North Korea Author On ‘The Interview’: ‘Behind The Butthole Jokes, The Filmmakers Get A Lot Right’

Senior Editor
01.05.15 27 Comments
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) appl

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It’s hard to ask a North Korean what they thought of The Interview, because, as you may have heard, North Koreans don’t get out much. But the New Yorker wisely solicited a guest review from the next best thing: Barbara Demick, a veteran “North Korea watcher” and author of Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives Of North Koreans, a book mostly about the North Korean famine of the 90s. Solid read, and I would also recommend Dear Leader.

In her write-up, Demick seems to have discovered (like I did) that the North Korea satire was the strongest part of the film.

…behind the silliness and the smut, the penis and butthole jokes, the filmmakers get a lot right about North Korea.

“Smut?” Please, they didn’t even show Seth Rogen’s penis, it was only tastefully implied through Foley effects. If you tried to give me dong-free smut, I’d be returning it to the smut store, I’ll tell you that.

On the schoolgirl at the beginning singing “Die, America, Die”:

…the scene perfectly captures the anti-American propaganda in a country where kindergartens, according to the A.P., feature posters of schoolchildren bayonetting a bloodied U.S. soldier. Or, as I wrote in my book, where there is a song taught to schoolchildren called “Shoot the Yankee Bastards.”

More from that link: “A framed poster on the wall of a kindergarten classroom shows bright-eyed children brandishing rifles and bayonets as they attack a hapless American soldier, his face bandaged and blood spurting from his mouth.” The soldier also has a giant nose, which just seems mean.

On the look of the airplane that transports Rogen and Franco to Pyongyang:

From the airplane’s interior, with its lace-doily-backed seats, to the protagonists’ lavishly appointed guesthouse, the atmospherics ring true. First-time visitors to North Korea are always surprised that such a poor country can provide comfortable accommodations and abundant food when it wants to make a good impression. The fictional journalists of “The Interview” are impressed, too.

Only the upper classes get to enjoy a nice lace doily.

On the best running joke of the film, Kim Jong-Un’s love of Katy Perry:

In “The Interview,” he is depicted as a fan of the singer Katy Perry. I can’t speak to the leader’s taste in music, but his brother is a well-documented fan of Eric Clapton.

Well, they say Clapton is a God, so maybe he and the Kims are related.

On Kim Jong-Un’s tank and tigers:

Kim shows Skylark a tank that he says was a gift to his grandfather, North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, from Joseph Stalin. Actually, the gift that Stalin gave was a bullet-proof limousine, but the scene works. As for the Siberian tiger that pounces on Rapaport—well, tigers largely disappeared from the Korean peninsula in the twentieth century, and I’m quite certain that there are none roaming freely in Pyongyang nowadays.

Well, I mean, if you’re going to take dramatic license, you might as well use it to insert some tigers. I support this.

Demick also found that the film worked equally well as a critique of American hubris.

And the plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un doesn’t sound altogether implausible. Peter Hayes, a co-founder and the executive director of the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, recently pointed to an August 14th U.S. Strategic Command symposium, currently on YouTube, in which a retired U.S. major general openly discussed assassination as an option to put in the “kitbag” to deal with Kim Jong-un.

Also in the kitbag? Some roast beef sandwiches, his wife’s award winning potato salad. The kitbag also has “Peter Hayes” written on the outside in a Sharpie so he doesn’t accidentally grab someone else’s kitbag by mistake. Kitbag.

While Demick was critical of the “gratuitous” ending, she did find something to praise in that as well:

Perhaps the truest words are spoken by the fictional North Korean propagandist, Sook: “Killing Kim won’t change anything. … The people need to be shown that he is not a god, that he is man.” When Skylark challenges her, she questions him, “How many times can the U.S. make the same mistake?”

Skylark retorts, “As many times as it takes.”

Yep, that was a pretty good line. If anything, The Interview proved that old truism about it being virtually impossible to distinguish earnest extremism from a parody of it. Though it always helps to add Katy Perry jokes.

Of course, during the whole hacking kerfuffle (still ongoing) there were plenty who said the US should worry about our own problems first, and think about our own reaction if another country had made a film about assassinating the president and blah blah blah. While I’m generally in favor of worrying about our problems first, acting as if you can’t make fun of a guy who got the gout from a Swiss cheese addiction while his people starve and executes family members via cluster bomb is just… well, it’s just impractical is what it is. You can’t tell us the guy shot 36 his first round of golf and then gave it up forever and expect us not to make fun of you.

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