Michael Winterbottom Defends The Killer Inside Me

Every film festival should have at least one controversial film. The outcry so far this year is coming in response to Michael Winterbottom's adaptation of the Jim Thompson novel The Killer Inside Me, starring Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson. Comments so far peg the film as incredibly violent, perhaps on par with previous festival firebrands Irreversible and Antichrist. The worst violence is perpetrated against women, leading to questions of misogyny.

Now Winterbottom has spoken about about the controversy. Read what he's got to say after the break.

The controversy kicked off at the film's premiere when a woman stormed out as the post-show Q&A began, shouting "I don't understand how Sundance could book this movie. How dare you? How dare Sundance?" The 'you' she addressed was director Michael Winterbottom, who gamely proceeded with the question session. (Jessica Alba also reportedly walked out during the film, but her reps insist that it was to catch a flight. They say she's seen and likes the film.)

Now Winterbottom is addressing the controversy directly, and seems a bit confused by it. Anne Thompson reports he said at the time that,

The violence is shocking in the book and it's shocking in the film. It's not a police procedural. The story is being told by someone who's crazy. The story is the way he tells it and sees it, not the way it happened. The film has no sense of pleasure in the violence.

Furthermore, he told Thompson later, by phone,

The audience didn't understand that when they watch this shocking violence, Casey is not the hero where the audience gets off on it. It should be shocking and brutal.

For what it's worth, Winterbottom has the basic idea down pat. The original novel is not a kind piece of prose. It's not the sort of book to make you feel better about humanity. Like so many of Jim Thompson's novels, it lays bare the worst human impulses. With The Killer Inside Me, his skills are arguably at their height. It isn't what he shows the characters doing that is so shocking, but how normal he makes it seem, how easily rationalized the acts of violence can be.

So the question is: does the film actually get that across? Winterbottom feels that it does, and puts the failure on the audience. Our own David Chen seems to agree that the film treats Casey Affleck's character Loud Ford properly:

The fact that Affleck's murderous personality is undermined by his innocent demeanor makes Winterbottom's point loud and clear: Anyone, even the most normal-looking amongst us, can have a killer inside them.

Without having seen the film, I can't draw any further conclusions. As a devotee of Thompson's daylight noir, I'm wildly curious to see how this actually plays out, and hope that the extreme violence doesn't deter distributors.