The controversy around Lucky McKee’s The Woman has certainly helped raise the film’s profile, but along with notoriety come misconceptions. In a way it seems as though it’s regarded as something of a tough sell, some people are afraid to see it in the same way they’re afraid to see Human Centipede 2. And that’s a shame.
The reality is, the two films couldn’t be more different. The Woman contains none of the graphic self-indulgence of this fall’s other most feared movie. Sure, there’s a few gruesome moments but The Woman is a rock solid independent movie more concerned with emotional terror, the repercussions of abuse, feminism (the accusations of misogyny are beyond myopic) and the nature of civility versus our feral instincts. It’s also an engaging story with real characters. I can’t stress enough how much this movie doesn’t even really deserve the controversy directed at it. It should instead be recognized on its merits, which are plenty.
I spoke with Lucky McKee on the phone last week to talk about the film, its soundtrack and its now legendary reaction at Sundance.
“The story follows a successful country lawyer who captures and attempts to “civilize” the last remaining member of a violent clan that has roamed the Northeast in the wild for decades, thereby putting the lives of his family in extreme jeopardy.”
Starring Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers and Angela Bettis, the film prompted furious debates and walkouts during its world premiere in the Park City at Midnight program at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Reports surfaced of people becoming sick while watching the graphic scenes and one irate Sundance audience member went so far as to say THE WOMAN “ought to be confiscated, burned. There’s no value in showing this to anyone.” Whether a “wonderfully bizarre tale” or an “inhumane degradation of women,” you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Hit the jump to read the interview!
Bloody-Disgusting: How did the collaboration (on “The Woman” novel) with Jack Ketchum come about?
Lucky McKee: I’ve known Ketchum for quite a while. We were trying to get another book of his made called “The Passenger”. I kept coming up against brick walls and I asked if there were any producers he had met in his travels that might take a chance on me. So he hooked me up with Andrew van den Houten. Andrew didn’t think he could do the story I was pitching him, but he said “I’ve just finished this thing called Offspring and this actress Pollyana McIntosh did this amazing thing with this character and I think we could make another story with her.” I came up to New York and watched the film and loved what Polly did. But if I was going to make a sequel to this thing I didn’t want to just rinse and repeat, I wanted to do something that completely changed the direction and goes more into the kind of themes and tones that I circle around. And they were into it. So Ketchum and I decided to write the book and the script together and a year later Andrew had put together all of the financing and we made the flick.
BD: That must have been nice to not only have an actress in mind but know she could pull it off because you’d seen her [play the role before].
LM: Yeah that [Offspring] was an 80 minute audition tape for me basically. I think Polly is the best thing about that film. And I saw a lot of really cool possibilities in taking that character into my realm because she’s kind of a fairytale creature.
BD: The tone of the film, it’s not exactly “breezy” satire but it does have a satirical element.
LM: It has an aloof nature with very, very dark subject matter. There’s a matter of fact tone to the family and a lot of that stems from the father as someone who is doing some pretty wretched things in a casual manner. I think that starts to give the audience of the feeling of the absurd and that’s why we get a lot of laughter. I don’t think people are laughing because they think what is happening is funny, but because they think it’s impossible. They can’t believe it. It mixes your emotions up in the wrong way because it appears to be going in a simple, forward direction but all of the emotions are out of order.
BD: It makes you question how much of this kind of behavior that goes on in the real world. The character of Chris Cleek hits all of the right societal beats and is able to get away with a lot because of it.
LM: That approach kind of comes from Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt, in which you have this character that is the most evil character in the story but he’s well groomed, he’s well spoken, he’s charming and all of these things on the surface. But throughout the course of the story you learn that the character is just rotten. He thinks he’s better than everybody else.
BD: What was it about Pollyana’s character that made it evident that this was the story you wanted to tell?
LM: Her character represents where we came from. She’s our animal selves. She’s not evil, she just is what she is. She’s not dishonest. She’s just living. She’s an animal. A lot of people have forgotten that part of themselves. And in Chris Cleek we created a character that was almost the exact opposite of that. For the sake of drama and suspense it really helps to have characters that are polar opposites like that… All of the women in the movie are in chains. All of them are chained up in one way or another.
