The American Messianic Complex in The Interview

Like others, I was quick to support the Hollywood film The Interview when reports came out that Sony was pulling it out because of fears of North Korean retaliation. Now that I’ve watched it, I have several take aways: it was right that I supported the principle of free expression, the movie was funny even though it wasn’t completely brilliant, and I think that we should talk about the movie’s portrayal of America as “saviors” of the world.

I understand the the movie is just a comedy, but it does support a world view–the American messianic complex that the use of force can “save” foreign countries from their turbulent political systems. Do I agree with Kim Jong-un that the movie should be banned? No. Do I think that the movie is an act of war? No. Do I think that this movie, this act of free speech, should be criticized by free speech as well? Yes. 

Ok, back up. American President Obama said that the cyber attack on Sony was initiated by the North Korean government because they did not like the company’s upcoming  satirical movie that was making fun of the North Korean leader. When I heard that, I was like, oh that dictator should get over himself. Then there were reports that North Korea was probably not responsible for the attack as you can read herehere, and here, and I’m like Washington, have you been lying to us? 

But before I read those articles, I believed Obama and was completely sympathetic when he criticized Sony for supposedly canceling the release of the film because they were intimidated by North Korea (and Sony denies doing this). CNN quotes Mr. Obama as saying “We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States because if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”

So I’m completely with what Obama said. I am so pro-free speech, so I watched the film, but after I saw it, I realized that I have to exercise my right to free speech by saying that I don’t agree with the message of the film. Ok so it’s a comedy, and one shouldn’t take the film seriously, but what it does is it lodges an American fantasy in your mind that makes certain outcomes legitimate.

What do I mean by this? If news comes out that Kim Jong-un was actually assassinated, as in for real, then you’d be totally ok with that, wouldn’t you? You probably do not have in depth knowledge about this dictator, but you’ve heard that he’s bad, and the movie argues for assassinating him, so in the event that this actually happens, you’d probably not be outraged.

Movies legitimize world views, and so as audiences, we are aware that these movie realities are fictional, but what we are not so aware of is how this depiction of reality is influencing our opinions of our current reality. The movie might not be the only one convincing you, but the general portrayal in movies and the media that the CIA is cool and assassination is totally ok. Sydney Bristow only kills the bad guys anyway, the media tells you. And what about that suave James Bond? Go hot assassin! Kill! Kill! Kill! Mission Impossible by hottie Tom Cruise! Fire those guns, I say fire!

If these shows will not make you ok with assassination, it might make you ok with the use of force and intervention to change a foreign country’s political system. You’d be ok with America invading a country and going into war if it meant that it would “save” people from their problematic political systems. The movie supports an American fantasy as saviors of the world–we will free you from your chains by killing your evil leaders. America has actually gone to war several times with such a messianic goal. Ahem, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and more–and generally the results have been disastrous.

I understand that North Korea is a dictatorial regime, and I am against dictatorships. Unlike democracies, dictatorships are more likely to abuse and suppress freedom. Despite this, I don’t think that war or even the assassination of heads of state are moral nor strategic foreign policy tools. As Malala Yousafzai said, drone attacks are fueling terrorism. If you kill people, the more you give them reason to commit their lives to killing you, and this hatred is why Osama Bin Laden found supporters.

Even in a more targeted death mission such as an assassination attempt, there are casualties, and even the movie shows this–the characters mistakenly administer poison to the wrong general, they kill the guards as they attempt to escape. Yet, the movie also rationalizes these killings, Seth Rogen’s character assures James Franco’s character that the general was probably a bad guy as well. But there’s no proof for that.

Here I imagine backstories–what if the general was a double agent for the freedom fighters? What if he’s the voice of reason of the dictator as he always persuades him to do the less vicious thing? How about the guards? What if they just took that job because it was the only high paying job that could support their families? What if none of them supported Kim Jong-un’s policies but they just had jobs in the freakin’ building? This is one of the reasons why foot soldiers are given amnesty.

But let’s assume that they’re all evil men. If so, then I say, they still deserve a trial, and not all of them deserve to die, and if you’re against the death penalty, then you must believe that none of them deserve to die. It’s only terrorists who punish indiscriminately, who break the law, who are not afraid to shed the blood of innocents.

I was supposed to end here, but I want to emphasize I am not arguing that the movie should be banned. Movies like this reveal a world view that many ordinary citizens harbor, and when it is out there in the public, it becomes a catalyst for discussion. As we are seeing right now, it triggers discussion and criticism. The outcome of that generation of analysis and opinions is education, and so I’d be supportive of letting even stupid movies be released, because it creates this–ordinary people like me who are moved to write blogs, journalists who publish articles to discuss the movie, photographers who publish the realities that they have witnessed, defectors who suddenly are interesting enough to gain media attention, etc. So I say, go make movies, go write, and while you’re at it, paint something, make a musical about it–talk, talk, talk! But also listen and learn.

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Note: For some entries in this blog, a few names and details have been deliberately and willingly changed by the author. This is a personal decision made by the author for specific reasons known to her and is not an endorsement for censorship.

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