Director Lars von Trier Discusses His Struggles With Addiction

Director Lars von Trier Discusses His Struggles With Addiction

By Paul Fuhr 04/26/18

"Alcohol is self-medicating, and sadly, insanely effective. The problem is when the alcohol level drops the anxiety hits you even harder."

Image: 
Lars Von Trier

Lars von Trier, the controversial Danish director of such films as Antichrist and Nymphomaniac, remains as polarizing a figure as ever.

In a new interview with The Louisiana Museum, Denmark’s arts channel, von Trier expanded on his well-documented struggles with addiction as well as his 2011 expulsion from the Cannes Film Festival (for making remarks about Adolf Hitler).

Von Trier, who’s preparing to return to Cannes with his psychological horror film The House That Jack Built, opened up about his demons in the revealing interview.

“I felt horrible during filming for this film, and that’s not anyone’s fault but my own,” the 61-year-old director admitted. “I was just anxious, alcoholized and so on. Now I’m in all sorts of associations where I’m trying to reach sobriety. But it’s hard. It’s really hard… Alcohol is self-medicating, and sadly, insanely effective. The problem is when the alcohol level drops the anxiety hits you even harder. It’s a non-solution.”

In many ways, his addictions seem to be the very things that fuel his desire to create films: “I try to avoid watching new movies because the worst thing that could happen would be that I got excited about something.”

At one point in the Palme d’Or-winning director’s career, he couldn’t imagine not working under the influence. The screenplay for 2003’s avant-garde crime drama Dogville, which starred Nicole Kidman and Lauren Bacall, was completed while von Trier was on a 12-day drug binge.

He also admitted to drinking a bottle of vodka every day to enter a “parallel world” that he felt was necessary to create. Once von Trier got sober to film the two-part Nymphomaniac, he argued that he wasn’t sure if he could be creative without drugs and alcohol.

“I don’t know if I can make any more films, and that worries me,” he told Variety in 2014. “There is no creative expression of artistic value that has ever been produced by ex-drunkards and ex-drug addicts. Who the hell would bother with a Rolling Stones without booze or with a Jimi Hendrix without heroin?” 

While von Trier said that he attended AA meetings every day for six months, he eventually returned to drinking.

For him, heavy drinking was a familiar, if not crippling creative process.

“When you shoot a film, it's hard work, and you tend to drink more,” he observed. “If you're an artist and you're drunk, you're more sensitive.”

Now, von Trier is making another go at sobriety—and, once again, the director finds himself uncertain about whether he can create. So much so, it seems, that he’s backing away from feature filmmaking.

“I can’t face making a film,” he said, noting that he next plans to make a series of black-and-white short films.

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.

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