"War" ink: an interview with John Cusack

In between political ads and appearances on MSNBC firing back at Bill O’Reilly, John Cusack has been working hard lately to promote his new film, “War,Inc.” And for good reason. Not only is it another film about the Iraq (or "Turaquistan") War, which so far have all gotten beaten up both critically at the box office, but it’s also a satire, the genre that, as George S. Kaufman put it, "closes on Saturday night." Not to mention, as Larissa Alexandrovna darkly hints in the “Huffington Post,” a “blacklisting” by critics presumably all part of the right wing conspiracy. Well, we should be so lucky.

Despite the demands on his time, John still was able to spare me about 40 minutes on the phone. I found him thoughtful, passionate, prone to long pauses while he ruminated. Literally ruminated, as in “chewed,” for, as I eventually realized, he was eating his lunch.

So go see this movie if only to let this poor man eat his lunch in peace.

PK: In its first two weekends at four theatres it’s rivaled in per screen average Indiana Jones and Sex and the City. How do you account for that?

JC: Well it's kind of a long answer but I’ll see if I can give you one. Whenever we’ve gotten the movie in front of the audience, people have really, really loved it, and we’ve had a really polarizing response to the movie, which we sort of thought we would going in. And what’s been reported sort of in the press a little bit  is that everyone hates the movie, but somehow people are going anyway, and that’s a weird a story but if you look at what’s happening on in the press, and we have a big myspace page and we have, I dunno, 30 or 40 heroes of the left and the activist left, you know, from Gore Vidal to Naomi Klein, to  Damien Hurst to Laura Logan from “60 Minutes,” to people who really know these issues, and who write more about just movies and junkets. They’re writing about politics and culture and life, and many of the people who have defended the movie and championed it have never written about films before, although they’re people from like Larissa Alexandrovna and some others, and we’ve had alter “Alternet,” Crooks and Liars.  You know, there’s been a real viral groundswell about the movie. and so people are thinking , there’s seems to be a lot people who really do get it, and those people seem to really impress people, so I think that gets people in the door.  And people are probably realizing that the movie is meant to be offensive and it takes aim at the corporate media and the mainstream media as much as it does the neocons.  So I think it’s inevitable that certain people weren’t gonna get it.  Some people looked at the movie and saw that, you know, it has a happy ending, and they don’t really realize that we’re satirizing happy endings in movies. So it’s okay that people don’t get it. No one is required to like our little punk rock movie.  But I think it’s disingenuous to suggest that there hasn’t been a whole bunch of support for the movie too. I mean from people in meanstream media like the “Los Angeles Times” and “Time” magazine and “USA Today.” So, we’ve gotten a polarizing response to it and not entirely negative. And it’s sort of being presented like it’s just negative.  I think people want a  movie that takes it right to the heart of the Bush-Cheney cabal.

PK: All the other Iraq War movies have tanked. This is the only that’s a comedy. Do you think that’s why it’s been more appealing to audiences?

JC:  Well I think there’s that, and also I think that there’s two ways you can go. That there’s this sense of inevitability about the whole thing and that maybe that Bush and Cheney and what they represent, which is this kind of 30 year movement from this far far right which is to kind of, totally privatize everything that it means to be a state. I think that people know that that’s, you know, they have a sense of inevitability that this is the way things are and it’s just too entrenched and its so depressing what’s happening and what America has been reduced to and the damage that’s been done to our military and the damage that’s been done to the image of America across the world. And so it’s very depressing, so when you finish work, and you know, you might not want to be reminded of that in a very serious and somber way. But when you get a comedy or satire, and this isn’t like “The Wedding Crashers,” it’s not like it is, well sometimes it is, but it’s not like you’re suppopsed to just laugh and escape.  You’re supposed to have nervous laughter and uncomfortable laughter and you’re supposed to think. But I think this type of a film allows you to reclaim your sense of defiance and your sense of outrage and the sense of subversion.  It should be fun to tell the right people to go to hell. It should feel good to tell the truth and run.  So, I think this allows people to get riled up in a healthy way.  And I think that’s what absurdist comedy does because it basically just takes current trends to their logical conclusion in a world that’s gone totally mad. That logical conclusion is surreal and insane, which is exactly what the Bush-Cheney world view is.

PK: So you think that at this point, most of the American people are against the war and realize it’s a mistake and so forth, but they don’t think they can do anything about it. So when a movie comes up that tells them what they already know they’ll just feel depressed, unless you can somehow convince them there’s something they can do about it, or that a spirit of subversion is actually something they can aspire to.

JC: Yeah I mean I think that there’s.  there’s a great writer name Arundhati Roy. what she said I tried to remember when we were making the movie.  And we tried to remember it.  “Our strategy should not only be to confront empire but to lay seige to it, to deprive it of oxygen, to shame it, to mock it with our art, our music, our literature, our stubborness and our sheer relentlessness and our ability to tell our own stories, stories that are different than the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they’re selling. Their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.  Remember this, we be many but they be few. They need us more than we need them.”  So I thought that was kind of brilliant quote which I thought encapsulates that. And I that, you know, if it wasn’t Arundhati Roy, it might have been Abbie Hoffman saying it.

PK: He probably did say that, but maybe not in exactly the same way.

JC: But what I’m saying is that sentiment is one that we desperately need, because the first thing that we need to reclaim is our sense of outrage and our spirit and our sense that we’re not gonna let these bastards get away with this. That’s what I feel anyway, but I think that movie seems to be tapping into that spirit a bit.

NEXT:  Hilary Duff and the scorpion.

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