Chicago Rot began with a black and white morality at its core. Put simply, it was originally envisioned as the story of a good man, wronged by a bad man, who sets out to right things. Justice is served, we have plenty of fun along the way, and everybody gets to share a self-righteous sense of satisfaction. The end.
However, as Brant and I refined the script, the confinements brought on by our employment of shopworn concepts of good and evil began to put a stranglehold on a far more evocative scenario that was revealing itself to us. A scenario that was not concerned with the objective purity of facts or absolutes, but rather, found its storytelling anchors sunk deep in the much murkier waters of perception. Despite the pressures this exerted on the structure we had already erected for our film, we pursued it, and found ourselves asking some thrilling questions about our protagonist, Les, and his quest for revenge – if you never achieve the peace you claim to be fighting for, never arrive at that end, what does that make you? Does the intended end justify the means, or condemn them further? And most importantly, according to who?
We kept writing. The walls and supports we had built began to bow. The floor boards cracked and folded out on themselves like interlocking fingers, splintered and useless. We stood back, watching it slowly explode, admiring the respectable magnitude of the forces at play. Then we did the only sane thing left to do. We tore the fucking thing down.
What spilled out, the force that had been banging at the walls of our preconceptions, was the color of smoke and ash. Gray. A wide, shifting gradient that, at its extremes, would approach black and approach white, but never quite became a pure manifestation of either end. Black and white were merely ideals – absolutes that could be striven for but never reached. One can never fully shake the influence of the other. This reminded us that as much pain and misery has resulted from those who set out to do harm as from those wielding good intentions, and that as much change has come to the world through despots as through saints. This became our new moral center. The gray. And it continued to expand.
Chicago was always going to be our playground, and after this conceptual big bang, we finally had a world and a story ambitious enough to take proper advantage of the city’s scope, and more importantly, its true hues. Making Chicago a centerpiece location in a film is nothing new in and of itself, but Brant and I wanted to take our film outside of the iconic, tourism board-approved areas of the city and get into the shit that we all like to pretend doesn’t exist. The festering spaces in between, where those who live in the dark fight tooth and nail for the scraps of illumination that bleed off of the closest host-light. Places where the ghosts of our city’s rich past still linger, feeding off of the racing pulse of life that only flows through veins of desperation, hollowed out by high stakes. The smoke and ash settled nicely into these fissures, and the script took its final form.
In the end, what we wrote was the story of Les, a man who may be a victimized saint that suffered a great tragedy and fought back, or who may be an opportunistic murderer that was handed a noble flag with which to rally others to his sadistic cause.
What I directed is a film that does not answer this question, but rather, recreates the subjective experiences of the characters that suffer the consequences, and that asks viewers to form their opinions based on those perceptions.
Fuck the facts. Their colors are too well defined to be of any use in this, a story of gray.