David O. Russell
[WRITER AND DIRECTOR]
Terrorism is the new Communism
Levitation is difficult, if not impossible
Human feelings are messy
Bigger words do not make better ideas
Black hearts were meant to be broken
David O. Russell hasn’t always peddled in satire. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, he was a political activist and union organizer—not typical breeding grounds for comedy. But one decade and four films later, Russell has become one of Hollywood’s most consistently subversive filmmakers. His movies satirize corporate duplicity, religious hypocrisy, sexual identity, American colonialism, consumer culture, metaphysical longing, and blind patriotism. Sometimes all at the same time.
The real rewards of Russell’s films can be found in the details. A Desert Storm soldier complains about sand in his eyes after watching an Iraqi civilian get murdered (Three Kings). An LSD dealer gets belligerent when a dinner guest tries to light up a cigarette (Flirting with Disaster). A suburban father argues that Jesus Christ supports the consumption of petroleum (I Heart Huckabees). It’s these small, throwaway moments—which often don’t have anything to do with the plot—that define the genius of Russell’s satire.
This interview took place in Russell’s home in Los Angeles. Specifically, it took place on a pair of beanbag chairs, as his dog, Fred, repeatedly licked our faces and farted during key moments in our discussion. Russell suspects this was entirely intentional.
THE BELIEVER: Aside from a brief exchange with a clearly deluded Christian family, religion really isn’t a factor in I Heart Huckabees. Do you think that organized religion is becoming irrelevant as a means of understanding the metaphysical world?
DAVID O. RUSSELL: I don’t think it’s irrelevant at all. But it can be dangerous. You have to be careful that it doesn’t turn into a closing of the mind instead of an opening of the mind. I don’t think the Christian family in the movie is deluded—that sounds almost too harsh, or more harsh than I’d like to think about them—but it is ironic to me that they are, while openhearted in some big ways, simultaneously so closed-minded, and not in any way welcoming of inquiry or discussion. I think if religion closes discussion or exchange of ideas or curiosity about other views, it’s not true to its core. It’s not easy to follow Jesus’ example, and if you go to church it doesn’t mean you’re automatically doing it. I suppose what I like about Zen is that the teachers are constantly questioning your insight and challenging it, looking for sloppiness or laziness in it, and ways you can go past that.
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