Interview: Ellen Page and Patricia Rozema on Into the Forest
One of the most important figures of Canadian cinema has returned. Filmmaker Patricia Rozema is back with Into the Forest, her first directorial effort in nearly eight years. Along for the ride is actress Ellen Page who also produced the film. A fresh take on the post-apocalyptic genre, Into the Forest follows sisters Nell (Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) as they are forced to live in their secluded home without food or power. We spoke with Rozema and Page about Rozema’s return, the complex characters, and the film’s disturbing rape scene.
Scene Creek: Ellen, as a producer, what was it that made you want to bring Patricia on board for this film?
Ellen Page: I’d been a fan of Patricia’s work and we had actually never met personally before, which is weird because it’s such a small world. Then we met about another project, we met to talk about making The Paper Bag Princess into a film. We immediately connected. We stayed in touch. We became friends and I read Into the Forest and sent it to her and asked her if she wanted to do it. That’s how it happened. I love her work and I love her work in every genre. Whether it’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing or Mansfield Park or Kit Kittredge, which I love! She took this family film and genre and utterly elevated it. She gave us more poetry and gave us this beautiful little piece. Or her work on Grey Gardens, which really blew me away. I think everyone expected not to work and then the reality of it was awesome. So that’s my way of saying that I was a fan. I’m glad she did it.
SC: Patricia, you hadn’t directed a film since 2008. What was it about this project that made you want to direct again?
Patricia Rozema: It was just a brilliant book with a brilliant actor and I knew that with her at the helm the decisions would be artistically driven. I trusted her instincts. We worked together enough on the other project for me to know that she has really good instincts, and that’s what I’m always looking for. It just felt like something contemporary. Everyone is doing movies about the apocalypse but nobody was doing it in a very real way and certainly no one is doing it with two female leads. That seemed new and it was my goal to find something new and beautiful. So it checked all those boxes.
SC: The character arcs of Nell and Eva are very complex. They seem to begin in very different places yet end up in the opposite person’s position. What was it like to set up the characters to change this way?
EP: That’s an interesting take! You know I think that was one of the things that drew me to the book and to Patricia’s adaptation. For me, to have this character go from being very smart, very bright with high expectations for her academic self and future, that is relatively elusive and that just goes out the window. Her youthfulness, she’s pretty self-absorbed, all she thinks about is, “Oh my God, I just have to see this boy on Friday!”
PR: “There’s no jam left! There’s no milk!”
EP: There’s an entitlement. We’re all that way; I’d be that way too. For her to go on that journey and become the resilient, self-reliant person that she becomes, which is more instinctual, more heart based like Evan’s character in the beginning of the film. Being the dancer and what have you.
PR: I always loved that about it. It was in the book but I guess I emphasized it a bit more in the screenplay just to see the power flip Some people would say that’s when a scene is good, when there’s a switch in status. I love how, at a certain point, Eva says, “I’m going to use the gas. I gotta to use the gas” and Nell says, “No, we’re not”. It’s clear that Nell is going to be dominant there.
EP: And she’s right.
PR: Later they use the gas and it’s the most perfect thing in the world. They need the music, the need the warmth, they need the memories of the family. A decision that is wrong at one point is right by the end.
SC: The film feels very timely, almost as if it could only be made in this socio-political environment. Do you agree?
PR: It feels very now to me. It feels like somehow, on a global level, people are questioning the system we have. Is it our vulnerability that’s caused by our dependence on fossil fuels and our dependence on electricity coming out from those little holes in the wall? What would we do without it? That question is just hovering on the surface of everyone’s mind. Yet we still go on about our careers and we still launch our films at festivals and stuff. We live in a bit of a state of delusion, I think. In the film I call it a fugue stage. To explain, it’s a state akin to amnesia. You act normal in every other way but you completely forget how you were before. So what’s the fugue state? Them without power, is that the fugue state, where they don’t even remember that they had power? Or is it them with power and that they don’t remember them once being without power? Yes, I think it’s of our times. That’s our job, isn’t it? To try to do a film that relates to what we feel, what we fear, and what we love right now. Hat’s off to Ellen. She’s got her finger on the pulse. She optioned the book a long time ago. It was written in 1996, so I had to update it a bit. It wasn’t set in the future. I set it in the future because I felt like it could be more believable and it could feel a little more frightening that it was just around the corner. I want to frighten you, but I also want to comfort you as an audience. I feel like art of all sorts has to be useful. I wanted it to be kind of a wakeup call. Kind of a catharsis for me, an expression of my fears. Also a comfort and a how to.
SC: They way you shot the rape scene in the film is rather remarkable. You don’t show the man, but rather the camera holds only on Eva. It’s as if you’re reminding the audience that this is solely her experience.
PR: I’m so happy that people are getting that. Well, there is a violent rape in the book. One of the first questions Ellen asked me was how I wanted to shoot it. I don’t think she knew in her mind whether it was responsible to show this or irresponsible to add to all the images of the humiliation of women out there. There are tons of images, porn is made of it. There are lots of images of women being abused and I didn’t want to contribute to that. I just thought I would focus on the pain, her pain. I don’t care what he’s doing. No one can get off on that scene. No one can thrill in it. At the last minute I had the idea to turn the camera on the side, to just distort it and throw it out of normal reality somehow. I did one take; one take just on her head, on the side. I was watching it and I knew it was something special. Evan just went for it. She broke the capillaries of her eyelids just screaming like that. Then she got up and stood there. The crew was shell-shocked. The crew was ready to move on but Evan said, “Wait, wait. Don’t care about this because it could be your mother, that this could be your sister, that this could be your daughter. Care about this because we’re human beings. If you know any women you probably know women who have suffered this kind of experience. It matters.” The whole crew was kind of embarrassed and impressed. That feeling that you have when someone bears to stand up.
Into the Forest is now playing.