THE END OF VIOLENCE evolved from the temporary stall of another movie
that director Wim Wenders and screenwriter Nicholas Klein were preparing.
Wenders and Klein had met years prior through their mutual friend Bono,
lead singer of the popular, innovative band "U2," and the three
joined forces to develop a science-fiction film entitled The Billion Dollar
Klein recalls, "We had spent about two and a half years together, working
on the other movie, and had discussed many things. One feeling we shared
was that we were very affected and concerned about the depiction of violence
in movies. It seemed to be an issue that kept coming up. We wondered if
there was a way to make a movie about the subject of violence and violence
in movies without being glib or inadvertently exploitive or pedantic about
it. We were intrigued by the idea of making a movie that dealt with violence
as a subject rather than a device and wondered if we could explore violence
without actually showing it at all."
Wenders adds, "The whole craft, art and business of filmmaking have
been thoroughly reshaped by the extensive and explicit use of violence.
It has almost become a necessary ingredient. Movies try to top each other
in goriness or killing and it is as if everybody's resistance level is constantly
It's something that afflicts our lives and afflicts my professional life
While the culture of violence provided the premise, Wenders and Klein had
to structure a compelling story and protagonists to illustrate it. This,
as Wenders points out, was "a rather unusual approach."
He expounds, "Normally, you come up with a story and inside that story,
certain characters get developed according to the needs of your plot. We
did the opposite. We had a theme, violence, and we agreed that we wanted
it to remain the subject, not to become the device or texture. How do you
write a story about violence, instead of with it? We didn't know. So, we
first invented a set of characters that we were interested in, each one
with his or her own biography. We ended up with a cross-section of people
who were not linked by anything, certainly not by a story they had in common.
That story slowly emerged out of their different biographies and out of
the only element they shared: an encounter with violence."
The challenge of seamlessly juxtaposing these concepts into the construct
of a film appealed to Wenders, who finds it "impossible to think of
a movie as just one thing. I like to play with the rules of the genre, so
I think this one has elements of a thriller and of a comedy."
In the span of a month, Klein produced a screenplay draft, and four weeks
later principal photography commenced. The project was independently financed,
due in part to the tireless efforts of producer Deepak Nayar.
However, the unique metamorphosis of the script, coupled with the speedy
beginning of production, did not allow Wenders the luxury of molding the
characters with specific actors in mind, his preferred method of "casting."
"I was lucky to have found excellent and competent help in Heidi Levitt,
our casting director. She understood the script and had a great feeling
for the kind of actors I was looking for," Wenders says. "As far
as our three leading characters were concerned, we didn't have to look long
though." The filmmakers cast Bill Pullman as the charismatic producer
Mike Max, whose encounter with violence introduces him to real danger and
reveals an entirely new life to him, even as it destroys his old one. A
pivotal role, it required an actor who could embody paradox, for Max is
at times both engaging and despicable, and events force him to lead a literal
double life. In the course of his career, Pullman has played the villain,
the romantic lead and everything in-between, from a sleazy, doomed opportunist
in John Dahl's noir thriller The Last Seduction, to the President of the
United States in the sci-fi phenomenon Independence Day, to a troubled jazz
musician who may be a murderer in David Lynch's moody Lost Highway. "I
saw Bill Pullman twice in one week, in Independence Day and two days later
in Lost Highway. Talk about a range; you probably can't stretch much further
than that. I thought Bill was powerful and convincing in both," Wenders
recalls. "I knew he was right for the part as soon as he entered the
room. This character had to appear first as a power-driven, charming, arrogant,
slick, hip movie producer and then, through what was happening to him, had
to be transformed into a humble, gentle and caring gardener: somebody who
was broken and fragile and suddenly confronted with something he had never
experienced before. He had to go from cockiness to modesty. It would be
difficult for me to say which side of Mike he made me believe more."
The opportunity to work with Wenders appealed to Pullman, as Wenders' oblique,
atmospheric film Paris, Texas, written by Sam Shepard, had greatly impacted
him. "It was a really interesting embodiment of Shepard's ideas, and
texturally, it was haunting and captivating. So I was very interested in
working with Wim. I found him to be very watchful and considerate, incredibly
alert to the smallest kind of behavioral changes."
The script's use of violence as "a connective tissue" also fascinated
Pullman. "Seemingly random acts of violence link these people, but
the violence in this film is also, simultaneously, quite calculated. That's
an interesting paradox."
