November 27, 2005|I got off on the wrong foot with Lodge Kerrigan almost immediately (the kind of thing I can usually avoid until at least ten or twelve minutes into an interview). It was an unexpected turn of events because I'm a fan and was dying to talk to him after getting poleaxed by his first three films: Clean, Shaven, Claire Dolan, and now Keane. It was my fault; I asked him if his films were a means by which to address his prejudices when, upon consideration, his films actually force me to address my own prejudices: prejudices about mental illness, prostitution, and the general desperation of the disenfranchised. I wouldn't call it a misunderstanding so much as a bad presumption on my part--this belief that the things that made me uncomfortable and/or crazy brought out the same feelings in Kerrigan. It's a presumption so deeply ingrained in me that I never stopped to think that the things I'm a prick about aren't the same things everyone else is a prick about, making the interview almost as interesting a prod for self-examination as are Kerrigan's films.
One of the best films of 2005, Keane, like so many hard-to-classify movies, actually sat on the shelf for a year after debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival. It's a follow-up to something called In God's Hands, a film produced (like Keane) by Steven Soderbergh and starring Peter Sarsgaard and Maggie Gyllenhaal as a couple trying to reconcile the loss of a child--a picture no one will see because, as the story goes, the negatives were damaged irreparably. Although insurance stepped in to cover the monetary losses, Mr. Kerrigan was left with nothing to show for a completed motion picture but a promise from Soderbergh to support his next project. I wondered if this tragedy informed the oppressive sense of loss in Keane; it was one of many topics Mr. Kerrigan tackled with insight and good humour.
FILM FREAK CENTRAL: My editor, Bill Chambers, mentions your affection for the character of Keane. Elaborate.
LODGE KERRIGAN: We live in really critical times and I just have a lot of empathy for people who live on the margins of society, I think--a lot of empathy for people with mental illness, especially in this day and age that seems so confusing and frightening so that I wonder if people as a general rule don't have--all of us--a better empathy for paranoia and erratic behaviours.
I think it's that familiarity that makes me uncomfortable--leading me to put my foot in it in the presumption you shared the same prejudices as me.
Yeah, that's why I balked at the question because I don't believe that I have a prejudice against the homeless or prostitutes. With Clean, Shaven, I really tried to examine the subjective reality of someone who suffered from schizophrenia, to try to put the audience in that position to experience how I imagined the symptoms to be: auditory hallucinations, heightened paranoia, disassociative feelings, anxiety. Hopefully the audience would feel at the end of it like how it must be to feel that way for a lifetime and not just eighty minutes--but I also wanted to attack the notion that people who suffer from mental illness are more violent than other people.
It's a pretty un-remarked-upon stereotype.
It is, it's just the accepted portrayal in the media and in most popular culture, at least in the context of violence. Statistically, people who suffer from mental illness are no more or less violent than anyone else in society, so I really had it in mind to challenge those images that, really, create prejudice and bias within a framework of a murder/detective story.
You play with that by making the protagonist the most viable--according to those stereotypes that you mention--suspect.
Exactly right, I set it up that Peter, who suffers from schizophrenia, could be the killer, leading the audience down that path, but I withhold proof. There's no conclusive evidence that he is and if people feel that he's guilty, I hope that the picture holds them responsible for drawing that conclusion. I hope that it forces the audience to challenge themselves as to why they believe that this man is responsible. If it's not proof, right, what else could it be that he's crazy?
Tell me about doing the film in four-minute takes.
It wasn't solely four minutes, but that was the limit. I wanted to make people feel that Keane really existed and so I chose this aesthetic realism basically because if you could feel like you were with him in "real time" then you could begin to believe in him in three dimensions and then the emotional impact of the picture could be felt with more depth and clarity. Tied into that, I shot the scenes in "real time" and some scenes last up to four minutes, not all, but there's no traditional coverage in the movie, every scene is shot in one shot and the only cuts are jump cuts.
Really just because if "real time" is passing without any interference with dissolves or other sorts of time- extending or shortening editing techniques, then you come closer to establishing the kind of trust with your audience that what they're seeing is, in fact, just how it happened as we were filming. It's not vérité, of course, but aesthetically, if I'm successful, it feels "real" and that's what I believed would affect a greater impact.
It must've affected the performances, too.
Absolutely. What happened was that it became very challenging but also very exhilarating, particularly shooting in unpredictable environments like the Port Authority. Plus, actors work at different rates. Damien, for instance, was ready right out of the gate every single time, take one, but Abigail--who I think does a tremendous job and this is in no way a criticism of her performance, just an objective observation of her method--took longer. She wasn't really at the right pitch until take five or six, at which time Damien was coming down, so I had to keep shooting until Damien came back up again and they were both at about the right pitch which was anywhere from take twelve to fourteen.
Plus, you factor in shooting on location in an open set.
