You've been invested in horror films, or films about grave evils, for many years. Do you still learn new things about the mystery of evil or God or spirituality in the process of creating in this particular genre?
It's a good question. I think there's a real mystery to the inexplicable irrationality of true evil—both human and spiritual. I think that the more I work in the genre, the more I see it and the more I learn about the mysteries that can be worked in the world and how it's at work in my own life and within me. It's one of the reasons I do what I do. I am obsessed with it.
To be honest with you, I genuinely don't understand why everyone isn't obsessed with discovering and unmooring a deeper understanding of it. If we're not compelled to gain a deeper understanding of good and evil, how can we make the world a better place? How can we find ourselves at the end of our lives and know that our lives were significant? Those things would be impossibilities.
Your thoughts here remind me that I've always thought of you as an artist working in the same way as someone like novelist Flannery O'Connor who, while primarily wanting to tell a good story, also thought that we couldn't return to good unless we fully understood the depths of evil. Your filmography in the horror genre has seemed to me similar to her literary use of the grotesque. Is there a sense in which you're hopeful that a byproduct of providing a good scare might also be to shock people out of a comfortable nihilism?
Flannery O'Connor is my creative hero. I think she's the greatest American writer. Her book, Mystery and Manners, is my creative bible. I'm humbled by the comparison. She's a true American treasure.
She said to the deaf you have to shout and to the blind you have to draw large and startling pictures. That phrase itself is as good of an apologetic for horror as you're ever going to speak.
What I love about her work and what I'm still learning is the manner in which she trusted the complexities of narrative to place her readers in the right range to gather what they needed or to miss it if they weren't prepared for it. In the end her stories are like moral mazes, and you're not going to be able to get to the end and have a clean takeaway but she will have placed you in an arena of thought until you've worked something out.
She does all that while being shocking and entertaining and giving you a great tale. If there's an artist's philosophy that I aspire to, it's hers. There's a love of mystery there.
There's an old and ongoing theological argument or tension as to whether Satan is merely the negation of good, a "nothing" as it were, or if he is more of an active, identifiable entity. How is this question of the nature of Satan's existence related to how you choose to depict Satan in such a uniquely visual medium? What's at play for you in imagining what evil looks like?
Well, either way, you're still dealing with abstraction and immaterial persona that's not visually represented. But to get to the heart of what I think your question is, though, I have a lot of appreciation and respect for both understandings of evil.
I think the two most significant descriptions of evil and of the devil that have influenced me are from Thomas Aquinas, who wrote that evil is an abstraction, that the evil in the world is a distortion of what is good, and from C. S. Lewis, who wrote that there is no such thing as absolute evil.