An intimate 20 minute conversation about the newest art film
1950s America. Since his mother’s confinement to an institution, Andy has lived in the shadow of his stoic father. A family acquaintance, Dr. Wallace Fiennes, employs the introverted young man as a photographer to document an asylum tour advocating for his increasingly controversial lobotomy procedure. As the tour progresses and Andy witnesses the doctor’s career and life unravel, he begins to identify with the institutions’ patients. Arriving at a California mountain town, a growing center of the New Age movement, they encounter an unconventional French healer who requests a lobotomy for his own daughter, Susan.
We caught up with Rick Alverson and Jeff Goldblum to discuss the film. Check it out after the jump.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to create this project?
Rick Alverson: My other movies dealt with the problems of American utopias. These artificial, aspirational constructions. But this is sort of in that space. We are going back to a romanticized origin story, for lack of a better framing, to some of our contemporary, psychic dilemmas.
The Knockturnal: And Jeff, what drew you to this project?
Jeff Goldblum: Same exact thing. Rick Alverson I like. I saw his movies, and liked it. And then meeting him and I liked what he had in mind. I loved it. And the character was complicated and interesting.
The Knockturnal: What were some of the inspirations you had in developing the themes and concepts for this story?
Rick Alverson: I am a big fan of Austrian novels, like Thomas Bernhard. He wrote a book called “Gargoyles,” which is an aspirational story of this young man and his father and ultimately they come to this prince on this hill. And it’s a fable. And for 100 pages it’s this monologue that fractures any notion of what is real. Also, something like the “Wizard of Oz,” which is an aspirational novel and ends in the exposure of a diminished personality. I am a stalwart atheist, so I really love these novels where they pull back the curtain and we see a frail puppet master. I get a kick out of that.
The Knockturnal: So Jeff, this role is unlike any other role you’ve done in the past. What made you want to step into this role?
Jeff Goldblum: Well, I like doing things like that. So, I can try and get better. So I can still feel like a late bloomer. As a humble student, I feel like I am at the threshold position of being able to do better than I have, partly because I try to do different things. And I like I said, I wanted to work with Rick. But, the part was taken after that real guy, Walter Freeman. And after reading about him, he is a complicated and rich kind of character.
The Knockturnal: What were some of your favorite scenes to shoot during this film?
Jeff Goldblum: When I was naked on the stairs. It was very nudist cinema. Why can’t there be nudist cinema? Where it’s all out there.
Rick Alverson: Yeah, we liked the scene with Jeff naked at the bottom of the stairs. There was also a great whistling scene that was cut from the film where we were in the tropical rain forest. There were a few things that had to go which was unfortunate. It should’ve been longer. It should’ve been an hour longer. Because people who aren’t up for it aren’t up for it.
Jeff Goldblum: Whistling was good. It was impression whistling. I was doing a little whistling, and then Hannah Gross who is spectacular, does it. And this whistling is done by the Sufi cult group. And I was interviewing her to see if she is right for the lobotomy. And she starts whistling. But it’s being meta where my face is recognizing that she is doing it.
The Knockturnal: What other scenes were cut from the film that you wish were included?
Rick Alverson: Denis Lavant is in a robbery scene. He has a faux robbery that was in the film. He takes the young, lobotomized, Andy to a liquor store. And in a sort of dig at Quentin Tarantino, he says, ‘What do you like? What do you like? Do you like this?” And he pulls out a flare gun and points it at the purveyor, at Andy’s head, and at his head. And he puts it in a way and says, “Do you like this?” And then he does a little dance and leaves. I’m going to release it as its own film.
Jeff Goldblum: Why did we have to lose this?
Rick Alverson: The process is a brutal process.
The Knockturnal: How did you decide what made it to the film and what was left out?
Rick Alverson: It’s a bit of a drag because the environment is so different where art cinema is no longer art cinema. It’s being pushed in different directions to conform to a different kind of cinema. It is going to a consumer narrative cinema and it shouldn’t be that. Everyone that is involved from financiers to producers to directors to distributors to sales representatives. Everybody is terrified. So there is this urge to push for the center. And I think it is a mistake. You can still make good films that way. The art cinema of the mid-century of folk is not valued in this space. In the contemporary sense where somebody is really tearing apart the thing. Hopefully, it can be. But the industry doesn’t want that.
The Knockturnal: Wally had different personas inside the hospital and outside the hospital. How did you tackle that diversity within one single character?
Jeff Goldblum: Rick helped me. I worked on it. We tried to figure it out and got some ideas. Inside the hospital I am kind of authoritarian, irritable, short fused, impatient, grandiose, but somewhat efficient. And then I get home and I must have release from the stresses of work. I drink, I smoke out of my pipe, start looking for ladies, and get loose. I get naked, get loose, and start dancing.
The Knockturnal: This film is very different than other movies in the realms of the cinematography and direction. How did you approach doing that?
Rick Alverson: A few reviews that I’ve seen of the film is that it’s not really a film but more like a slideshow, which I like a lot. I think it’s really interesting. I mean, there are a lot of interruptions because I am trying to pull people to deal with the materiality of it. It is said blatantly by a character that it is not a mountain, it’s a picture. And this idea that we can just drop in to this privileged society and experience the titillating drama of these tragic institutions. Or the mid-century as though we have the privilege of being time travelers. I think in a fantastical way that could be beneficial. But if we just always ask for this, I think it is beneficial to put some governors in it. Like we aren’t seeing the 1950’s, this is actually a wax museum. This is a representation of that and maybe it gets people’s wheels turning after a bad dinner.
The Knockturnal: And how did you react to that sort of direction?
Jeff Goldblum: Well, if you’ve seen his other two movies, I was already enrolled. I couldn’t stop watching them. I was anxious and eager to be a part of it. I love his taste. And then he turned me on to other movies that I haven’t seen. Denis Lavant I have never seen. I saw “Holy Motors,” and it’s all Denis Lavant. People have always talked to me about Tarkovsky and “Stalker” which people have always told me about but since it was Rick, I said I need to know where you are coming from.
The Knockturnal: What were your intentions for how people should feel about this movie when walking out of the theaters?
Rick Alverson: I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if movies were just disposable. I personally think you could throw it off and say you don’t want any part of this. But, I think they do that in a bit of a fit. Because if they approach it as entertainment, they’ll find it particularly grim. But if they approach it with the materiality of what it is, which is this playground of ideas, it has all kinds of benefits. I want the audience to be active.
Jeff Goldblum: Do you think people would clearly get the ending?
Rick Alverson: The lobotomy is supposed to be a normative procedure. So the couple’s desire to find perfection in life is normative. It’s almost about a tale of domesticity. They become a couple, and their shaping of their traumas. Their anesthetized and normalized.
Jeff Goldblum: They are looking in a futile sense after being lobotomized. They wouldn’t have done that otherwise. They wouldn’t have been coupled like that. And they wouldn’t have looked up if they hadn’t been lobotomized. And if people get that, do people think, ‘damn the authoritative and patriarchal systems in play that lobotomized two prickly characters in ways that we liked and empty them out.”