Danish auteur Lars von Trier is used to controversy following his films; some of his critics have even accused him of courting it for sensationalism and reaction. Yet even with a career that contains the likes of The Idiots (rich kids mocking the handicapped), Dancer in the Dark (which drove star Bjork to never act again) and Dogville (leveled with charges of misogyny and anti-Americanism), the director’s latest may be his crowning achievement in outrage. When it debuted at Cannes earlier this year, Antichrist — starring Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg as a grieving couple who retreat to idyllic woodland where all Hell breaks loose — was so appalling to some in its graphic, sexual violence that it prompted uproar (and even a special “anti-humanitarian” prize from the jury). But are the critics really getting what von Trier is playing at? And does he even know himself? Moreover, who’s got the better talking fox — he or Wes Anderson?
Well Lars, I liked this film very much — so I’m not going to ask you to ‘justify’ it, as you’ll have fond memories of from Cannes.
Instead, let’s talk tie-ins. I noticed on your website you can buy Antichrist t-shirts, and then there’s the ‘Eden’ video game in development. Just how far are you going to go with the merchandising on this?
Well I… [chuckles] I don’t think it’s going to be ‘big business’. This is actually something that I don’t really have anything to do with. The video game, I’m not participating in these things; but I have this philosophy, you know, that when you’ve made the film then people can do what they like with the film as long as people have a way of knowing what is your original film.
Your movie fox’s “Chaos reigns” has become something of a mini phenomenon on the Internet. Will we see him on t-shirts any time soon?
[Laughs] It seems they’re going with that on a t-shirt in the States.
I’m sure you’ve seen the YouTube videos combining your fox’s voice with Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox trailer.
Yeah, I saw that. [drolly] Very entertaining.
I wanted to clear this up: who did the voice of the fox? There’s a rumour that it was you—
Oh no, it is actually Willem that did it. But I wanted very much for John Hurt to have done it because I worked with him on the narration of other films; but that was not possible. We kind of did a lot of things to his voice, with different buttons, I don’t know what.
Who do you think does a better fox — Willem or George Clooney?
I know, it’s a silly question.
It’s a silly question but I must say I’m very much in love with Willem, so… [laughs] he’s got a good voice also.
Well we’ve got that out of the way. I didn’t want to start with “CONTROVERSY!” Let me ask you this, though: Do you ever grow tired of talking about the controversy surrounding your films?
Well I’m fine with whatever people want to talk about, but for me the easiest thing is, of course, to talk about “How did you do this?” and, you know, technical questions. This film is actually made in a way so I don’t have so much to say about it. The controversy? Yeah, that suits me fine, you know. If somebody asks me, “What is a good film reception?” — this is a good film reception. Sure, some people think this and other people think something more positive; well, that’s actually fine with me. That suits me well for the kind of film that I’m doing.
What was the very first idea you had for this film?
The very first thing was the idea of doing a horror film. As kind of a little task. And then I know, by experience, that it does not become a real horror film. It becomes something in between some other genres. But the idea was to do a horror film. The good thing about the horror film is that it allows you to do almost all the images you want to do. You can put almost anything into that form, which I like. Normally I don’t see films before I do my own, but this was a little untypical, so I saw a lot — well, a handful — of these Japanese horror films, which was quite fascinating. I wouldn’t say that I used so much from them but I know of course my classics — Carrie and The Shining and whatever — but it was interesting to see.
I will say that this idea about the horror film, it was combined with another idea. I saw a documentary about the original forests of Europe, and all that could be compared, of course, to the ‘original forests’ of anywhere; and the conclusion in that was that the original forest was the place with the maximum of pain, the maximum of death; life and death. There were so many different species trying to kill each other and that’s why in this original forest, well… [pauses] maybe there are not as many acorns as there are in the film. [laughs] And that, put together that the idea that these places, these romantic forests, are places that a lot of people would like to go to — including me, I think of this place as the less anxiety-provoking place in the world — that’s kind of interesting. At the same time that we hang it on our walls over the fireplace or whatever, it represents pure Hell.
What is it that scares you the most?
I have a long list that I’m not going to tire you with, of anxieties that I’ve had during my life; but right now I’m not so comfortable with the idea of getting cancer and dying. But I think that is quite common.
