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The Impoverished Imagination of Seth Rogen

The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.

Horace Walpole, Letter to the Countess of Upper Osory

It’s too bad that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg didn’t create a funny and historically accurate movie about Kim Jong-un. It’s not that they lacked material-it’s that they lacked imagination.

The Interview is a comedy about the fictitious assassination of Kim Jong-un, president of North Korea. Judging from the response, the only criticism associated with the movie was criticism of Sony for withdrawing it from theaters before it premiered, a decision it soon reversed.  No one has suggested that getting laughs from showing the assassination of a buffoon, who, nonetheless, is president of a country, might be considered tasteless. A fake execution of Kim would not be needed to make a really funny movie about him.  Ordinary events embellished by a bit of artistic license would serve equally well.  A movie about Kim could be introduced by some snippets from the life of another great president, Vladimir Putin. It might, for example, begin with the video showing Mr. Putin dressed in an all-white costume mounted on a motorized deltaplane ready to lead young Siberian cranes on their first annual migration. He dressed in white so the young cranes would think him one of them.  A later picture could be included showing Vladimir airborne with the young cranes dutifully following their president.  Another scene might be the one in which he emerges from a small submarine following his inspection of the remains of the naval frigate “Oleg” that sank in the 19th century. Linking Kim to Vladimir would establish that Kim is, like Vladimir, a truly great world leader.

Following the introduction we would be taken to Switzerland and Kim’s activities in Swiss schools that he attended for seven years. According to reports he was a mediocre student and by the time he left Switzerland   in 2000, had not earned even one General Certificate of Secondary Education. His close school friend, Joao Micaelo, said he and Kim were not “the dimmest kids in the class but neither were we the cleverest.  We were always in the second tier.” While in school Kim had a cook, driver, private teacher, and lived in a lavish apartment.  Joao said Kim’s favorite music was the Korean national anthem which Joao said he must have heard 1000 times.  Kim’s years in school could have provided great opening scenes for a comedy about the hapless youngster.

From school in Switzerland Messrs. Rogen and Goldberg would have moved on to the life of the glorious leader as shown on countless websites. As a starting point they might have gone to The Telegraph that published 17 photos of Kim engaged in day-to-day activities.  The 17 photos show Kim at his best and would require little creativity to elicit laughs from the audience.  Photo 8, for example, shows Kim laughing heartily, amused by a lubricant that is being extruded from the machine in which it is made.  A worker beside him watches solemnly having seen the event hundreds of times and no longer finding it amusing. In photo 9 Kim and soldiers accompanying him are laughing while visiting a breeding station. The foregoing is not meant to suggest that Kim does not have a serious side.

Photo 11 shows him, brow furrowed, carefully inspecting a sock at the Phongyang Hosiery Factory.  The caption says that Kim gave ‘precious instructions’ for improving the management and operation of the factory.  He may have found a hole in the sock which would explain the furrowed brow. In photo 17 Kim is standing in a small, aged, wooden rowboat waving at the camera.  The boat could comfortably accommodate three people plus an oarsman.  In the photo, however, there are eleven people standing around Kim and eight men in knee-deep water attempting to push the boat into the bay.  Another photoshowing Kim’s serious side shows him commanding a Romeo class submarine declared obsolete by the Soviet Union in 1961. That would tie in nicely with the video of Vladimir’s submarine ride

Messrs. Rogen and Goldberg would not, of course, have had to rely exclusively on photos for their comedy.  Another scene could have depicted the report of the execution of Kim’s uncle and one-time mentor, Jang Song Thaek. NBC news and countless other news organizations reported that Jang and five aides were killed by being placed in a cage with 120 hunting dogs that had been starved for five days and, according to that report, witnesses said the men were “completely eaten up.”  That narrative was later shown to be the product of a satirist’s imagination but it would nonetheless have provided good fodder for the movie.  Another sequence that could have been used to good comedic effect would show the chief of the Presidium of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea conveying Kim’s birthday greetings to Queen Elizabeth on June 14, 2014.  And there could be another sequence showing North Korean citizens lined up in registrars’ offices to obtain new birth certificates in order to comply with the terms of a 2011 decree, first made public in 2014, ordering anyone in North Korea bearing the name Kim Jong-un to obtain a new birth certificate with a different name.

The possibilities for a comedy about the life of Kim without including a fictitious assassination are endless. The imaginations of Messrs. Rogen and Goldberg were not.  A pity that.

Christopher Brauchli is an attorney in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

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