critically, or is it okay to sometimes suspend moralities and enjoy bad jokes (even if they are at our own expense/ the expense of others?). Are some guilty pleasures indicative of more meaningful guilt?
A: Ultimately, however, I feel like The Interview is just about how much they love each other and that the straight male love story is more important than anything else - including the political and controversial topic they used as essentially set dressing. Franco agrees to do smarter journalism for Rogen, Rogen agrees to interview Un despite pre-written Q’s for Franco, they promise each other to always be there, they’re jealous of each other’s sexual assignations while the story goes on, it ends in them boating off into the sunset - everything else is just filler and supports a pretty patriarchal and exclusionary agenda.
G: Yeah I feel like half of the creative team was like, I wanna make a funny film about bro love and look at all the celebrities we’re friends with - and half of the creative team was like, this could speed the removal of a dictator. The combination is pretty dizzying.
A: THAT JOKE ABOUT ROB LOWE GOING BALD ON THE SET OF THE OUTSIDERS, HOWEVER, REMAINS HYSTERICAL.
J: Let’s watch Titanic and Hunger Games next!