Controversial film ‘The Interview’ inspires laughs amid controversy

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Anya Schultz/Senior Staff

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There’s a scene in “The Interview” in which Seth Rogen goes face to face with a tiger and sticks a large tube containing a lethal weapon up his ass in attempt to help assassinate the dictator of North Korea. I remember this vividly from the advanced screening of “The Interview” I attended in San Francisco on Nov. 18. The scene is outlandish and hilarious, and I can only imagine it being done to make an entire theater laugh — a situation that may have never happened, as Sony Pictures Entertainment was hacked, allegedly by North Korea, and temporarily cancelled the Dec. 25 release of the film.

Before “The Interview” entered the national spotlight as a symbol for free speech, I spoke with the film’s co-directors and co-writers, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, at the San Francisco premiere of “The Interview” about the fundamental components of a Rogen-Goldberg action-comedy.

“(The) characters’ lives are in danger — people die in ways that are much more violent than you expect,” Rogen said. At the time, North Korea had released a statement of displeasure with the film, but no one would have guessed the controversy that “The Interview” would soon incur.

True to the self-defined genre, “The Interview” melds together unexpected violence and constant comedy. The story begins with a tabloid TV show hosted by the preposterous but charismatic Dave Skylark (James Franco) and produced by Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen). In attempt to prove that they are capable of serious journalism, the two lock down an interview with Kim Jong Un (Randall Park), who happens to be a huge fan of their TMZ-style show. When the CIA hears about the interview, it enlists Skylark and Rapoport to assassinate the dictator, and the two head off to Pyongyang.

“The Interview” is filled with real-world jokes about Matthew McConaughey having sex with a goat, at-length discussions about the merits of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and many metaphors about “Lord of the Rings.” While on air as a guest on Skylark’s TV show, Eminem — played by himself — openly admits that he is gay. The headline reads, “Cleaning out the closet: Eminem finds himself.” Whether these moments are offensive or outrageous, they had the San Francisco theater in nonstop laughter.

For a stoner action comedy, Rogen and Goldberg delivered. The quick-witted jokes, the epic explosions and the heartwarming moments in the wake of destruction give the audience a comically suspenseful and ridiculous experience. But with the decision to cast Kim as the dictator, it is hard to review the movie without noting the real-world consequences.

According to Rogen and Goldberg, when they conceptualized “The Interview,” the dictator was initially supposed to be fictional. But when the idea of casting a real dictator arose, they deemed Kim as the only leader without a single redeeming quality.

Recently, headlines about the cyber attack against Sony have filled television networks, drawing attention to the fragility of content and the powers of those who control it. It is frightening how much of our identities rest in data stored in servers, but it is also frightening how much media and public attention has been focused on emails between producers, rather than on the isolated dictatorship with documented human rights violations.

I laughed a lot throughout the movie, and I walked away content because I watched an outrageous escape scene complete with an adorable puppy and an underground tunnel. I was happy because goodness triumphed over evil and because one of the silliest characters that Rogen and Goldberg created put his self-interest aside and risked being killed in order to stand up to injustice.

But I was mostly happy because I was free and didn’t live in the fictionalized North Korea portrayed in the film or in real-life North Korea. I was happy because although this world is not perfect, it allows a Jewish boy from Canada to make movie after movie with his best friend, and for about two hours, I was able to enter a comedic world.

As satirical and ridiculous as this movie is, it addressed concepts of evil that do exist in this world. And as I walked away, I thought about North Korea and the freedom of expression and what it would take to end such a dictatorship. I thought about totalitarian states of the past and how countries came together to fight against human rights violations. I thought about every genocide I could think of and how they started and how they ended, and I felt sick and sad. And at this point, I was in an Uber driving across the Bay Bridge in one of the most liberal cities in America.

If people see “The Interview,” I hope that they allow themselves, for 112 minutes, to enter the enchanted world of comedy where goodness prevails and suspense fades away with joke after joke. I hope that they laugh. But I also hope that they think about the world we live in that allowed such a movie to be made — one not only with dictatorships but with corporations such as Sony that still have a ways to go in eliminating racism and sexism in their workforce.

I doubt Rogen and Goldberg were thinking about changing the world when they were writing “Superbad” in Rogen’s grandmother’s Volvo. They were most likely thinking about smoking weed and entering college as virgins. But as their exposure and talent has grown, they have, intentionally or not, given viewers a chance not only to watch idiotic characters go on adventures but to think about the complicated nature of evil.

“If people respond really well, we’ll make a sequel on Putin,” Rogen said at the San Francisco premiere. I can only imagine what will come next.

‘The Interview’ will open at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley on Dec. 25. 

Anya Schultz is the Weekender editor. Contact her at [email protected].