Revolver : Guy Ritchie Q & A

Where did the inspiration for Revolver come from?

It was a culmination of concepts really, but a germ got stuck in my mind about one particular concept: the con of all cons. I’m fascinated by how you can trick the mind and the individual, and this concept was so audacious, so radical, that I was attracted to say the least. The formula of the con is quite simple – you seduce people by their own greed. We can all be conned but at what point do we realize that we’re being conned and to what point do we allow ourselves to be conned. There was a famous book called The Big Con, which works on the formula that it is impossible to con an honest man. I was attracted to that idea too. The great challenge then was to take an intellectual concept and clothe it in an exciting, action-packed narrative because concepts are not necessarily interesting to look at. It’s important that the film delivers on an entertaining level. What you want in the cinema is entertainment but I like to be intellectually titillated while being sensorially stimulated. It took me three years to write this film whereas Snatch took me three months. Fundamentally, it’s not a very complicated film, it’s actually quite simple, but to clothe it within a narrative was quite complicated.

Why did you call it Revolver?

I’ve always been surprised that no other movie has ever been called Revolver because it just sounds cool. So I like the name but I also like the concept that, if you’re in a game, it keeps revolving until you realize that you are in a game and then maybe you can start evolving. The film is based on the formula of a game: where does the game start, where does it stop and who’s conning who.

Is it a film with a message?

I don’t think there is a message in the movie. The idea is that that there is no such thing as an external enemy. Jake Green is playing against Jake Green. That’s quite a hard concept to get your head around initially of course, if there is only an internal enemy, he wouldn’t want you to get your head around it. So it’s based on the formula that you can only get smarter by playing a smarter opponent. Who is the ultimate opponent? Yourself. Then comes the principle that your enemy will always hide in the last place that you would ever look. The last place you would look is inside your head and the last place you would look inside your head is behind fear. I’m not saying that formula’s correct, it’s just a formula and I’m interested in formulas. In this particular instance, the only opponent Jake Green has to challenge is himself by doing exactly what he doesn’t want to do.

To that extent, are his experiences an allegory for life?

It’s funny, I never expected as a writer-director to end up talking about high-falutin’ concepts. I got into filmmaking because I was interested in making entertaining movies, which I felt there was a lack of. Jake Green isn’t just Jake Green. Jake represents all of us. The color green is the central column of the spectrum and the name Jake has all sorts of numerical values. All things come back to him within the film’s world of cons and games. Jake’s on a journey of how to play the game. He’s very good at playing games and he’s done very well out of playing by a certain formula but he didn’t realize how big and consistent that formula is. He only saw the formula in its microscopic form and didn’t realize that it could be macroscopic.

How does he get drawn into the game?

One of the first rules of business is to protect your investment. I like the idea that we do the same with our personal philosophies. Once we have decided what’s right, irrelevant of whether we are right or wrong, the more energy we will invest to protect that. Which is basically how conmen work. They get you to invest a little bit, then a bit more. They never tell you to buy something, just take a look. Even looking’s an investment. Once you’ve contributed some of your energy to looking - appraising a certain article - then a small investment has been made. From a small investment comes a larger investment, from a larger investment comes a greater investment until eventually you’ve invested so much that you can’t be wrong. Because if you are wrong, it must mean you’re stupid and nobody can admit that they’re stupid.

Jake is prompted to invest to counteract the threat of a fatal disease that’s hanging over him…

The only way to handle this concept within an hour and 45 minutes of film is to cut to the chase, and there’s nothing quite like death looming on the horizon to precipitate events. Let’s get the party started, and the only way that can happen is the imminent threat of death.

If Jake Green represents all of us, what do the other characters represent?

The other characters all represent a certain human characteristic. Jake, Avi and Zack represent one characteristic. Then there’s Dorothy Macha, Lily Walker and Lord John, who represent another aspect of our nature, different aspects of vice, of which there are lots of ingredients so I wanted to be specific about which character represents which vice.

Does that mean Jake, Zack and Avi are on the side of good and the others on the side of evil?

I hesitate to use the words good and evil because this is not a story about morals and ethics, this is simply a story about the game and there is no right or wrong. It’s about whether you win and how quickly you can win. Jake, Zack and Avi represent players who have decided to win in this game, and that leads into the slightly more radical concept of how to win the game. We’re all players within our own little games, so we embody all of these characters, we embody all the aspects of vice, we also embody all the aspects of competition, wanting to play the game and succeed in the game. All of the characters represent aspects of ourselves. For example, Sorter represents the aspect of our character in which we have taken a left-turn somewhere and later on decide that the right-turn might have been the better idea. He represents the u-turn within us when we think we’ve gone the wrong way or when we’ve decided to take a different path than the one we’ve been on, which is of course a terribly difficult thing to do.

