The Killer Within
An interview with Michal Kosakowski | Deutsche Welle, April 5, 2012
Murder, mayhem, violence: Where do such fantasies originate? A conversation with film-maker Michal Kosakowski, who made normal people act out fantasies they usually keep under wraps. A glimpse into the interior life of people just like you and me.
For more than 15 years Viennese film-maker Michal Kosakowski has been dealing with fantasies of murder and mayhem in a number of art projects. He interviewed people about whether and how they would kill somebody and then gave them the opportunity to act out these fantasies on videos – as perpetrators or victims. His many years of dealing with the subject first led to the widely publicised video installation “Fortynine” in which viewers are exposed to the simultaneous onslaught of hundreds of murder videos and, eventually, to a film that juxtaposes these murder fantasies with interviews in which the participants comment on them. The title “Zero Killed” is programmatic, however: as far as we know, none of the participants has ever committed a felony in reality. And yet the film affords alarming insights into the inner life of so-called normal people.
Mr. Kosakowski, in your role as an artist and film-maker you have been dealing with murder fantasies over many years. Are there specific events that trigger murder fantasies in people or would you say that just about any man in the street has them stowed away somewhere in his mind?
Frankly speaking, the main catalyst is the media. After all these years I have come to the conclusion, that these ideas are mostly suggested by the media, be it in the form of news, feature films, or computer games – all formats that regularly depict violence.
Only recently there has been another killing spree in Oakland, California. When you ascribe these fantasies to the influence of the media – what exactly have people who seriously thought about firing their guns into a crowd told you? Were their fantasies brought on by the media?
In a killing spree, more than on other occasions, it is likely just the inconceivability of such a situation that forever haunts people who re-enact it. In the case of one person who had just such a fantasy and wanted to act it out it was precisely the fascination of wanting to know what happens in the mind of someone who actually commits it.
One of the interviewees says he wanted to feel god-like. Is that a motivation you’ve come across on a regular basis?
No, that was rather an exception. Naturally that was an exaggerated position. More often it was a matter of very mundane everyday situations. Someone bumps into you in the subway and you want to retaliate – a completely banal incident that could potentially get out of hand. Many people imagined similar situations. Or take one US-American, for instance, who worked in a hotel and was mobbed by his colleagues. He felt like shooting them one after the other. Many of these fantasies originate in work life.
You made your protagonists act out their respective murder fantasies for the videos, in the roles of victims or perpetrators. That looks like psychodrama of the extreme kind. How did the people deal with it?
I did not leave them alone with their stories. It was vital to look after them from start to finish. Fortunately I’ve been able to establish that in all cases the effects were rather positive – acting out their fantasies served as an outlet for them. They could let out suppressed emotions and leave certain things behind.
They must have cast a glimpse into their own inner abyss – didn’t that make them feel desperate?
Absolutely not! Not at all! I’ve been asked that a number of times. Actually, I believe those people who did not participate in my project are more endangered and dangerous than those who did. My protagonists are people who have learned to face their fantasies, to live with them, not fear them.
Have you also encountered people who were plagued by their fantasies?
Not plagued, exactly, but it was surprising to realize just how accurately some had planned their deeds, down to the last detail and with almost pedantic precision. It was fascinating to see how vivid their fantasies became once they had been given an opportunity to act them out.
And we are supposed to believe that these people went home after their videos were finished and just took up their everyday routines exactly like before?
More or less. But we did meet afterwards to discuss everything, to watch the various rough cuts. In fact they still follow the project and are actually quite proud to have participated in it and in the fact that it travels around the world.
What is your conclusion after dealing with fantasies of violence and murder over such an extended period of time? Do you think that normal, down-to-earth people are immune to them or do you think that a violent criminal lurks deep within everyone of us?
Well, taking into account differences of socialization and geographic location I’d have to say that there is a killer hidden in everyone of us, yes. I confronted every person with the provocative question: ‘How would you react if the person dearest to you were murdered?’. Almost 100% replied that they would avenge them. At that point, at the latest, it became clear that one would receive answers totally unexpected from certain persons. My conclusion is that everyone harbours some such fantasy and that it is our socialization that allows us to either suppress it or deal with it in a playful way.