It is likely that the hype built around Sony Picture’s The Interview, largely stemming from North Korea’s attempt to prevent the studio from releasing the film, has driven audiences to attend screenings of the film as a patriotic act of defiance against a hostile foreign power. While many critics and early screeners have reported that the movie was somewhat less than spectacular, theaters like the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas, were stuffed to capacity and seeming to enjoy making showings of The Interview into a transcendental event. For example, at the just-mentioned theater, Chief Executive Officer Tim League strode onto stage in a star-spangled outfit and delivered a comedic introduction to a marquee showing, effectively proving the point that the controversies surrounding the movie have transformed watching it into something like a political statement.
Audiences in China were largely more critically accommodating, in what may come as a surprise from the nation who is the closest thing to an ally that North Korea enjoys. One of China’s online movie indexing sites, Movie.Douban.com, had 10,000 or more reviews posted to its listing of The Interview, many of which were more political commentary than film critique. Many Chinese citizens are adopting a closer cultural perspective to the Wests’, especially in regards to resenting censorship and questioning their country’s close ties to the harsh and militaristic North Korea. On the other hand, Chinese nationalists and conservatives strongly resent the youth’s strengthening affinity for Western culture, particularly in a case such as The Interview, where the humor is crass and irreverent, and the subject of the film is an awkward attempt at assassinating North Korea’s leader.
Sony Pictures had originally considered (at least publicly) shelving the project entirely, prompting President Barack Obama to weigh in on the matter with a statement echoing the public sentiment; that it is not within the spectrum of American Values to be intimidated into self-censorship by hostile entities at home or abroad. That may need to be taken with a grain of salt, however, in light of recollecting that one of the earlier statements from the executive branch regarding the terrorist attack on the United States’ mission in Benghazi, Libya, was that an American who had made a low-quality documentary critical of Islam was to blame. It is likely that the seemingly asymmetrical responses had to do with national foreign policy goals at their respective moments in history.
Considering the tuned response to the film, one could reasonably conclude that the White House has taken an opportunity to use The Interview as a seed, to hopefully cultivate support for its approach to relations with North Korea. Many in the U.S. were initially outraged upon hearing that Sony Pictures was planning to sit on the film after ostensibly being “hacked” by North Korea. From a certain perspective, the catharsis provided by the simple release of The Interview comes at as cheap a price as one could ask. The sabre-rattling coming from North Korea is hardly surprising, does not represent significant increase in hostility, and helps the Western world clearly highlight the values that it hopes to champion.
Opinion by Brian Whittemore
Photo Courtesy of hélène veilleux – flickr License