More Interpreter thoughts

As I mentioned when I posted the link to my review of The Interpreter, I had to get the review done within hours of seeing the film, and I did this while I was a little under the weather, so I didn’t put quite as much thought into it as I might have liked.

I do recall thinking, as I neared the end of the review, that I had spent so much time analyzing the performances and other aesthetic points (like the lack of suspense, or Nicole Kidman’s hair, which I notice quite a few other critics have zeroed in on too) that I hadn’t said a whole lot about the politics of the film, apart from an opening remark about how movies made with the help of the Pentagon are basically military propaganda and therefore it stands to reason that movies made with the full support of the United Nations will be propaganda of another sort, too. But I also didn’t know how much I could say without giving away spoilers and the like. (I wish I had been as brilliant as the Boston Globe‘s Wesley Morris was in bringing these two aspects of the film together: “Kidman becomes the face of genocide, and I’m dismayed to report that atrocity has never looked so lovely.”)

So I wrote that the film “is conflicted by its need to promote a message of international cooperation even as it delivers the blockbuster goods, whereby we in the audience get our emotional satisfaction from watching one person act outside the law.” And since these reviews come with “talking points”, I added this:

Silvia says “vengeance is a lazy form of grief,” and she describes a Matoban ritual in which someone who commits a murder is almost drowned, and the family of the victim has the option of rescuing him and bringing resolution to their grief or letting him drown and mourning forever. What do you think of this ritual? Is it justifiable to risk even a murderer’s life like that? What would you do, rescue the person or let him drown?

Now I begin to wonder if I should have been more bold. It seems a number of people have been drawn to the idea that this film represents peace, forgiveness, working within the system, etc.; the BoxOfficeMojo review even claims the film “mixes pacifism with suspense.” But it seems clear to me that one of the lessons of the film, however unintended, is that the forgiveness and whatnot can only occur when there is a very real threat of violence, and when the entire community accepts and endorses that threat of violence. That, at least, is what the Matoban ritual would imply. And it is clear, not only in real life but also in the film, that the United Nations is not the agency that can provide this threat — hence Rwanda and Sudan, etc., and hence the need for one character to work outside the law, as I did note in my review.

After I filed the review, I also found myself wondering about the people of Matobo themselves. The film presents a despotic leader and two opposition leaders, one capitalist and one socialist, and by the end of the story they are all out of the picture in one way or another. So what will happen to that country? Should we be satisfied in the knowledge that the tyrant can no longer rule? It’s not like the movie gives us any sort of reason to believe that the country itself will get better, now. (It’s kind of like how the Star Wars series depicts the destruction of a corrupt Republic at the hands of an evil Empire, followed by the assassination of the evil Emperor. Is this the happy ending? How will the Rebels rebuild their galactic society? What about all those regional governors who will now, no doubt, turn into competing warlords?)

Anyway, like I said, I don’t think the film is intentionally exploring any paradoxes here; I think it was just badly written. And when you consider that five men are credited with the script, one of whom wrote the awful, awful movie The Life of David Gale, I think it’s safe to say that The Interpreter is simply badly written.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).


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