And who is Sam Gold?

I like the idea that Sam Gold is a collective hallucination. He doesn’t really exist but he does exist. He has no power of his own, he only has the power that you give him. He’s as real as you believe him to be. In the context of the film, he is the opponent, the force that the individual in the movie has to overcome. Is Sam Gold evil or is he good? That’s up to the individual to understand. I love the concept that if this was all a game, evil may not actually be evil. That if there is such a thing as the devil, the devil’s only job is to be smarter so that we can become smarter. I have no idea if this holds water philosophically or theologically, but it’s a very slick concept. That’s basically what inspired the film: that the devil isn’t a bad guy, the devil is just a very clever guy, and the idea that Sam Gold is really just a very smart opponent.

Where is the film set?

The movie is set in no-man’s land. It’s a kind of transatlantic destination that is really supposed to be illustrative of East meets West somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. In fact, we shot most of it in London and the Isle of Man, which isn’t quite the middle of the Atlantic but it’s going that way.

How did you create that transatlantic atmosphere? Did you use a lot of special effects?

Unlike my previous movies, there’s quite a lot of studio work on this one because of the very nature of the fact that I wanted an environment that’s transcontinental. Because of that we had to revert to green screen. I don’t care whether I use special effects or not. My principal job is to make interesting and entertaining films, and I’m not proud of which format or which particular technique I use. I just wanted the film to look good and that was about the only request I had of my DP. We wanted it to be slightly over the top in terms of photography. What I liked about American movies when I was a kid was that they’re sort of larger than life and I think I’m still suffering from that reaction. Tim, the DP, was completely unbridled by me. The cheekier he got, the more I applauded him. He’s his own boss in that department.

So you don’t fit the stereotype of the dictatorial filmmaker?

If somebody has a better idea than me, I’ll take it if it surpasses what we have on the page because at the end of the day, it’s me that takes the credit anyway! I’ve been working with lots of these guys for ten years now and I’ve become very aware of how much the team has to do with the creative process. I’m not under too much of an illusion of how smart or un-smart I am because filmmaking ultimately is about teamwork. I enjoy the process and I’ve usually done quite a lot of preparation before I arrive on set so I’m not a touchy filmmaker and I’m not an anxiety-ridden filmmaker, at least while I’m shooting the film. If you enjoy things, it tends to quell your negative traits.

You’ve also worked with Jason Statham on almost all your films…

Apart from the fact that I don’t like him, don’t trust him and have no respect for him as a chess player, Jason and I work quite well together. Actually, Jason forced me into using him. He threatened me with violence. The rest of the cast I have more affection for. André was a pleasure to work with. In fact, 95% of the people in my films have been nothing less than a pleasure to work with. That goes for Jason, too. I like him and because I like him, it’s much easier to work with him. He’s a very capable actor and he embodies what I want to see when I go to the cinema. I’ve been a big fan of Ray Liotta’s for a long time and been desperate to use him in something. He wasn’t very keen about being put into spandex pants and Speedos but once he got into the spirit of things it was hard to get him out of them.

What freedom do you give the actors to improvise?

I like to think that we’ve got a plan, so let’s stick to it. That said, once we’ve stuck to it, we’re allowed as much improvisation as anyone cares to indulge themselves in. You’d be surprised how little indulging one wants to undertake once you’ve stuck to the plan. We always have a take that’s “one for fun”, so once you’ve got what you need, you can do what you like. Something does occasionally pop out of that tree. I’m always open to ideas.

Does chance exist?

I don’t believe chance exists, no. I don’t know whether it does but personally I don’t believe in it. Either there’s order in the universe or there’s chaos. Either everything is predetermined or, by the definition of free choice, you can determine it but there’s still no element of chance. Or there’s the other way of thinking, that it’s all chaos and there’s absolutely no order and it’s all chance. You either subscribe to one or the other. I subscribe to the idea that there is order although it may look like total chaos, but I’ve no idea if I’m right. In the film, Jake’s niece is a good example. She represents innocence and I liked the idea that she could ride a roller-coaster that’s collapsing all around but still land on a bed of cotton wool against all the odds because innocence protects her. There are infinite examples, of course, where innocence is not nurtured or cared for, but it all comes back to chance. Do you believe in chance or not? Do you believe that the universe is fair or unfair?