Pullman adds that despite the film's brutal theme, "there was a curious,
surprising humanity to the script that appealed to me." This "humanity"
that arises is reflected in the profound changes that Mike Max undergoes
as he reacts to a savage, life-threatening act that effectively destroys
his world. "The process of reinventing oneself is very interesting
and intricate. I think you have to go through something like the seven stages
of coping with death when you are reborn, on any level. You live in denial
and anger and go through all of those stages when you realize you aren't
what you were, that you can't exist the way you had and you have to look
to change. There is a lot of resistance to that, built into the ego, but
experiencing that kind of transition is very interesting to me," Pullman
comments. Max's wife Paige also sustains a monumental transition, as she
foregoes her initial disdain for Max's life to zealously embracing it. Wenders
chose Andie MacDowell, an actress he had admired for many years, to play
the conflicted woman. Indeed, Wenders had been one of her early champions.
"I have always liked Andie and, in fact, the first time I had seen
her was in sex, lies and videotape, in Cannes. I was the jury president
that year and we gave the Palme d'Or to Steven Soderbergh's first feature
largely on behalf of its leading lady, an unknown actress by the name of
Andie MacDowell. She left a big impression on me and I have seen most of
her films since."
MacDowell expresses an equal appreciation for the director. "He's just
so talented and his movies are so special," she offers. "He had
wonderful ideas and sometimes, they were just little, key things. I was
eager to work with him; I had been a fan of his for a long time, so I was
very happy to have the opportunity. I trusted him implicitly and he trusted
us too. He lets you have a lot of freedom."
The movie's theme and its underlying examination of the concept of responsibility
captivated MacDowell. "People are always pointing fingers and blaming
others for violence in society, but they aren't examining their own participation:
how they deal with violence or how they bring it into the world just by
being themselves. I found that to be very interesting."
MacDowell describes Paige as "probably unfulfilled in a lot of ways.
She probably gave up her career and married someone really wealthy. She
feels unappreciated in a lot of ways, feels like she has become an expensive
toy." Paige overcomes her feelings of powerlessness by becoming more
ruthless than her husband, even as his own command inversely deteriorates.
Her growing, savage authority was reflected in the wardrobe, make-up and
even in MacDowell's trademark cascade of curly, dark hair, which was cut
and straightened for the part.
"This is a woman who has a lot of big diamonds. Her clothes are very
sexy and expensive and they become raunchier as her power increases. Her
make-up becomes much more extreme too. Paige really works it; that's the
way I see it."
The inadvertent emissary of the violence that disrupts Mike's and Paige's
life is computer program expert Ray Bering, who is engaged in a clandestine
operation that will also profoundly alter his own life. Irish actor/writer/producer
Gabriel Byrne personified Bering. "Ray is the most withdrawn character
in the story.," Wenders notes. "He is solitary, almost reclusive
and it's difficult to know what he thinks. I'd seen Gabriel in a number
of films. The last one I'd seen him in was The Usual Suspects. I met him
the day Nicholas and I had decided to go for it and write the script. That
night, we went to the Viper Room, a Hollywood nightclub, and in the darkness
of the back room I was introduced to an actor whose face I couldn't see.
It was Gabriel. As we spoke in the darkness, I knew he was right for the
role. I remember that when Nicholas and I came out, we looked at each other
and simultaneously said, 'Ray!' We never questioned the decision and never
thought of an alternative. Gabriel was perfect. That was the only part we
cast before we had our first page written," Wenders says.
Byrne corroborates Wenders' description of their first meeting, adding "I'd
never met him before... didn't even know who he was when we got to talking.
A week later I got the script, and I immediately wanted to be involved with
it because it is an incredibly thought-provoking movie. It's a film about
ideas and politics and how people are not really in control of their day-to-day
existence." Byrne's character becomes part of the machine that confiscates
individual free will, under the guise of public welfare, and the violence
that results, he believes, is the most invidious kind. "One of the
most appalling forms of violence, I think, is institutional violence. The
kind that is propagated and nurtured by institutions and corporations for
their own benefit and gain. It's one of the issues that comes up in the
Occasionally, THE END OF VIOLENCE is a bizarre movie-within-a-movie, as
Wenders filmed sequences in which stuntwoman-cum-actress Cat, played by
Traci Lind, performs scenes in one of Mike Max's movies, which, in turn,
serve as plot twists in THE END OF VIOLENCE.
"The movie Cat is in is called Seeds of Violence and it is very stylized,
so it was an interesting opportunity as an actor to play a role inside a
role," Lind comments. The actress adds that the character appealed
to her because she "liked the idea of playing a woman who is self-sustained.
She is a strong person, someone who keeps everybody at arms length and only
Doc, the character that Loren Dean plays, breaks through."
Loren Dean landed the role of Doc after making an audition tape of himself
and sending it to Wim. This audition tape struck Wenders, as had Dean's
performance in Apollo 13. "I knew Loren only from Apollo 13, where
he had really impressed me as this innocent wizard. The part of Doc needed
someone who could play this ingenuous policeman with a lot of enthusiasm
and no cynicism. Loren seemed to be the right choice."