It’s been widely noted that you made this film as a kind of therapy — how did it work?
Yeah, well first of all I had to, because I had what you might call a “depression”, and that means your drive to do a film is almost not there. So I did the script quite quickly and I didn’t look at it again until we shot, because for me it was more a question of making another film ever — or not making another film. I couldn’t allow myself the luxury to go into details, so I kind of threw myself out into it. I think that’s actually something I’ve always wanted to do; to do something much more instinctively and not to overdo the storyline. And I allowed myself to put a lot of symbols and things that were not kind of analysed by myself, that were just thrown into the film to put them there; which are actually the kinds of films that I like to see myself.
When you’ve made a film like this, which you’ve said was informed in part by your dreams, and then critics ask you to “explain” it — how does that make you feel? Is it annoying?
No, no; it’s not annoying. It’s just very difficult to do. That’s not the way I work, first of all. I’ve talked to journalists who’ve talked to David Lynch quite a lot, and he kind of closes up like an oyster, you know [laughs], every time somebody asks him what it “means”. I think he probably doesn’t know — and if he knew, and we heard it, then we would probably get disappointed, because that’s only one way of seeing it. Maybe I’m naïve but I believe that to some of these great works of art, music or whatever, that if there was a simple explanation for these I would get very disappointed.
Which is why David Lynch avoids it.
Yeah and probably he doesn’t know the simple explanation.
But Lynch always says his films have a specific meaning to him, though they can mean something different to other people. Do your films have a singular meaning to you that may be different to what other people interpret them as?
No, I think I work more emotionally. Of course any scene has an emotional meaning to me, you know the mood in the scene… I can tell you where some of the elements would come from but I couldn’t tell you what a scene precisely represents.
I know you’ve heard this many times but I wanted to get your take. Many people have, predictably, accused the film of being misogynist, and yet Charlotte has said you identify with her character. How?
Well first of all I identify very much with her, yes. Because this period of anxiety, this evolution of anxiety, that she goes through is something that I have been struggling with all my life, and the same kind of therapy that she goes through is the same kind of therapy that I have been undergoing for years. So I identify very much. The women in my films tend to be more human somehow, and the men tend to be more stupid. I’m not really sure why this is. In some strange way I think that the female characters represent me better in the films. I do not hate women. It’s difficult to think that anyone could hate women. I can see that you can hate specific women [laughs] — as you can hate specific men. But to say that you hate them all is to me quite ridiculous.
On the other hand I have always been very taken by the way [Swedish author] August Strindberg treated the man-woman relationship; but to say that he hated women is also ridiculous. You don’t spend your whole life describing and discussing something that you hate. I believe there’s a certain amount of humour, also, in the way that Strindberg treated the women. Maybe not all the time, but I had some kind of romantic longing toward his — shall we say quite ‘childish’ — way of looking at the relationship between the sexes.
Do you think people are taking this film too literally?
Well, people can take them film any way they like it, and to take it literally is — if that means you think the film is about evil women — it’s fine with me, because any reaction is something hopefully that this person can use for their life.
I wanted to ask you about the final shot of the film, with the women rising up out of the ground with their blank faces. Are you able to shed any light on what that alludes to — or is it just an image that was in your mind?
I think that it’s about anxiety toward sexuality and that it’s female sexuality against male sexuality, which is of course an interesting subject. I see him [Willem Dafoe] somehow being overwhelmed with females, but also what they represent… [long pause]
We’re getting too analytical?
[Laughs]. I know, I know.
Okay, one last question: your next project is a sci-fi disaster movie called Planet Melancholia. Is this your answer to the Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich school of blockbuster movies?
I haven’t seen these — but probably?
You know, Independence Day and the Hollywood disaster movies—
Oh Independence Day, yeah.
Yeah, yeah — armageddon tired of all this.
Sorry. I was anticipating that I had to make a sci-fi film because the story needed this collision between Earth and this planet that is 10 times bigger. Then I asked some scientists: “When is this possible? In a thousand years? 10,000 years?” And they said, “Tomorrow”. That’s good — well it’s maybe not so good for Earth. [laughs]
Originally published on Rotten Tomatoes: Link