What’s the role of violence in your films?

My approach to violence is that if it’s pertinent, if that’s the kind of movie you’re making, then it has a purpose. There’s quite a lot of violence in this film but I like to think that it serves the story, that it illustrates the point we’re trying to convey. Jason doesn’t take his shirt off and beat anyone up, which would seem to be the kind of thing that Jason would do as he’s quite good at it, because it didn’t seem to serve his character and the narrative. I quite like the idea of Jason keeping his shirt on anyway.

Does Jason still do all his own stunts?

Jason’s game to do all his own stunts. I wouldn’t allow him to because if he broke his leg or something I’d be screwed for eight weeks. He’s as game as a train to throw himself down flights of stairs. I am not so enthusiastic, so I threw other people down the stairs.

Is there any limit to how violent a scene can be?

I think there’s a natural system in your own head about how much violence the scene warrants. It’s not an intellectual process, it’s an instinctive process. I like to think it’s not violence for the sake of violence and in this particular film, it’s actually violence for the annihilation of violence. It’s about not letting the internal enemy, the real enemy, have his way because the more he does the stronger he becomes. The film’s about the devastating results that can manifest from the internal enemy being unbridled and allowed to unleash chaos.

As a writer-director, which aspect of filmmaking do you enjoy most?

You get a different kick out of all aspects of filmmaking. I suppose directing on set is the most fun because it’s a good crack and you feel you’re on the battlefield whereas writing is a fairly solitary undertaking. It’s not easy to strap yourself down to a desk and bash on a keyboard when you know you can direct lots of films, because directing films is fun and interactive and gregarious. Writing isn’t. It’s very solitary and you need to exercise a great deal of discipline to do it. I think it’s in the exercise of disciplining yourself to do it that the most profit lies. I love dialogue and I suppose writing dialogue is certainly the most fun.

Of the various formulas that make up the rules of the game, do you have a favorite?

I suspect my favorite line is, “You can only get smarter by playing a smarter opponent.” My next one would be, “The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.” The third one would be, “The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory.” My fourth would be, “Always protect your investment” which would become, “Always protect your investment whether it’s in your interest or not.”

Besides Jake’s name, there is an abundance of symbols in the film. What purpose do they serve?

I think it’s fun that films have depth. I’ve left a whole snail trail of clues and symbols for those who care to indulge themselves. But is it integral to your enjoyment of the film? I think not. There are simply different levels that the film tries to serve.

Chess is a prime example…

The rules in chess are consistent with the rules of all cons. I like the idea that the characters could all be different pieces on a chess board. I think we all embody the attributes of pawns, bishops, knights and castles, kings and queens. It’s just a question of do we decide to be a pawn or do we decide to be a queen. I didn’t choose to be the latter particularly but there are different aspects to our personality and nature that the chess board represents, which is maybe why chess is such a popular and ancient game. I’m a very bad chess player, by the way. Jason Statham has probably been blowing his own trumpet about what a qualified chess player he is. In fact, he’s an appalling chess player.

And the fact that the face-off between Jake and himself, his internal enemy, takes place on the 13th floor?

The elevator starts at 32 and stops between 14 and 12. In America, buildings still don’t have a 13th floor. 13’s a curious number. Quite how it got its unpopular reputation is a mystery and one I would quite like to have solved. Mythologically, it’s the luckiest number, it’s the number of liberation. From a point of view of Jake’s incarceration, what better place to liberate yourself than floor 13, which doesn’t even exist in an elevator. It just seemed like the perfect environment in which to meet your demon. A number that doesn’t exist that is also the number of liberation.

That scene is one of the most impressive in the whole movie…

It’s my favorite scene in the film and I actually shot it three times. It initially had four lines written for it. When we got in there, we spent two hours messing around, trying to draw as much as I could out of Jason. I realized we’d got into something that was very interesting and in the end I could probably have filmed 45 minutes of him screaming at himself in there.

The film opens with Jake Green getting out of jail. Would you say that it ends with him enjoying another kind of liberation?

The film starts off with a jailbreak and ends with a jailbreak because all the skulduggery going on inside his head didn’t allow him to know he was still incarcerated. That’s what the film is about, the ultimate jailbreak and the radical actions one needs to undertake to liberate oneself from this jail. It tells the story of the skulduggery and trickery and head-trickery that accompanies Jake on his journey, and the seemingly unlikely actions our hero has to undertake to break out of his jail.