On Polanski, weight loss and Nine Inch Nails.
UNUCUT: Your film’s been compared to Polanski, Hitchcock, Lynch, Kafka and Dostoevsky. You weren’t aiming for Shrek 2 then?
ANDERSON: Those guys were all on my mind! It’s not like I was trying to make a Hitchcock or Polanski movie, but I know the scriptwriter was reading a lot of Eastern European literature when he wrote it. There’s definitely a through-line from Crime And Punishment to this film, and you can feel the Kafka influence in the idea of a man who feels he’s the victim of some kind of grand conspiracy. I mean, I came at it with my own style and approach, but maybe some of these guys were psychically on the set… For example, Bale’s landlady says “You used to be such a good tenant…”, so there are subtle Polanski references and innuendos…
Like Memento or Fight Club, this creates its own world, its own intense, off-kilter atmosphere…how do you sustain that?
Equal parts dread and a perverse, dark sense of humour. My marching orders to everyone, from set designers to actors, were to create something along the lines of a waking nightmare. Something that felt weirdly familiar, but also very alienating at the same time. Plus, shooting in Barcelona, we ended up with this strange version of a hybrid American reality. Which matches the sense of dislocation the character has. He’s not sure where he is. There’s no sense of place. That helps the overall spooky feeling. You don’t know even know when you are. There’s a timelessness, with no cellphones ringing or computer screens blinking. And zapping the movie of its colour gives it an old-school monochromatic vibe… It feels like a different reality to the one we’re used to now.
Christian Bale is at first completely unrecognisable in the role… his transformation is almost horrifying…
He went well beyond the call of duty! The character was written that way, he was actually described as “a walking skeleton”. So it was implicit he’d have to lose weight. But even I didn’t expect him to go the extremes he went to! I was grateful though, because it helped the German Expressionist feel. Plus it meant nobody on set could ever complain about anything at all, even when we went down into the unpleasant Spanish sewers, because all they had to do was look at what the lead actor was going through. Also, he didn’t have to act the insomnia too much, because one of the side effects of that drastic weight loss was he didn’t sleep much, and lost the capacity to differentiate colours.
Out on a limb here, but: is there any link between Bale’s name “Trevor Reznik” and…
Trent Reznor? Yeah, sure. Scott, the writer, loves Nine Inch Nails, and his original script had a quote from their lyrics on the first page. He always envisaged it having a Reznor soundtrack too, but I didn’t want to go in that direction. So Scott was maybe playing with the name. You don’t want to take these kind of stories about a man under excruciating torment too seriously. There’s something bizarrely funny about a guy who doesn’t realise he’s in essence a dog chasing his own tail. Sure it’s horrific and disturbing, and you mustn’t break the spell, but there’s also a twisted ridiculousness to his quest.
Interview By Chris Roberts