Should “The Interview” have been pulled?
Christmas day was set to be the release of slacker comedy darlings Seth Rogen and James Franco’s newest collaboration, The Interview. That is, until Sony pulled the film from theaters and cancelled all future press for it.
In the grand tradition of Rogen/Franco comedies, two chill bros who are probably kinda stoned find themselves involved in a matter of life and death that they’re probably to stoned to prepare for. This time, instead of a vindictive drug cartel or the apocalypse, the two are asked by the CIA to “off” North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. The anonymous people behind the Sony Pictures hack, rumored to be involved with the North Korean government, have sent threats to the studio regarding the release of the film. “Remember the 11th of September 2001,” one message states.
Four major US theater chains pulled The Interview from their line-up, and not much longer after Sony announced that they were pulling the plug on the movie, with no current plans to release the film.
Many have spoken out against Sony’s plans to cancel the film’s release, citing it as a victory for the hackers and a violation of the filmmakers’ rights to freedom of speech. The decisions to pull the movie have also lead to other projects being postponed and cancelled, including a Gore Verbinski-directed thriller set in North Korea starring Steve Carell, which was set to start filming in March.
In the weeks leading up to the film’s would-be release date, The Interview has faced quite a bit of controversy for its subject matter, being compared to “an act of war” by North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, as irreverent as the subject matter might seem to some people, this isn’t the first movie to do something like this.
In 1940, before the United States officially joined World War II, Charlie Chaplin released The Great Dictator, a comedy that he wrote, directed and starred in where he portrays Adenoid Hynkel, a clear expy of Adolf Hitler, and lampoons the Nazi party. While the movie also faced difficulty being released at the time, it went on to become Chaplin’s all-time highest grossing film, earning millions of dollars worldwide.
It is also strange considering that this is not the first American comedy targeting North Korea in this way. Former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il dies onscreen in 2004’s Team America: World Police, a political comedy from South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone that is probably better known for the controversy surrounding a gratuitous marionette sex scene than any government actions taken to censor the film. There was also a season of 30 Rock where reporter Avery Jessup, portrayed by Elizabeth Banks, is kidnapped by the North Korean government to marry Kim Jong Un. Avery is also forced to report the news for them, with Kim Jong Il reporting the weather , who had also in-universe made a few propaganda films co-starring Tracy Jordan. Once again, nobody batted an eye at this, but nobody really watches NBC anyway.
Some have argued that the US government would be reacting similarly if another country made a film about the assassination of our president, but here’s the thing: that movie already exists. Released in 2006, a British mockumentary entitled Death of a President was released, documenting a fictionalized assassination of George W. Bush. The Bush administration declined to comment on the film, saying that it “doesn’t dignify a response,” and just left it there. Many cited the film as distasteful, but since it was an artist exercising freedom of speech, the movie was left alone.
I understand that the safety of moviegoers is a top concern, but plans to pull the movie outright instead of postponing the film was, in my opinion, probably not the best way to go about doing this. Whether Sony likes it or not, all of the controversy surrounding the release of the film means that it’s pushing boundaries and has great cultural significance and relevancy. The attention that the media is giving The Interview is going to make audiences the world over curious about the film’s content and want to support it being distributed. Mainstream theaters probably will not change their minds about screening a controversial film since they are more centered on film industry profits than the impact it has on their audiences, but I could see the movie becoming hugely successful if Sony started screening it at independent theaters and art houses if they would give the movie a month or so for tensions to die down. Some have also expressed interest in streaming websites such as Netflix or premium services such as HBO giving the film an opportunity to be screened. Hell, pretty soon I’m sure that people will find a way to watch this movie on their own accord, legally or otherwise. I’m really hoping that Sony realizes the mistake I think they’ve made in their decision to pull the plug on the movie, and that someone finds a way for this movie to be screened uncensored at some point in the near future.
On another note: I never in a million years would’ve guessed that “highly controversial film” and “starring Seth Rogen” would ever be two phrases I’d ever see used together. Like, ever.