'Killer Joe' DVD Release: The Forbidden Threshold


Killer Joe Still Photo

Just in time for the holidays, Killer Joe (my review) is available on DVD and Blu-ray this Friday. With its NC-17 rating, however, this dark and often violent Texas-set film written by Tracy Letts and directed by William Friedkin is not family-friendly viewing. Starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role, along with Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church, the movie portrays a dysfunctional family dealing with betrayal and greed.

I participated in a roundtable interview with Thomas Haden Church when Killer Joe was released, and he had some additional comments about the NC-17 rating of Killer Joe, which you can read below.

What are your thoughts on the NC-17 rating for Killer Joe, was it justified?

Thomas Haden Church: I think it is, but certainly you don't go into a room with investors and say, "We're going to make the best damn NC-17 movie ever to hit theaters in America" -- that's a death sentence. Just like you don't go in and say, "We're going to make an amazing black-and-white film." You go in thinking this could be an R, but when you go get the money as they did in early 2010 -- you have the play, you know what's in the play and you know how the play was put up at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, or the Goodman Theatre and then Broadway and the West End of London.

The play was done in a very graphic, full frontal in-your-face fashion -- nothing was restrained. And I think it's good that this is a very honestly written play about a slice of an ugly underbelly of American society. How do you choose to portray this now whenever you photograph this for a motion picture? No doubt about it, Billy [director William Friedkin] is not the guy who is going to soft-pedal it, he's not going to take the edges off.

Billy is going to take it even farther, which is what he did in Cruising or even To Live and Die in LA, where he did do stuff where you see a girl walking and the camera is on the back of her head. You're following and this person then leans in and starts this deep passionate French kiss with Willem Dafoe and the camera slides around and you're like "Oh, shit! That's a guy! That's a guy who is deep tonguing Willem Dafoe" and the camera keeps coming around and you are blocked out by Dafoe's head and then it comes back around and it's a girl again. That's what Billy does. He totally fucks with you -- that's his job, in his mind. He's a subliminal master.

NC-17 serves the bigger machine, which is to tell a story as graphically and honestly as you can. I think that if you pull back from the scene with Gina [Gershon] at the end of the movie, or you pull back from Matthew [McConaughey]'s seduction of quite clearly a very young girl and much younger, then you start to edit and censor the honesty of what those people are going through.

More to the point, you start to censor how those events trigger and conclude with that last scene, which is 30 pages long. It's by far the longest scene I will probably ever be in, in my entire career. The whole last third of the movie is one scene. What goes on between Gina and Matthew in that scene -- is it sexual torture? Does she betray every single person in the movie with her own self-interest? You click the story a couple of times to the left or right, and she's sailing out of town with a $100,000 check with Rex and his yellow Corvette, knowing full well that Joe is going to shoot everybody in the face, and then try to come hunt them down. She doesn't care -- this includes her two stepchildren and her husband.

You have a crime and you have punishment, and it's up to each individual's life experience to determine, what justifies the other. Is the punishment too severe? Is the crime too severe? I think that the movie, by the graphic nature of that last scene, I think it's pretty balanced. I really do -- and if Billy pulls back from how graphically he shows that vengeance that Killer Joe exacts upon Sharla, it loses some of its honesty, it loses some of its authenticity.

To me, NC-17 is synonymous in a lot of people's minds with an X or non-rating, by virtue of their sexual or violent content, or a hybrid sexual violent content. Is it so dishonest to our society, to what the media tells us that happens in our society that we don't necessarily see? But you go on Al Jazeera's website and you get past the "no one under 18 can view this" and you'll see beheadings and torture, and everything that Al Jazeera is allowed to photograph. Those people see that, we don't see it in the United States because of how much our media has pre-determined what we can ingest and not reject and be repelled by. A movie like Killer Joe starts sneaking across that forbidden threshold a little bit.

The following trailer for Killer Joe is unrated: