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Grazed and Abused

Richard Linklater

| Fri Oct. 27, 2006 2:00 AM EDT

MJ: It’s rare for an American movie to tell a story that’s the rule rather than the exception. Usually it’s the Remarkable Story of a Guy Who Bucked the Odds in Pursuit of Truth and Justice.

RL: Eric and I were pretty adamant about saying no to that. Don is no Erin Brockovich. The film pushes responsibility back on the audience.

MJ: No shortages of risks, are there, with that kind of approach—particularly in a commercial medium, right? You have a movie that doesn’t deliver.

RL:I’m not gonna say that it was easy to get this film made and to keep some of those subversive elements alive. You hope it’s appreciated and not just frustrating to a viewer who has been so conditioned to expect something in particular. But I was more interested in the question of how to tell a story. To me one of the most interesting aspects of the movie is that you have a lead character who literally leaves the movie halfway through—because he doesn’t come through on his lead character status. He sort of doesn’t qualify, he doesn’t earn the right to remain around. In a way he chooses not to be in the movie. He’s replaced by Amber, with her growing awareness. I don’t know if cynicism is the word for what he’s got, but his complexity is replaced by Amber’s budding awareness and activism—a switch-off occurs there.

MJ: That switch corresponds to the film’s desire to reach a younger audience—which in turn corresponds to Eric Schlosser’s own direction of late, publishing a Fast Food Nation book for kids, Chew on This. Do you think that young people have a chance to make a change?

RL: Well, we hope, you know? That’s the age that people are most receptive to putting yourself on the line and believing in change and everything. It depends on your background; maybe your awareness comes at the end of high school or in college, somewhere around there. For a lot of us, awareness is merely realizing the extent to which we’ve been lied to all our lives. You start educating yourself, you become motivated, you follow your muse where it takes you. And you see the world in a different way, you start making decisions based on what you feel is right. That’s how it happened for me. I grew up in a little town in east Texas, where it was really not on the table to question certain things like whether you should eat meat or not. In health class they’d describe a hamburger, fries, and a shake as a well-balanced meal: All the food groups are represented—you’ve got vegetables on the hamburger, you know, the lettuce and tomato, you’ve got meat, so that’s your protein, you’ve got bread, the bun, and you’ve got dairy, the shake. So you’re all good to go. So it wasn’t until I got a little older that I started to say, “Hmmm.” The more I studied that industry, the more I said, you know, I’m not going to support that—industrial chicken farming and pig farming, it all seems so ugly and bad all around. It can be hard for a young person in certain environments to know that it’s even an option to disapprove.

MJ: Amber has some privileges.

RL:Yes, and at the same time it’s hard for a 50-year-old who has been living a certain way to make a change; it would almost be for him to admit that he’s been wrong for the last 30 years. I see the world as an amalgamation of information and awareness; I’m very reliant on investigative journalists and writers and people out there sharing their information, sharing what they know about the policies of industries and what’s behind those policies. You have to have your feelers out there and you can’t attack the person that’s giving you the bad news; you have to be able to say, I’m not shopping there, I’m not buying that.

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