Although Dean attempted to meet with Wenders before shooting began, circumstances
conspired against him. He won the part without encountering the director
personally until the night before principal photography began. An unabashed
Wenders aficionado, Dean claims to have seen Wings of Desire 35 times. Dean
says the role of Doc is "reminiscent of some Jimmy Stewart characters.
He's very affable and polite, kind of like a country boy in certain ways,
but he is also very sharp, which is a combination that is fun to play."
Wim Wenders' self-deprecatingly calls himself a "failed painter"
and, to a certain extent, uses the camera and actors to paint the canvass
that becomes the film. "I'm a director who thinks very much in images
and in frames. So, I try not to have too many preconceptions about how the
film should look. I believe that a film finds its look in the first week
of shooting. I'm opposed to having it all worked out beforehand and then
trying to force your actors, locations and ambiance into that look. I think
it works better the other way around. So, for me, the cinematographer is
the most important collaborator."
In fact, THE END OF VIOLENCE marks cinematographer Pascal Rabaud's feature
film debut. "He was amazing," Wenders says. "The choice of
Pascal came from a strictly gut feeling that he would be good for this film."
Wenders adds that many of his cinematic decisions arise from a similar undefinable
"If filmmaking were all that obvious and cerebral, it wouldn't be much
of a film. In THE END OF VIOLENCE, I used longer lenses and went tighter
into faces than ever before because I felt that somehow all of this corresponded
to our subject and to our locations. These choices weren't all so rational,
they were rather emotional."
Wenders, in collaboration with production designer Patricia Norris, also
opted for a palette of strong, bright colors, including greens, reds and
yellows. The paintings of Edward Hopper, an artist especially known for
his famous, hyper-realist depiction of an American diner, particularly inspired
them. In fact, Norris recreated the diner for one of the film's scenes.
"Edward Hopper has been a continuous inspiration to me and to many
other filmmakers," Wenders says. "I had just written a foreword
for the German edition of his Catalogue Raisonne and, therefore, had once
again looked at all of his paintings. In preparing THE END OF VIOLENCE,
it struck me that there were so many views out of windows or from outside
into windows, and this is one of the overriding topics in Hopper's paintings.
When the necessity came up to actually construct a diner set, I thought
of turning that into an outspoken homage. Patricia Norris liked the task
and then built a set as close as possible to the 'Nighthawks' scene."
Wenders and Rabaud elected to shoot the film in the wide-screen Cinemascope,
a format Wenders had never used. It allowed the director to highlight and
underscore THE END OF VIOLENCE backdrop: the sprawling and contradictory
landscape of Los Angeles. Klein remarks that the multi-racial texture of
Los Angeles and its widely varying degrees of wealth and power made it the
perfect milieu in which to explore the facets of violence.
The film shot on several locations, from the Santa Monica Pier, to the beaches
of Malibu, to a wooded enclave of Griffith Park, to the underbelly of Hollywood,
to the sprawling San Fernando Valley. For Wenders, there was never any other
setting to consider.
"Los Angeles is the place in which the issue of the fabrication of
violence has to be brought up," the director states. "More than
ever in history, ideas are formed by images today. Our entire Western culture
has shifted from a verbal to a visual one. For audiences all over the world,
the very idea of violence is created by an imagery produced in Los Angeles
in movies and in music. As far as politics are concerned, I tend to believe
any story in which crime control, be it police force, CIA, FBI, etc., has
perverted into crime itself, or in which crime is finally controlling the
controllers. Violence is an unhealthy climate, in real life as well as in
Klein adds, "One of our fundamental intentions was to be open-eyed,
without being politically-correct, about the different aspects of violence
that are all interconnected in Los Angeles. Latinos, blacks, whites, rich,
poor, real violence, exploitation of violence...all these elements exist
in Los Angeles. The idea was to get it all relatively well-balanced, but
to conceive a way whereby all these things engage each other, affect one
another by access to each other and then transform, from one to the other.
We wanted to examine how people with good intentions end up subverting those
lofty goals and how catastrophe and violence can lead to epiphanies and
Wenders points out that THE END OF VIOLENCE is not a message film. "I
hope audiences will be moved by these characters and by their story. I hope
that the film will entice viewers on a very personal level to consider their
attitude and their appreciation of violence. The film doesn't have a message
that you can sum up in the end and leave the theater with. Violence is too
complex an issue and its attraction too subtle to put into a handy formula,
pro or contra. Nicholas and I tried to look at violence phenomenologically,
so to speak, not morally. We didn't want to condemn it nor pass any judgments.
We just looked at it for what it is today(a consumer article. Violence has
become a product. I think the issue is simply how to deal with violence
yourself. You're either a consumer of it, in which case you can't complain
if you find yourself consumed by it, or you're not. In the end, I just hope
people will be entertained and confronted with violence, without being exposed
to consuming it once more."