Oliver Stone in the Penh

Asia Life Guide, March 2010 Issue 39

Oliver Stone in the Penh

AsiaLife: You’re not a man to shy away from politics, and we understand that you’ve met with Prime Minister Hun Sen while here. What was your message to the Prime Minister?

Oliver Stone: I had no message to him. In Asia I think you don’t give messages to political people. It’s more like meeting a monarch, it’s a formal ceremony. But [Hun Sen] told us some interesting stories about Cambodia, and he was very open and supportive of the work of the International Peace Foundation [which organizes the Bridges lecture series.]

AL: Did you meet with him when you were here 20 years ago too?

OS: No, I never met him 20 years ago in ’65 originally, as a student. I came back around ’91-’92, which were quite interesting times because it  was just when the UN was trying to do a lot here, and then I came back several times during the protests

AL: Many of the films that you’ve made during your career contain violence or deal with war, yet you’re in Cambodia bringing a message of peace. How can films featuring war and violence promote peace?

OS: You can only get peace through violence. Peace comes, because you know what violence is. It’s a Buddhist concept. You come to the world by way of violent birth. A baby knows pain right away, so he knows the concept of violence because he comes from his mother’s womb through a violent process. I think that’s part of life. And that’s what I’m trying to say in Natural Born Killers, I got a lot of heat [for the film], but I was saying ‘Look at this violence, it’s part of a process’. I’ve dealt with violence in Vietnam and other places, and I’ve showed it in films very effectively. In Born on the 4th of July for example, I showed what the violence of a bullet can do to a spine, and a man’s life.

What we’re doing in America and Western societies in the media, is to promote violence because we make money off it. Media and television love the concept of murder, death, and grisly news, because it makes money. So that was what [Natural Born Killers] was about. Violence is here – I think that by promoting it we only hurt ourselves further.

AL: So you’re saying you can promote peace through films that portray the negative aspects of violence?

OS: You have to, because otherwise people won’t react. You have to show what’s wrong – you don’t make a show about cancer and not show cancer. sanitised, peaceful, ridiculous, films don’t work because people don’t go to see them. There has to be a bit of spice, a bit of salt in the wound. The audience has to go through the suffering and pain, to understand the beauty. That’s the way it is. But I don’t believe in needless, fortuitous violence, which is just for money. The kind of movie where the hero is just taking revenge and being a vigilante, and kicking ass. It makes you feel good because you have the actor revenging. I really hate that in movies, I don’t believe in revenge. I believe in getting it right, but not revenge. I think there’s too much of that indulgence.

AL: What are your predictions for the upcoming Academy Awards?

OS: I don’t give a shit… I think it was a very good year, films were good. I remember that press denouncing movies – saying it was over – that’s it’s about streaming video and the internet. It’s bullshit.

The films this year delivered, Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air, Crazy Hands, It’s Complicated, Hangover… There were so many good films that really worked. People get down on films so easily. Magazines get awful snobbish and snooty sometimes, and I think they miss the point of what movies are supposed to be – great stories on screen.