As I started flipping through headlines this morning, one of the first that caught my eye had to do with Johnny Depp apologizing for making a comment in a recent interview that compared photo shoots to being raped.
I am amazed how much time anyone in the public eye spends apologizing these days. We have reached a point in culture where there is so much energy spent getting crazy about words that offend us that we seem to have stopped listening to the intent behind them. Publicists have to put out daily fires that could easily be avoided if people just shrugged things off instead of organizing rallies over stupid off-hand comments. It all makes me think of a word Berkley Breathed coined in “Bloom County” some thirty years ago, “Hyperoffensensitivity.”
This was on my mind already when I saw a message appear in my inbox that simply said “A Statement From Lars Von Trier” in the headline. Before we discuss it, I’d like to run the statement in full:
“Today at 2 pm I was questioned by the Police of North Zealand in connection with charges made by the prosecution of Grasse in France from August 2011 regarding a possible violation of prohibition in French law against justification of war crimes. The investigation covers comments made during the press conference in Cannes in May 2011. Due to these serious accusations I have realized that I do not possess the skills to express myself unequivocally and I have therefore decided from this day forth to refrain from all public statements and interviews.”
At this point, I can’t say I blame him.
I was at Cannes this summer when his now-infamous “Nazi” comments occurred, and sitting there watching it unfold, it was obvious he was joking. Obvious. I would say that language had nothing to do with that read, either. Just watching Von Trier, he was obviously trying to create some sort of energy in the room, and he was reaching for the laugh. He took a pretty wicked shot at Suzanne Bier, another filmmaker, and he was hoping to incite a reaction from the audience of journalists in that room. It never once occurred to me to be upset by the comments he was making because I could see that Von Trier was uncomfortable in the first place, and simply trying to get through a process that is, for many filmmakers, the absolute worst part of making or releasing a film.
And now, if his statement is to be taken at face value, the way that comment keeps haunting him has finally pushed him to a place where he can’t take the chance in the future of being misunderstood. That means those of us who have not interviewed him will no longer get that chance, and it also means that other filmmakers who have dark or wicked senses of humor are going to start considering what they win and what they lose if they don’t talk to the press at all, either. If we keep devouring and digesting people over stupid turns of phrase, we’re going to make this a zero-sum game, and no one’s going to want to play. Instead of taking things out of context and blowing them up for cheap page views and momentary kicks, I wish our media would work harder at looking past the surface of things. Obviously, there are times when it makes sense to take a long look at the language someone uses. If Rick Perry uses a hunting camp called “N***erhead,” and he’s running for President of the United States, then yes, that’s something we should talk about and debate and understand. That matters. That goes right to the heart of who he is as a human being and how well or poorly he represents what we want sitting in the Oval Office.
But when a guy whose career has been built on the idea of provocation is making jokes in a press conference and one of them lands wrong because it’s just not that funny, hounding him for six months and browbeating him endlessly for it serves no one.
I hope he reconsiders. I fear he never will. There is a very good chance that this is the last interview he’s going to give.
“Melancholia” premieres on VOD this Friday. Wait, though. See it on the biggest screen you can, because as I said in my initial review, this is an overwhelming experience, lush and beautiful, and if any film this year benefits from a big-screen viewing, it’s this one.