I think it started when I read Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers, which is an exceptional book, quite different from Thomas Mann’s other books, because you sense that it came to him very easily. I’m a big admirer of Thomas Mann, but all the other books tend to get rather heavy. This one has a lightness. And it’s five volumes, so it’s a big bastard. But because he had an ‘obstruction’ in the form of ‘So says the Bible’, he was able to let his hair down. I’m convinced about the obstruction principle, because it makes it play rather than a duty. I remember Per Kirkeby hated the white canvas. So he had an assistant who’d paint on them. Anything. That gave him a point of departure and then it could become something completely different. It’s funny that total freedom isn’t all that artistically interesting, strangely enough. You also sometimes sense the political situation people have been in. Tarkovsky, for example, made by far his best movies in the Soviet Union, because he was in this strange oppressive situation, but he found a niche so he was returned to favour. As soon as he goes to Italy and Sweden, it doesn’t work for me anymore. Apparently you to have some sort of chain around your neck. It’s like athletes who make things harder for themselves, or circus performers who do something that’s a bit more difficult, which at least becomes a reward for themselves.
— Lars von Trier, 2020 interview