4 Questions with Eli Roth of The Green Inferno
Having much to say about to say about “slacktivism”, Eli Roth’s impactful film The Green Inferno opens September 25th, which is a shade over two years after the film debuted at TIFF.
We spoke with the loquacious writer and director in 2013, and his comments seem to somehow have become even more relevant and interesting in the space between then and now. Warning: like his films, this Q & A with Eli Roth is not for the faint of heart.
Scene Creek: How did growing up in Newton, Massachusetts influence your filmmaking?
Eli Roth: Newton, Massachusetts is one of the safest cities in America, probably because I left. (laughs) Which is why growing up there in absolute safety, I would think about the horrible things that could possibly go wrong. Like everyone’s really safe, and I was like, “yeah, well what if an axe murderer came in and chopped is all up?” I grew up in Newton, the safest city in America, and I thought about, “well, if you have everything, what happens if you lose it”?”
I love to travel and get out of Newton. I was an exchange student when I was seventeen. I went to Russia and it changed my life. Then we saw people who were waiting in line, who couldn’t get sneakers or go to the mall. They were told what job to do, that had nothing. And suddenly it put everything into perspective for these people in Newton that were complaining about everything. I started travelling, and I went to Egypt and I lived in the south of France, I lived on a horse farm in Iceland. I quickly saw…how small-minded the people were there. If you were an artist, people would yell “faggot!” When I grew up there in the eighties, Newton was also populated by Massholes. They could be awesome, but are also the closest relatives to cavemen. It was very homophobic. I had a teacher there in high school whose catchphrase was “ya stupid fag”. It is unthinkable now, but back then it was funny. That’s the world we grew up in. A mix of working class blue collar Boston guys in the safest city. If you looked at guys the wrong way in a bar, they would break a bottle over your head. They would go right to fighting. They’re not peaceful. That’s why they go to the gym so much. I mean, that was the eighties, maybe it’s changed now, but I thought “I’m getting the hell out of here”. That is why I travel so much,I consider myself a citizen of the world. I went to Quebec in eighth grade, and I was like “there’s a whole world up here”, and they were speaking French, I went to China with The Man with The Iron Fists, and Hostel 2 we shot in Iceland, Hostel 1 we shot in Prague, Aftershock we shot in Chile. I’m very lucky. I’ve had a great life That’s part of the reason I make movies, so I can travel the world. I can see things with my own eyes, and I get a very different perspective on things.
Scene Creek: What do you like most about shooting in Toronto?
Eli Roth: I love Toronto. We’re shooting season two of Hemlock Grove here. I go to Buca, Gusto 101, pancake breakfast at ZOë’S Cafe, I get my coffee at Jimmy’s or Little Nicky’s depending on what side of town I’m on, for my lunch break I order from Fresh on Spadina.
Scene Creek: What else really influences you?
Eli Roth: The films influence me. The films are generally about white upper-class super-educated suburban kids thinking that they’re smarter than everyone, and thinking that they’re smarter than their culture because they grew up in the world of education and upper-class wealth, and they underestimate the forces they’re up against and they piss off the locals and they get their asses handed to them. Now, I have not done this on purpose, but you can call this my “Travel Trilogy” with Hostel, Cabin Fever and The Green Inferno. In The Green Inferno, the main character Justine’s father is a lawyer and they want to change the world, and you can’t just go and change things overnight with your phone, and you can’t be cowboys, there’s a process and that takes time, and that takes work, but everyone’s so impatient, everyone wants things instantly, and they’re like “no, screw that”, and let’s get a good hashtag, we’ll hack in, we’ll stream it, we’ll embarrass them and shut it down tomorrow, well no, that’s not how you do it, you know, “we can’t wait for the law to catch up with us”, the world moves faster than that. So these kids are not idiots, they’re not naïve, they just get in way over their head, which is what happens with Justine.
Scene Creek: What do you think that your film says about activism?
Eli Roth: My film is holding up a mirror. There is a certain activism which I call “slacktivism”, Activism comes from a good place and is important, and we’re all involved in different causes, but I believe now Twitter has become a place for people to be very sanctimonious, and they have a voice and they want to show everyone what good people they are, and everyone has a voice and they’re retweeting the latest hashtag, and I after I finished the script, Kony 2012 happened. And I said “this is it, this is exactly what this is about, kids just want to hit the retweet button”. Everyone wants to be an activist, but really with the bare minimum of effort. They won’t go so far as to completely inconvenience their own lives. And everyone is saying, “Justin Bieber, Rihanna, look at this video…it’s like, oh my God, Joseph Kony, Joseph Kony”, but you know what, your Facebook likes and your retweets did absolutely nothing. They didn’t actually help. The only thing they did was make people feel better about themselves, because we’re all taking pictures of our food and our vacations, and “do I look hot”, did I get enough likes, and what are the comments on my Instagram, this very narcissistic behaviour that all of us are engaged in, and we balance it out with “look what’s going on in Syria” and “save the dolphins”, and it did absolutely nothing, meanwhile a month later, the leader of Invisible Children, standing in the middle of the street, naked, masturbating and screaming. This is the perfect metaphor, it’s completely a masturbatory exercise. I want people to watch the movie and be entertained. First and foremost, I want this to be the scariest roller coaster ride in the park. I want to outdo myself, top all of my other movies and go “wow, this guy’s for real”. He’s made four movies, all of which kicked my ass, I’ll see anything he does.