By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
The 2:30 p.m. screening of the year’s most controversial movie at Columbia’s Ark Lodge Cinemas didn’t feature any controversy. Patrons filed in. A man in a wheelchair struggled to find a place to park himself out of others’ way. The cinema played a few charming old cartoons advertising the concession stands, some low-budget ads for local businesses, and a video of a disarmingly heartwarming song from Tracy Newman called “I Just See You,” reminding us that our loved ones love us as we age. Our loved ones, hopefully at least, for who we are, no matter what we are.It’s a fine sentiment for the holidays and for any days. “The Interview,” the feature attraction we’d all paid to see, had exactly the opposite tack. “The Interview” is the most controversial movie of the year because of what’s happening around it, as you’ve read in other articles in this newspaper. So it’s a good idea, I think, to examine what’s actually happening in the movie.And what’s happening is abjection, along with terror of abjection. Every major character fears who he or she really is, coming to light, to the celluloid. The fear of that exposure, and the release, the frisson, when that truth does come to light, drive the action. Nobody talks acceptance, except in the name of manipulation. To win, in this film’s universe, is to simply and powerfully manipulate others while remaining un-manipulated yourself. These are the only rules. Through all manipulation, there is only one way to win.I do not give this movie zero stars because I didn’t laugh—I did, a few times; and the audience I saw it with, a roughly half-full house, did, although not extravagantly. I do not give this movie zero stars because it’s torture porn, my most-loathed film genre. I give the movie zero stars because its laughs, and its few glimpses of better intentions, get lost in the abjection, and the attendant gross-outs.The fear of losing control of one’s image, how one wants the world to view oneself, goes thematically hand-in-hand with the fear of losing control of certain bodily functions. The film happily equates the two—in both cases, and sometimes both cases together, the struggle for control generates tension (and hopefully, laughs)—the failure of control, the release, brings, hopefully, bigger laughs.Within this movie, working strictly with what’s onscreen, the main fear is being thought of as gay or effeminate. Men are supposed to be “men” —they must dominate, they must punish, they must force effeminacy on other men to prove their own dominance, and they must never, under any circumstances, betray any weaknesses. And these weaknesses are typical American weaknesses—zero tolerance for beauty, peace, tolerance, or affection. The humor often runs crude and orifice-obsessed, but this is how the underlying game is played
I’m speaking only of what’s on screen, but what’s on screen doesn’t deserve to be watched. It’s simply too gleeful about abjection, to the point where Katy Perry’s song to healthy selfhood, “Firework,” ends up subverted as someone’s secret pleasure—and the only thing to do in this universe is to rip that pleasure and that secret away, and immolate all pleasure and all positivity.In our universe, some people hope this film will trickle north of the DMZ and do something positive in North Korea itself. I’m skeptical—any images of the North Korean leader’s abjection could be written off as American propaganda. But I am no expert on international affairs, and I have only tried to comment on the vacuity of what I saw this sunny afternoon before winter darkness fell. (end)
“The Interview” is currently playing several theaters in and around Seattle. Check local listings for places, times, and prices.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at email@example.com.