It’s a new festive tradition: by the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, my in-laws and I gathered around a laptop to watch Seth Rogen push a large, uncomfortable object into his own anus. The Interview, the gross-out satire that has united Americans in support of free speech and against North Korea, is broad, bawdy and bad – but also consistently, undeniably entertaining.
After its Christmas Day release was first cancelled by Sony Pictures, and then reinstated following a public outcry, The Interview was finally made available online on Christmas Eve, and in some 300 US cinemas on Christmas Day. The film is believed to have prompted the recent, devastating cyber-attack on Sony Pictures by hackers backed by North Korea, who also made threats against theatres that chose to show it. Yet the screenings have so far gone off without a hitch.
Stars Rogen and James Franco play two journalists – TV host Dave Skylark (Franco) and his producer, Aaron Rapaport (Rogen) – who seize the chance to take their trashy celebrity show upmarket when Kim Jong-Un agrees to an interview in Pyongyang. When news of their coup gets out, however, the hapless pair are enlisted by the CIA to assassinate the North Korean leader, using a poison-administering device that Aaron is at one point forced to secrete in his rectum.
It’s not hard to see why the Kim regime dislikes the movie, which – spoiler alert – depicts the young dictator’s demise. Yet the grisly death scene that had already circulated widely online following the hack is actually one of the least offensive in a film full of crude jokes, which climax with Kim weeping and “sharting”: soiling himself while breaking wind. It is this satirical emasculation of their Supreme Leader that should give Pyongyang the greatest cause for concern.
Throughout, Rogen and co walk the tightrope between homoeroticism and homophobia. At least half the film’s physical comedy involves things entering or exiting characters’ “buttholes”, while the plot is complicated by a bromantic love triangle that develops between the heroes and Kim, who briefly convinces the credulous Skylark that he’s not a monster, just misunderstood.
As the chatshow host and the tyrant bond over basketball and Stalin-era military hardware, Kim admits that he likes margaritas and the music of Katy Perry, even though his father always told him they were “gay”. Meanwhile, Aaron has his way with Sook (Diana Bang), a comely North Korean propaganda minister. Rogen and Franco’s interplay is familiar and intermittently funny, but the film’s stand-out comic performance comes from Randall Park as the brattish, sensitive, scheming Kim.
The funniest joke of the film is its first: as a crowd watches rapt in downtown Pyongyang, a cute little North Korean girl sings an ode to her country, which the subtitles also reveal as a denunciation of the US. Americans, she warbles sweetly, deserve to drown in their own “blood and feces” while their women are “raped by beasts of the jungle”.
Had the North Koreans not taken such offence at The Interview, I can think of several other interest groups that might have. When Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Founding Fathers composed the First Amendment in defence of free speech, this probably isn’t the sort of thing they were thinking of. But while Americans may disapprove of Seth Rogen pushing large, uncomfortable objects into his own anus, they will apparently defend to the death his right to do so.