stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


Trigger warning: Sam Levinson's eager-to-shock cinema
Assassination Nation director talks about technology, ideology and why a film should offend its audience

Email this article Print this article
Friday, September 21, 2018 – Page A16

As its title gives away, the new film Assassination Nation is not a gentle experience. Writer-director Sam Levinson even offers nervous audiences a heads-up before the film really begins, flashing the words "A Few Trigger Warnings" onscreen before cycling through images of drug use, violence, murder and more.

It's safe to say that the following two hours live up to Levinson's cautions. Focusing on a small American town that tears itself apart after a hacker starts uploading everyone's private texts and photos to the cloud, the thriller drowns the viewer in blood and sex. But can cinema be shocking if it only has shock on its mind?

Ahead of Assassination Nation's Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, a vaping, 33-year-old Levinson (son of Rain Man director Barry Levinson) sat down with The Globe and Mail to discuss technology, ideology and why too much is never enough.

Did you have a particularly disastrous online experience that sparked this idea?

I started writing this five days before bringing a child into this world, so that was the impetus.

I've been on social media in the past, and I found that rarely are the rational or sane or moderate voices heard - it's the extreme voices. This was about looking at how we're relating to one another and trying to make sense of the vitriol and anger that's springing up.

There's a line toward the end of the film - "I did it for the lulz" - which is popular on sites such as 4chan. How deep did you go into researching that corner of the internet?

I get the question a lot about, "How do you write for these characters who aren't yourself, and have these different backgrounds and identities and genders?" I think what's exciting about the internet, though, is that it's like everyone's diary has gone public. That's beautiful, because you're now able to understand things from different people's perspectives that you were maybe never able to comprehend before.

The ending of the film suggests that there's no hope for the current culture, that we're all a bit doomed no matter what. Do you believe that?

I don't think so - I think the movie ultimately is idealistic, despite how vitriolic and mad it gets. I know it's angry and it's shocking and a lot of those things, but I think that at the end of the day, the movie is a criticism of righteousness. I mean that on all sides, irrespective of politics.

The movie is ultimately saying that the real villain is not social media, it's not the medium, but the people who operate with absolute certainty that they are right and that their actions are just. That's a recipe for a horror film, and that's what this film is.

On your comment just now about how to write for certain characters: This is a film focusing on four women, a female-led ensemble cast and it's a feministforward film. Why did you think you were the right person to deliver that?

I always find this interesting: people ascribing a certain ideology to the film. When I sit down to write, I don't say, "I'm going to write an ideological tract." I try to write from a character perspective. I don't design stories to fit some political ideology. I design stories about characters who I love and care about, while trying to make sense of an increasingly mad and toxic and insane world.

Now, I chose four young women to tell this story through because, when I think back to when I was a teenager, I was really angry. And I was thinking, okay, it's now years later, so how do I tell this story about teenagers who are angry at the world they're living in? Who are the best characters? And it just seemed like it was these four girls.

Why were you so angry?

It has to do with how you navigate who you are, in terms of identity, in terms of who do you belong to. It's a confusing age, and I remember feeling everything so greatly and strongly. I didn't conform to gender stereotypes, and I had no control over the world that was built around me.

I was very sensitive, so when sensitivity has no place to go, it's often turned into anger or frustration. I don't know, I could lie down on the floor here and we could get into a whole therapy session ... Ha, that's all right. ... You use trigger warnings here at the beginning of the film, but what are your thoughts on the prevalence of trigger warnings in real life, on campus and such?

Let me put it this way: On a purely intellectual level, I don't understand the use of trigger warnings. On an emotional level, I understand why people are sensitive to certain pieces of material.

Do I think that, when we're teaching a book at school, should we go through a myriad list of trigger warnings? No. But I understand why people desire it.

I'm not trying to control ultimately the process through which these decisions are made, and I have no interest in it. I look at things from an emotional perspective, and an intellectual perspective. But I can only respond to things through what I do, which is tell stories. And my story is about a generation that believes in trigger warnings to a certain extent, and is trying to navigate an increasingly unsafe world because of the level of anger directed at them anonymously online.

There's a lot of imagery in here that is intended to shock. Have you always admired what could be called "shock cinema"?

Absolutely. I remember John Waters's Pink Flamingos, that was the film where I realized you could do anything you want - there were no boundaries. Ultimately, I do believe this, and the debate around films right now, there's a conservatism in filmmaking today that didn't used to exist.

Films should be provocative and should offend people. They should break genre and form and challenge us and our perspectives. At the same time, I don't think this film is pure shock - it has a lot of heart. And it's nonjudgmental in many respects. Ultimately, I hope the film feels emotional and cathartic, in some weird and perverse way.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Assassination Nation opens Sept.21

Associated Graphic

Writer-director Sam Levinson attends the premiere of Assassination Nation in Hollywood on Sept. 12. GREG DOHERTY/ GETTY IMAGES

Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main William_Houston Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page