Joachim Trier's complex film about an "American" family and the inner workings and ties that connect them together (at times) and keep them in tension is one of the best films released in the US in 2015 but because of its pacing, story-telling technique and plot line it left the bulk of the public behind. Highly recommended for insightful view into our detatchful sexual times. Trier is an extremely skillful director and this his third film compliments his earlier two accomplished films: Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31st (2011).
Along those lines, I have a question for you, Jesse, but I’m afraid it might sound weird. The moment you and Isabelle Huppert are brushing your teeth in the mirror and your character notices her scars—is he … turned on? By his mom?
Yes, he is. I think it speaks to what Joachim was just saying. The more the sons idealize their mom, the more they view their father as powerless. My character ends up conflating his idealization of his mother with his own sexual feelings, and his sexual dissatisfactions at college. His mother also happens to be this awesome woman who, by virtue of being played by this cool French actress, is very alluring, and by virtue of my meeting her the day we shot that scene, is increasingly alluring because I know nothing about her. Joachim wanted there to be some kind of unspoken Oedipal dynamic …
So you talked about that before the scene?
With Jesse I could talk about things like that, because I think we’re both psychoanalytically inclined. But of course it needs to be playable. There needs to be ambiguity. I’ll give you another example. Is it Swift who said that sexuality and death are all that really concern the truly great mind? I don’t know about the great mind, but they certainly concern this film. I mean, here you have the little brother sitting in the classroom, listening to the girl he’s infatuated with as she reads out loud from a book by one E. I. Lonoff—make of that what you will…
Lonoff from The Ghost Writer?
If you look at the cover of the book she’s reading, you’ll see it says E. I. Lonoff, as a tribute to Philip Roth. Now you’re the only one who knows. But so, the kid’s watching this girl read from their assignment, and he’s going through puberty, he’s infatuated, he starts thinking about his mother’s death because of what she’s reading, and the girl’s voice becomes his inner monologue. I haven’t seen anyone do that before. It’s one of the things I’m a little bit proud of in this film. Then he starts thinking about the moment when he and his mother played hide-and-seek when he was little, and he realizes that she must have seen him all along. And then he snaps back to reality. So, through the form of this flashback, you get the Oedipal confusion, the attraction to the girl, and the association to the mother’s death without nailing it down. It sounds trite when I try to explain it. But I hope it’s at play in the formal choices.
When we made the film, I was thinking a lot about Adam Phillips’s book Missing Out. His idea is that we all continually live not only the life we live but also the life we imagine could have happened, or might happen if things were somehow different—and that this unlived life is an entity of its own that continually affects us. That notion is inspiring. I was constantly thinking of how to make scenes that could illustrate that, through showing, not telling, through form. I’m not saying we’ve managed it, but it’s something I’d love to have done.