You can imagine doing that with no traditional coverage, right. A live environment like the Port Authority Bus Terminal you had like two-hundred-thousand people walking through it every day and we weren't controlling it. We had some extras, but most people walking through the frame were just commuters--so you can imagine that take eleven and you're three minutes into a four-minute take and a bus arrives and 150 people flood out, and someone says, "Hey, you making a movie?" And then you're back at zero. So it was really demanding of the actors, but it was also really exhilarating and I think that the actors really fed off of that environment.
Lewis has a theatre background, too.
He does, he does--he's from the Royal Shakespeare Company so of course that vibe of working, in a way, in front of a live audience in continual non-covered takes was, I think, liberating for him. It really played into his strengths and he really appreciated the chance, I think, to be able to work through an emotion without needing to break it up with coverage or insert shots. He really thrived in being able to play it out and with Abigail, too, working with a kid I think it's as simple as being able to be "in the moment." She communicates so much non-verbally.
Your style has been compared a lot to the Dardenne brothers...
I'm a great admirer of them, but I couldn't say that they were the starting point for me--it certainly isn't the touchstone for me that so many are making them out to be. The filmmakers that speak to me the most are those that show humanity to be complex, that there might be the good qualities, but also the great faults. Instead of reaching for an idea, to come to an acceptance--instead of denying and criticizing our weaknesses, to come to accept them--all the way back to neorealism, Cassavetes, Wiseman, who's one of the greatest filmmakers we've got, to Ken Loach, to Kiarostami, the Dardenne brothers certainly, Mike Leigh. It's alive and continuing and all filmmakers stand on the shoulders of the ones that came before them. Hopefully, though, they have something to add, too.
|The incredible one-sheet for Keane|
You described New York as a "city of windows," and I know that you're really interested in architecture in your films. Describe the New York of Keane.
I was just looking for places of transition--transient places--and so much of it came just from the economic realities of the characters. That's really it--that was the starting point. There's a real connection between mental illness and poverty. Mental illness takes a tremendous economic toll: not only the health care, but the lost jobs, friends and family taking time off from work to support people suffering, so it really has a huge, sometimes invisible, toll. So for me it was a really important element to portray.
It's almost the inciting element.
That's true--I wanted Keane's daughter to be abducted in a public environment while they were traveling by bus and so there'd be guilt and responsibility and that maybe one possible backstory could be that he was divorced from his wife and had his daughter for a day and was going somewhere with her. And of course bus travel is the cheapest form of travel. The hotels in the film, too, are just really very transient and I wrote a lot of the script in the places where we shot--the Port Authority especially--to try to make it as organic as possible. I would walk out where he would walk out and where he's screaming in the streets and stuff, I would write the scene there--and then when he's walking through the Lincoln Tunnel, I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel just because writing it as I did it captured for me this sense of the real that I wouldn't otherwise be able to just make-up. Particularly the hotel, you know, just gives off this sense that you can't stay there for very long and I really wanted that to come through not just in the filming but in the writing.
You were reading a lot of Murakami during the writing and making of this film.
(laughs) You did a lot of research. I didn't really want to get into this but I guess we have to mention it. After Claire Dolan and before Keane I shot another film about child abduction called In God's Hands, but that one was about a middle-class family and the disintegration of it after this event. And unfortunately there was irreversible negative damage so the insurance company stepped in and reimbursed production, but there was no way to salvage the production, it was gone. But I had shot all the footage, the film had wrapped, and as you can imagine it was a difficult period. So I read all of Murakami's novels back-to-back--at that point he had nine--and there was a sense of... I guess I found some measure of peace in his work and realized that although I had lost the film, in the grand scheme of things, if you suffer a misfortune, at least nobody got hurt. As passionate as I am about my work, I was able to move on. Soderbergh was the producer and he was wonderful. He said, "Don't worry, we'll work together again," and he was true to his word.
But you hadn't gotten the idea of child abduction out of your system...
No, that's right, so I wrote a whole new script and it did lead to some confusion because some people thought that I was remaking In God's Hands which just couldn't be further from the truth.
Sounds impossible, to boot.
Absolutely. Impossible and I can't imagine ever wanting to remake a movie that you've already shot. All the life and spontaneity and energy would have been sapped from it.
Does that feeling of loss seep into Keane?
I think that's probably reading too much into it. I think that the ideas of Keane come from a place much deeper than that. The idea of losing a child, having a kid abducted, must be the worst thing in life. On another level, I think, the reality is that everything you go through affects you and so how can something like that not affect you? If anything the way that it affected me was that it really--what's the right word? It really focused me to get another film made because I realized that the only way I could put that part of my life behind me, the only way to close that circle, would be to get another film finished. I look at it in a positive way now in that if I'd finished In God's Hands, I never would have done Keane.
Keane is playing in select cities across North America. Click here to read our review.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.