Portrait Of A Provocative Mind
Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn taps fear of the unknown in psychological thriller Fear X
By Matthew Arnoldi
With Pusher and Bleeder behind him, Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn has switched his attentions to the numerous possibilities that unravel for his lead, Harry Cain, a Security guard from Wisconsin, played by John Turturro, searching for his wife's killer and why she was killed in a random crime in a shopping centre car park.
When I met Refn in a London hotel, I asked if he was confronting his worst fears?
"I have a partner and an 8 month old daughter,' he replies, 'I latched on to the idea that my wife might be killed because it's a great starting point - making a film that deals with the abstract, needed something tangible to begin with."
Refn, 33, sees making an English-language film as a gateway to a wider audience. He would love to work in Hollywood but doesn't know if Hollywood is ready to work with him. One gets the impression that if a studio did make Refn an offer, it would have to be on his terms. Not for him, the spoon-fed product that Hollywood normally consumes.
"I think there's an audience out there that wants to see something different, to see a reality that's imperfect. My film is a bottomless pit of possibility - Harry Cain can't rely on certainties. For me, filmmakers who are risktakers suffer the beating but they are also the bravest."
Co-writing the script with Hubert Selby (Last Exit to Brooklyn), and working on the music with Brian Eno gave Refn a chance to work with people he'd long admired.
"I wanted to work with them because I felt they could bring interesting things to the table .. Hubert is unique, I love Last Exit. There are also passages where there is no dialogue for almost 20 minutes where music is the only prop besides the camera. I wanted to allow the sound to convey the abstraction in Cain's mind. Music can play an important part, an audience sees something as normal, but they still feel uncomfortable if the music conveys a distorted mood."
Fear X was chosen as the title because Cain fears the unknown but Nicholas also offers a more abstract interpretation, "take the e, a and r away, you're left with FX, that's an illusion but that's really far out, you know, that one's for geeks!' he says jokingly.
Fear X for Nicholas was a mutation of his previous films. "Bleeder is a mixture of Fear X and Pusher, it has Pusher's language and Fear X's meditative state of mind. Fear X is the most satisfying in terms of filmmaking. With both Bleeder and Fear X, I felt I was challenging the system because I insisted on making both, my way. With Fear X, it was really funny at Sundance because we had a cult audience following it around, with young guys going this is so fuckin' cool!"
There are elements of David Lynch, Christopher Nolan's Memento and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation in Fear X. Memento is a surprise to Refn since he's not seen it, but the others he does appreciate.
"People liken Fear X to Lynch because he often works with this kind of state, I personally look more towards Bunuel. The Conversation made a big impression on me, that sense of paranoia."
Given that Refn's latest film is a psychological thriller about an obsessive, I'm intrigued to know what happened with Bleeder since the Danish Actors' Union attacked him for seeming to show mental cruelty to some of his actors. Refn's response is forthright. "Fuck em! It was quite silly. They claimed I'd put actors through unnecessary psychological pain but it was basically a union wanting to show they were worth something. It was insane, stupid .. but it didn't hurt me."
Refn's next project is a horror film. Called Billy's People, it's going to be about people who disappear. Larry Smith (The Shining, Fear X) will be in charge of photography. I liken his project to the Dutch film The Vanishing. That along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of his favourites. What attracts him to the horror genre?
"It's the most cinematic when it comes to filmmaking because it deals with visuals and moods and the connection with our subconscious," replies Refn.
If he was to make a comedy, that too would I assume, come with a form of distortion. "Look at Dr Strangelove or Spinal Tap, Bunuel or the work of John Waters. Many of the best come with a form of distortion, that's what tricks people and makes them memorable."
Finally I suggest as a filmmaker, Refn likes to unhinge, to challenge the viewer.
"I believe you have an obligation to make a difference,' muses Nicholas, 'ultimately you want to inspire."