You read that title right. With all the controversy, the Sony hack, the cowardice of major theater chains, and the threats of violence, it’s easy to forget that there are real life people at risk in the whole situation involving The Interview. And I’m not talking about US theater-goers, I’m talking about the oppressed citizens of North Korea, whom are the real victims no matter which way you look at the entire situation.
First off, media outlets are seemingly obsessed with assigning blame, first and foremost for the Sony hack. So let’s back up and state the facts before we consider motivations. Sony is the parent company of Columbia Pictures, who produced The Interview. The parent company was the victim of a hack, which is the wrong word, as cyber-attack is more appropriate based on the amount of information released by whomever got into the system, including sensitive (read: shitty) e-mails about different celebrities by Sony employees that they would have rather been kept private. Angelina Jolie will likely never work for Sony again as long as certain people are employed there, and we know The Interview cost $44 million, $14 million of which went to Seth Rogen and James Franco. This is the type of information that usually comes out one way or another, but never before has it been so specific, or so timely. Also leaked were a few full length copies of Sony movies that probably would have come out during screener season anyway (as they do every year when SAG and Academy voters get them), but again, it’s all about the unexpected nature of it that rubbed the company the wrong way.
A lot of people have suspicions that the cyber-attack was all a made up publicity stunt to promote the movie, which was tracking lower than expected. However, I think certain elements of the attack were exaggerated to the benefit of the movie’s promotion, but I don’t believe the attack was orchestrated by Sony as a company. I do believe some key employees were responsible for it happening, however. Keep in mind, these are only my opinions, I’m not a cyber-security expert, nor an expert on North Korea (although I know people of both ilk, but they’ve kept quiet, as they’re supposed to).
I don’t believe the FBI‘s claim that they have evidence that North Korea was responsible for the attack, I think they are simply opportunists that don’t like to admit that something like this could happen internally in an international company so easily. But it can, and I believe it did. Did someone in the North Korean government play some role in the attack? Probably, because they have the most to lose by the movie being released. Did Sony easily deflect the blame off their internal turmoil and disgruntled employees? Again, probably, because it’s easier than admitting an employee could do this much damage, and easier to point to an already identified enemy with the right motive to see the movie blocked from release.
All that aside, the biggest villain in all of this is the major theater chains responsible for initially pulling the movie from release. I said it in my review, and I’ll say it again: These major chains are cowards, plain and simple. They bowed to terrorist threats (real or made up, I’ll touch on that some more in a moment), pissing on the American right to free speech with a veiled form of censorship that they claimed was in the best interest of theater-goers despite the NSA announcing the “terrorist threats” were not at all credible.
On to these threats, real or imagined; When did a terrorist threat ever stop anything before? In this case, it momentarily stopped the entire release of The Interview, and its replacement counter-programming, Team America: World Police, a movie that WAS released 10 years ago to great success. I’m sure that Kim Jong-il (whom was the butt of nearly every joke in that movie) made similar threats against it. However, he wasn’t a hot-button topic at the moment, and Paramount didn’t capitalize on the controversy in the same manner, they just released the movie. I guess because it only featured puppets, they didn’t fear for the stars of that movie, as Sony has claimed they did in the case of Seth Rogen and James Franco, who canceled all their public appearances after said threats.
The truth is, there never was any credible threat, which leads me further to the point that North Korea wasn’t actually involved in the cyber-attack, nor did anyone in the NK government make any credible threat other than to save face for their “dear leader”. Since freedom of choice prevailed (for the most part, at least), and the movie is available on multiple online outlets in addition to limited theaters, the real life North Korean dictator has been proven wrong. In the eyes of his people, who know the movie has been released, he has failed. He was unable to prevent everyone from seeing the film. The point is, even if he wasn’t behind the cyber-attack, or even the accompanying threats, common sense dictates he didn’t want this film released.
Now, NK defectors have reported that citizens of the country are clamoring to see what has their leader so upset, with demand for the movie going through the roof. The tightly controlled internet access of the country has done well to keep the film out so far, but they can’t keep it up forever, the internet is far too advanced. Even in the event that it isn’t smuggled in digitally (or physically via bootleg DVD), North Korean defectors and proponents of citizen’s rights have promised to resort to any means necessary to get copies into the movie, even floating copies of the eventual DVD release over the protected border via balloons. I suspect in the worst case scenario, pirated DVD’s will make it over the border, as South Korea and China are both havens for bootleg American movies.
The ultimate point? The jig, as it were, is up. Maybe it won’t affect real change in North Korea, but North Koreans WILL see The Interview eventually. Hell, I’m willing to bet people will die in the process. If that doesn’t qualify The Interview as transgressive cinema, then I don’t know what does. The fact is, Franco and Rogen had to consider this as a real possibility, maybe not in writing the film, but upon the reports of (real or imagined) threats, they had to consider this, and maybe that’s the reason they’ve been relatively quiet about the eventual decision to release it, they didn’t want to be held accountable for the reactions it inspired, or at least fan the flames of violence any further. However, they did live-tweet the movie upon release, and I know Rogen is hosting a screening of the movie in LA this coming week. So maybe the success of the movie has got their confidence up a bit, especially since nothing adverse has happened since its release.
Sony has announced they made $15 million through online outlets alone in the first four days of release, and another $2.8 million in 330 theaters, mainly trailing only behind major release Oscar-bait like Unbroken, Inherent Vice, Mr. Turner, American Sniper, and Selma, along with family-friendly fare like Into the Woods, Night at the Museum 3, and Annie. Not bad for an R-rated movie with the threat of violence toward anyone watching it behind it.
Was the whole episode a giant facade, a Wag the Dog scenario as so many have claimed? I think it’s more complicated than that, but I think that’s definitely part of it. The media has blown the whole thing out of proportion (as they typically do), as in the end, it’s only a movie. A funny movie, but only a movie. On the other side of the same coin, however, it does carry the distinct possibility of creating a revolution within the country of North Korea, as depicted in the plot of the film. If something like that occurs, it will be bigger than any perceived threat or cyber-attack against the parent company that released it. It will become a historical fact, like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, or the attack on Pearl Harbor. Only time will tell if anything that dramatic will happen, but in the meantime, it’s amazing that two stoners that met on the set of a failed NBC show have created such a storm of controversy in a movie where one of those said stoners shoves a giant hunk of metal up his ass. Either way, if you’re interested in the history of cinema, this is worth seeing in theaters, but those that just can’t be bothered to get off their couches should at least order it via VOD, although that does say a lot about our country and goes a long way to proving that the major theater chains are right to not even bother with movies that have simultaneous VOD releases, which does a lot to kill the theatrical experience of mid-range budgeted movies. (Yet many still wonder why there are virtually no movies made between $12-35 million anymore)