‘The Interview’ is Making Noise, but not Saying Much

I can usually gauge a movie’s quality by the rate at which my popcorn bowl empties.

If the stainless steel is still hidden by pillowy, popped kernels when final credits begin, I know it was an exceptional film.

Last week, Sony Pictures’ “The Interview” surpassed $40 million in digital sales, setting a record for biggest online release. And while its controversial plot and crass humor is making a lot of noise in the worlds of politics and film, my popcorn bowl didn’t last long.

It made me laugh, I’ll admit. It’s hard to keep a straight face through any interpretation of Gollum, the Lord of the Rings’ goblin character, including James Franco’s rendition.

However, given the intense international debate following North Korea’s threat on the film’s release, that’s not saying much.

Protectors of free speech around the globe were enraged when Sony Pictures dropped “The Interview” after receiving terrorist threats by North Korean hackers. I was, too.

But after seeing the movie, I’m disappointed to be protecting free speech as it appears in the unrefined and nonsensical film that “The Interview” is.

Photo by  Brett Tatman and reused here with Creative Commons license.

The gutsy plot including North Korea’s supreme leader could have been used to illuminate suspected human rights abuses and government-sponsored terrorism.

It could have called into question the political lifelines that North Korea continues to possess despite these claims.

Or it could have simply illustrated the truth about life in the world’s most private regime and left out all of the fictitious and oriental stage props.

But it didn’t. Instead, it joked and trivialized and romanticized the suffering of millions of people at the hands of a government that, in the film, was humanized and comical.

If anything, “The Interview” may have reinforced North Korean and Asian stereotypes through exaggerated domestic support for Kim Jong-un, references to the eating of dogs and the use of broken, Asian-accented English.

The few efforts to emphasize North Korea’s government abuse were generally clouded by a Hollywood-style agenda to sell tickets and entertain at the expense of cultural sensitivity and truth. That in mind, was the frenzy of free speech debate really worth it?

I proudly defended free expression after the film’s release, but today I hold my sign with less conviction. Not because the principle is less important, but because “The Interview” has failed to bring the ideal to fruition.

Of course, freedom of speech still stands and North Korea’s retaliation is still inappropriate. But if we feel that the freedom to speak and to express and to create is so sacred, then perhaps we must be more responsible with how we handle it.

That doesn’t mean representation will be exact or that Kim Jong-un will approve. But if an effort toward integrity and truth is there, free speech will not be defended simply because it is legal. It will be defended because it is right.

Until then, the careless exercise of speech will remain only noise—legal noise, but mindless just the same. And after the debate is stripped away, we will not be left with better information, social change or even decent dinnertime conversation—just an empty popcorn bowl.

– md

A version of this post was submitted as part of an assignment for a J404: Interpretation of Contemporary Affairs course with Professor James Baughman.

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