BD: I think that last bit is applicable to people who aren’t in as extreme situations as the one in the film. People in everyday situations who are being shut down or invalidated or in a dynamic where they’re told they don’t matter.
LM: From the most extreme to the most subtle it exists in everyone’s life. Obviously, I picked the most extreme because I want to get the most suspense and drama I can get out of the situation. But, unfortunately it is stuff people can relate to.
BD: No. This movie could not exist outside of our society.
LM: Exactly. [People ask] “where do you get your ideas?” And I think it it’s pretty apparent. Just turn on the f*cking six o’ clock news, you know?
BD: I wanted to talk about the Sundance incident for a second. Pollyana said that guy was running for office?
LM: Yeah, that’s hilarious. Evidently the guy’s nephew was in the comments section on that youtube [clip] and this kid says, “That pussy’s my uncle!” I want a t-shirt with that guy’s picture with that quote on it. I love it.
BD: And now you have perspective on it but at the time it must have been -
LM: – very upsetting. Very upsetting. I worked on the thing for two years. It was the first time I had shown it to the public. I didn’t show the movie to anybody but the people who were working on it and my neighbor in the middle of nowhere just to get a few reactions. Nobody had seen this thing. Sundance is a big stage and it was really upsetting. And this girl got light headed and she tried to get out of the theater and she fell down behind me and she fell down hard, man. We were just trying to help that girl and this jackass comes in and starts screaming and yelling and it was a very upsetting situation at the time. In retrospect the fact that this whole circus happened is a big reason why the movie got so much notoriety. So I have to thank that guy.
BD: It had to be upsetting. Perhaps if the move was just an empty provocation you would have been looking for that but obviously it’s not. And that guy sounds an awful lot like Chris Cleek in a lot of ways.
LM: Really, he does. I mean he’s got that ‘White Knight Syndrome’ you know? He thinks he’s representing women. You didn’t see women standing up and ranting. It’s always men that have this kind of reaction to this sort of thing which I find very, very interesting and it’s happened to me ever since the films I was making in college. Women totally understood it. The guys in the class were always the ones like, “you can’t do that. You can’t make movies like that. You can’t show that.” That’s a dangerous thing for somebody to say “you can’t.” Especially when you’re being honest about your subject matter and not exploitative.
BD: How did the collaboration with Sean Spillane for the soundtrack come about?
LM: I wasn’t able to work with my composer who had done all of my previous films. Our band used to play the same house parties as [Spillane's] when we were in college except his band was actually good and got signed to Sub-Pop. They did a couple of records for them and broke up eventually and he just was working in the art department in LA and writing songs for himself at home. I asked him to send me some of his stuff and one of those songs was ‘Patient Satellite’, one was ‘Distracted’ and one of those songs has ‘JH2′ which all ended up being in the movie. And we brought him up while we were shooting and I told him just to make music, “make your record, make an album.” So he was making all of the music while we were making the movie and he was able to feed off of the emotional energy of the other artists. All of those raw materials were being made at the same time and we finished it out in my house in the sticks. The last handful of songs were finished and recorded in my guest bedroom. I’ve always wanted to make a movie where the composer, the sound designer, the director and the editor are all just in a house in the middle of nowhere with no distractions. No one hanging over our shoulder. And everyone working together so everything fits together well. Things don’t fit as well together unless you’re working side by side… A lot of cuts directors do they have to use temp. I was able to lay ‘Patient Satellite’ down and cut my pictures on top of that. And that’s where the pictures and music fuse together. And there’s other times where the picture is at war with the music.
BD: [The music] has a great sense of yearning to it.
LM: It’s very American. American rock n’ roll, which I love. You can definitely tell our age just by the style of the music. That we grew up on Nirvana and The Pixies and The Breeders. You can really feel that’s what we grew up listening to.
The Woman opens in select AMC Theaters this Friday, October 14th.