Is 'The Interview' More Critical of North Korea or of America?

Though it has far more jokes about the human rectum than your average political satire, The Interview does have loftier ambitions. In crafting a story about an American television personality charged with the mission to execute North Korea’s tyrannical dictator Kim Jong-un, the Seth Rogen- and Evan Goldberg-directed comedy does its best to tear through the obligatory blue material with something to say about the state of the world as we know it. But North Korea isn’t its only target here; The Interview might be just as critical of America.

Granted, its targets are approached in different ways. It’s North Korea’s government that The Interview sets out to skewer, but America’s society and culture. The former is tackled in what should prove an obvious fashion: the film’s heroes — celebrity talk show host Dave Skylark (James Franco), his producer Aaron Rapaport (Seth Rogen), and CIA Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) — tear into Kim Jong-un’s regime for the oppression of its people and its perpetual output of harmful propaganda.

But then we have the satirizing of America, which kicks off as early as the second scene in the film. Franco’s character Skylark represents everything… let’s say, questionable… about our country’s media. While reputable news organizations are reporting on the looming threat of North Korea’s decision to launch WMDs, Skylark Tonight is tackling — with the same vehemence — the issues of celebrity gossip, surrounding the likes of Eminem and Rob Lowe. And, perhaps most important of all, Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing with puppies.

This fixation on celebrity culture, and its dominance over matters of objective substance, is a consistent theme throughout The Interview. Although we see a legion of dignified reporters braving stories about international affairs with wit and passion, it is the candy-coated Skylark who reigns successful in landing the insuperably important titular interview with Kim Jong-un. Why? Because he, very proudly, “gives the people what they want.” And that, rather than doing good work, is how you get ahead in this country, as far as The Interview is concerned.

One particular ramification of our tabloid obsession comes through in Skylark’s interactions with his North Korean company, particularly when he takes to live television to grill the Supreme Leader. So ensconced in matters of fluff — stories of surprising homosexuality and long-hidden baldness — Skylark is terribly ill-prepared to actually talk about anything of merit. He doesn’t know much about Kim Jong-un, about the state of affairs in North Korea, about its famine, its poverty, and its employment of concentration camps. And Skylark isn’t treated much like an outlier here — he’s what The Interview deems the average American. Happily eschewing any plate of valid knowledge in favor of a more satisfying dish of Hollywood gossip.

Through Kim Jong-un's methodologies, we see America's image reflected. We see the same kind of "honeypotting" (a favorite term of the film's) utilized to appease the public. Just as Kim Jong-un's society is manipulated into worshipping him, Skylark's is manipulated into accepting his output of schlock as all-important and damn near sacred.

Yes, The Interview does take its share of shots at North Korea's tyrannical government. But it doesn't take much imagination to highlight the problem's with Kim Jong-un's dictatorship. The far more clever and innovative satire comes directed right back at us: our own regime of propaganda, misplaced values, and Joseph Gordon-Levitts playing with puppies.

Images: Columbia Pictures (3)