"I Don't Hate Women": Lars von Trier on Antichrist
The notorious director discusses 2009's most controversial film, horror, what scares him the most... and talking foxes
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.