When it comes to movies about assassinations, almost every one has been about fictional people or exploring real figures from the past. We’ve seen plenty of assassination movies that focused on fictional and real plots to kill Adolf Hitler, plus all of the details and conspiracies behind Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. While many assassination movies have taken on plots to stop an assassination of a President or a Pope, the Presidents, Popes, or other political figures in the movie were never real names. That’s one reason why the upcoming comedy “The Interview” (with Seth Rogen and James Franco) about a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un may be a real risk-taker in threatening to kill a leader we mostly hate, yet is necessary in maintaining peace in that region.
Yes, that’s a far cry from how we ribbed North Korea before with a marionette version of Kim Jong-Il in “Team America: World Police” a decade ago. In that film, we made him into a cult comedy figure that’s much more challenging to take on with his son. After finding out what Kim Jong-Un has been doing lately, we might be likening him to Hitler now, which was the topic of assassination movies already before the dictator committed suicide.
Then again, directly talking about killing a living world leader is a very rare thing in film.
Taking on Assassinations of World Leaders in Film
During World War II, there was surprisingly little in pop culture that showed us directly killing Hitler. While even cartoons showed us defeating him, the only movie that showed an attempt to kill him was the rare movie “Man Hunt” in 1941, starring Walter Pigeon. In the rare airings this gets on Turner Classic Movies, you might be surprised at how daring it was for the time. Showing an attempt at assassinating Hitler (and ultimately failing), was a bit shocking for audiences then. Even studio head Darryl F. Zanuck panicked over the anti-Nazism director Fritz Lang put in the film.
The above may seem shocking on its own considering what we knew about Hitler by then. Nevertheless, some people weren’t quite in the know yet about the Holocaust in 1941. Had it been made at the end of the war, there wouldn’t have been a single raised eyebrow over it.
Since then, we’ve seen increasingly bold assassination movies that seem to have increased in just the last 20 years. Odd as it may seem, Frank Sinatra appeared in two of the most daring assassination movies of the 1950s and ’60s. First in 1954’s “Suddenly”, he plays a man trying to kill the President from an apartment window. In 1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate”, he tries to stop a brainwashed fellow soldier from killing the Vice President.
In both cases, the real President and VP from each year weren’t mentioned by name for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, a lot of people find it eerie that Sinatra appeared in those movies when he was later so close to John F. Kennedy prior to his own assassination.
Over the last 50 years since “Manchurian Candidate” came out, the paranoia over assassinations has been rampant in the movies. Film has examined real assassinations from the past that shaped who we are now. Plus, we’ve taken on the idea that a current President is in constant danger of assassination from those who supposedly suffer from mental psychosis.
What happens, though, when a movie like “The Interview” insinuates an assassination on a world leader still living and considered a necessary evil?
Reaction from North Korea and the Rest of the World
With Kim Jong-Un and his father both being into some American culture, you have to wonder what he’s going to think of “The Interview” when it releases later this October. Despite being a comedy, the idea of assassinating a living person would have been nixed immediately had it been about someone in America. And if Kim Jong-Un probably can’t do anything legally in retaliation, it doesn’t help relations with America and their impression of American pop culture.
Will America warm to the idea that Kim Jong-Un is more akin to a Hitler caricature that makes assassination fair game, or is it dangerous comedic territory to tread on? We shouldn’t be surprised it’s coming Seth Rogen and James Franco who constantly push boundaries on where we can go in real life and in the movies. The only thing that may keep it from being completely shunned due to bad taste is the characters are inept assassins and have no clue how to go about it after being hired out by the CIA.
If “The Interview” becomes a hit, you have to wonder what other movies will start being brave enough to take on using real dictator names as targets for assassination movies. Perhaps the rest of the world is on to America and our much darker comedy streak in movies and TV. If so, perhaps they’ll get it that we’re only joking, even if perhaps we’re subsequently not.