The Interview – Review (It’s all in the Context)
Circumstances and context can make even the most asinine, rote film much more important than the sum of its parts. That’s not to say that one should not try to separate art from the larger narrative, that one should not try to understand and appreciate it purely on its own terms, but to place a work in its true context, to recognise that a film is (potentially) just one component in a much larger cultural dialogue, can do much to illuminate its broader significance.
The Interview certainly benefits from such a broad approach to criticism and appreciation. The subject of an explosive hacking scandal for which the blame has fallen upon the regime of North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un, The Interview is one of those rare films in which the narrative contained within is only one part of a much larger story which, to this movie’s detriment, is far more interesting than the fragment captured on screen. To put that another way, the story surrounding the film is far more compelling than the story within it. That isn’t to say that The interview is a bad film; but it is merely satisfying.
The story of James Franco’s Dave Skylark and Randall Park’s’s Kim Jong-un’s flowering friendship (and eventual betrayal) is an enjoyable farce but expectations must be managed. The film does not deserve to have created the seismic shockwaves that it has but that was never its purpose. It is a comedy, it is meant to make its audience laugh; it is a (sometimes crude) reflection of despotic power; and that combination has rarely produced truly great films – Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator aside. But existing in the same bracket as Chaplin’s masterpiece does not require The Interview to reach such conceptual heights. Indeed, it is unfair that so many critics and commentators have preloaded the film with such implied expectations. More than anything else, The Interview is designed to make its audience laugh, a deeply subjective exercise that is not typically acknowledged as an almost insurmountable obstacle for honest film reviews. Personally, this film made me laugh, but slapstick with a dash of political awareness appeals to me personally.
For those looking for a truly meaningful satire on the North Korean state, or tyranny in general, The Interview will likely disappoint but it is unfair to dismiss its real-world meaning entirely. It is a cheeky bop to the nose of Kim Jong-un-‘s regime, a farce of almost Bugs Bunny size proportions. Even watching the film, it is almost impossible to forget just how effective that proverbial bop was and that, ultimately, creates a total that is greater than the sum of its parts. A comedy masterpiece, The Interview is not but neither is it an empty vessel.
Of course, this film’s legacy will likely have little to do with its quality. It is a part of a much broader geo-political narrative, an episode which will be remembered and analysed for decades to come. Watching The Interview in 2015 is to act in an on-going drama which speaks to the power of art. Film evidently has the power to make despots quail in their boots. More disturbingly, circumstances surrounding this film have shown just how effective threat and terror can be. The Interview will not be remembered as a classic piece of cinema, but it has nevertheless exposed some essential truths about the world in which we live. I, personally, can’t ask any more of it. Context, in this case, is everything.