Thursday, December 18, 2014

Seth Rogen, "The Interview," and History Made

Who would have thought Seth Rogen and James Franco, of all people, would be the ones to incite a seismic change in international relations?

There's already been a lot written about Sony's decision yesterday to cancel the theatrical release of The Interview, Rogen and Franco's comedy about an entertainment journalist (Franco) and his producer (Rogen) who are tasked with assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park). The film, co-written and co-directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg, has drawn a lot of attention, beginning with a threat from the North Korean government that there would be "massive retaliation" should the film be released. A few weeks ago, Sony Pictures - the film's distributor - became the victim of a massive cyber hack, with the hackers releasing everything from private emails to employees' personal information. Sony quickly walked back plans to release the film in Asia, then, after further threats, decided to pull the film entirely. Last night, the State Department confirmed that North Korea had ordered the attack.

I won't pretend to be an expert on the situation; I'm not particularly well-versed in the art of international relations, so I'll only say a little. It's clear, though, that this attack represents a sea change in the concept of national defense. Cyber-warfare is no longer the stuff of Hollywood fantasy (ironically), but rather a very real threat. We've entered a new phase in history where nations don't need complex weapons or nuclear capability to destroy one another. A few keystrokes on a computer is now enough to bring nations, companies, what-have-you to their knees. It's frightening, to say the least.

That a goofy comedy that has Rogen shove a rocket up his ass brought this about illustrates the power of art. I don't mean this to say that the film should have never been made; in fact, quite the opposite. I'm genuinely concerned about what precedent this sets in terms of films with controversial subject matter. By refusing to release the film, it demonstrates that the threat of violence can prevent any film from being seen. What's to stop, say, a group from demanding that a film that doesn't align with their politics be cancelled? Or, say, the government deciding that a film is "too risky" and prevents its release? The door for censorship-via-cyberterrorism has been opened, I fear, and I sincerely hope that this is not the case.

That being said, I'm almost certain that we have not seen the last of The Interview. Sony has invested too much money into this film to just let it disappear, and I believe that we'll see a DVD/Blu-Ray release at some point in the near future. Or, perhaps if Sony is wise, the company can land an exclusive streaming deal with Netflix or another streaming service. This film will see the light of day, whether the North Korean government wants it to or not.

No matter what, though, The Interview and Seth Rogen have landed their spots in the history books. Not bad for a guy with a rocket up his ass.

For some other perspectives, I recommend these articles from Hitfix's Drew McWeeny and The Film Experience's Nathaniel Rogers.

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