Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Director's Commentary - Chopper (2000)

Andrew Dominik's commentary track for his debut feature Chopper.

On people's objections to the film:

The film was a lot more difficult to get going than I anticipated, we met with quite a few moral objections. Many people felt it was wrong to make a film about Chopper because it in someway glorified him or held him up as a role-model, and I think the film does that but it does validate him which is kind of the point of the film, you don't make a film about someone that you despise. The other thing was that people were very uncomfortable with the film at script stage, that the film refused to judge him, which I think is it's great strength, it doesn't glorify or condemn him.

On Chopper's attack on Keithy George:

This character of Keithy George played by David Field is a fictionalised version of the person who Chopper actually tangled with in jail, this guy was a very heavy criminal but we don't set him up that way in the film. We didn't want to set Keithy George up as a bad guy because then Chopper becomes the lesser of two warring evils and we very much wanted Chopper to be responsible for his own actions so I didn't want to confuse the audience by sort of justifying Chopper's attack on Kiethy. What I'm really interested in with Chopper's attack on Keithy is the effect that it has on Chopper. Chopper actually did this, gave people advice on how to kill him and get off on self-defence, it's sort of a joke but it's true, Chopper really is hell bent on his own destruction, hell bent on creating an enemy for himself. This scene here is kind of the whole reason why I made the film, in his books Chopper portrays himself as unrepentant and proud, he's sort of proud of being this remorseless killer but there's contradictions throughout the books as well where he describes disturbing dreams where the faces of his victims come back to him, or he will apologize very directly to someone in print which suggested to me on initial reading that he had mixed feelings about the things he did. This is where the film gets really interesting for me, attack this guy in a fit of rage and then all of a sudden the fog clears and he's like a tourist in his own body, horrified by what he's done. These apologise of Chopper I think are sincere, often in these kind of pathologies in things like domestic violence where there's a cycle of abuse and remorse, very much it's the violence that's taken to be sincere and the remorse is taken to be phony but I think the two things go hand in hand. Perhaps Chopper is not feeling guilty here because he's attacked Keithy in order to feel guilt, trying to resolve some age old psychological problem for himself.

On Chopper not realising he's being stabbed by Jimmy:

I think what's being dramatised here is not so much that Chopper is invincible but that he's in a deep state of shock, which I think is realistic when something extreme like this happens to you, that the feelings follow a little bit behind. Talk to anyone who's broken a bone or had anything big psychically done to them and they'll tell you the pain doesn't happen immediately. I think what's also being dramatised here is Chopper's denial, denying the reality of what's occurring, this thing with putting his cigarette back in his pocket was something he said happened, "I'm being stabbed so I'll save my cigarette till later". He just can't accept the idea that Jimmy would betray him. This thing here with Chopper hugging Jimmy was an idea of Eric's which Simon wasn't expecting, a very strange thing to do in the middle of a stabbing, to embrace your attacker. Chopper is very philosophical about the stabbing and I think there's a couple of reasons for this, one is that he doesn't want to admit that Jimmy has betrayed him because for him to realise that makes him very much alone. The other thing is that Chopper does have a sense of sin or guilt and he knows he's done bad things so he's always expecting bad things to be done to him, some sort of retribution to come to him. He's constantly on guard for that retribution so when it finally does come he's kind of relieved, he no longer has to be frightened of being afraid of it.

On using the locations where Chopper's experiences actually happened:

We shot all these scenes in the actual locations where they occurred, which is a great thing when your shooting a scene like this, it can very easily become about camera moves and just about everything apart from what's going on in the scene. It was great when those moments happened to be able to remind everybody we were shooting this stabbing in the actual location where it took place 10 years before hand. That would always lend a certain gravity to the proceedings and snap people back to where they were supposed to be.

On Chopper driving Neville to the hospital after shooting him:

Chopper's point of view is kind of clarified in the relationship and now he's comfortable, it was the not knowing whether or not he had an enemy that he couldn't stand, now he's got his enemy and he knows what the deal is. This actually happened on two occasions that I know about where Chopper shot somebody and drove them to the hospital and then strenuously denied it. I don't think he's denying it to get away with it, he doesn't want to appear soft hearted, he wants to appear like the unrepentant killer, he's embarrassed that anyone should know about his empathy which he regards as a weakness. There's another reason that he takes Neville to the hospital, maybe below empathy, which is that he wants his enemy to survive. An enemy is necessary to his psychology in some way; since being released from jail he has all these unknown and unfocussed anxieties which if he has an enemy he can focus those anxieties on at least something he feels he can control.

The shooting of Sammy the Turk:

I think he's so wound up now there's a part of him that just wants to go back to jail. He's so overwhelmed by the world outside and the paranoia has built in him to such an extent, he hasn't been able to take it out on Jimmy because he doesn't want to so he's finding a substitute to release it on. Sammy just can't win in this conversation, even if he is innocent of setting Chopper up his innocence will just be read as lying. Like always he instantly regrets what he's done, the strange thing about Chopper is to me the character retains a kind of innocence all the way through the film because he's just not in control of himself. I think this behaviour is very childlike, this cycle of attack and regret, attack and remorse. An angry child would destroy the world if it could but you don't really hold that against them, I feel the same way about the character.

Chopper the myth:

What you see here instead of redemption for Chopper, is this kind of complete transcendence of reality where instead of facing himself he becomes his own favourite character in fiction, he rewrites history. Here we have Chopper's fan club, the people who admire him for the myth that he's reported about himself as apposed to the reality of the man. Mark himself talks about Chopper in the third person, he sees 'Chopper' as someone he's created for public consumption, something distinct from Mark the person. Now we come to Chopper revelling in his own mythology which I think is something the moral detractors of the film felt the film was going to do, that it would feed Chopper's need for attention and that this was a bad thing. I think you need to look at why a person like Chopper needs attention, attention is pretty much a fundamental human need and if it's not met in a fundamental way it doesn't just go away, I mean if you're hungry you don't get food you don't just suddenly stop being hungry. I think with Chopper maybe this need has become quite grotesque and distorted and come out in his hunger for publicity. He sort of gets public attention at the expense of any sort of private intimacy, I think the vain that he's got is for an image, for a circus performance called Chopper that has little to do with Mark the person which isolates him further, which is the great tragedy of the character. I was very obsessed with this last moment of the film, of Chopper by himself. The consequences of violence, I wanted to know what they were for the perpetrator and the answer I came up with in the process of making the film was that the consequences of violence is loneliness so it was very important to get this lonely feel at the end.

1 comment:

  1. hey, can you actually share the commentary track? demux it? mp3? ac3? I don't care what form, I'd love to hear it. If you even care for it I can trade you something. I have a big collection