Violence and especially violence against women runs through Mr. von Trier’s movies (whipping, rape, death), which often involve some kind of redemption. He doesn’t believe that “Jack” — which contains grim, exceedingly unpleasant-to-watch images (human taxidermy, torture, mutilation, murder) — represents a shift in his approach. “I always thought that everything that can be thought or done should be shown,” Mr. von Trier said. “Because why not?” At least within the law, he added when prodded. Even so, “in principle, I mean, also if it was against the law because I’m very much against censorship and I’m very much against political correctness.”
When I asked what he meant by political correctness, he said “Sweden.” It was a glib, amusing response, but when I asked why he cares what anyone thinks, he didn’t directly answer. (Later, he said that he didn’t care about the audience, which I don’t believe, and that “I am the audience.”) Instead, he offered an example: “In Germany, of course, it’s against the law to be a Nazi,” Mr. von Trier said, which isn’t true in Denmark. “We have a poor little Nazi party that everybody can see is no threat to anybody and are just a bunch of nutheads running around.” It would be “much more problematic if you had a law against” being a Nazi.
“It’s a bad thing for democracy every time you say, ‘You can’t say Negro,’ you know,” he said, adding, “It’s a wrong way to go about it. Of course you wouldn’t say something to people who don’t want to hear stuff. But to make it a law is I think wrong and not practical.”
Mr. von Trier’s use of the word “Negro” threw me. I wondered if he meant an uglier word. He was unfailingly polite, but I felt as if I were pushing against a shifting, slippery wall of sand. So I just asked if he wanted total freedom. Yes, he answered.
Discussions about censorship often lead to an impasse, and of course much depends on who is doing the banning and for what reasons. Old Hollywood banned certain representations as did the Soviet Union. Censorship is used to grab and maintain power, and to silence opposition. Yet when I pointed out the obvious to Mr. von Trier — that it’s easier for the powerful, even a privileged filmmaker like him, to say everything should be permitted, and that the powerless of course are already often voiceless and struggle to be heard — we reached another impasse.