When I met Mark Pellington at Sundance, the people setting up the interview assured me that he didn’t know who I was or how I’d reviewed the film. I don’t see why it would matter. We’re both professionals having a conversation about a film that generated extreme reactions.
Pellington directed I Melt With You, the aggressive drama of four men (Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe and Christian McKay) binging on drugs and wallowing in their failures. 46 people walked out of the press screening. I don’t have a figure on the public premiere. On screen text and interstitial cuts of the Challenger explosion weren’t even the breaking points for many of the walkouts.
I’m not here to confront Pellington. It’s a film that is objectively atypical, and one with a quantifiable response from the festival itself. He was ready for the conversation, but spoiler alert: This is for the people who’ve seen, or at least read detailed reviews, of I Melt With You.
Q: Do you have a spiritual point of view that’s expressed in this film?
MP: [Heavy sigh] Very good question. I read a lot about suicide and explored a lot of my own demons and crises of faith that I had been going through in the last several years. I’d just made a spiritual movie with Henry Poole which is very spiritual, so this is almost tonally the opposite of that. This is kind of nihilistic and angry and sad at the end of the day. So maybe it’s something I just needed to get out of my system, spiritually.
Q: Do you share that nihilistic angry point of view?
MP: There’s definitely aspects of myself that I need to die or surrender, or I need to shed that I can find in these characters. There’s perspectives about death that I put in. I wrote the scene with Tim (McKay) and Raven (Sasha Grey). There’s definitely feelings about the other side in there. So it’s in there.
Q: Could guys like this have success if they changed their attitude?
MP: Sure. I think if they allowed love of self. If they allowed the shadow side to be filled with light and not with self-destruction, sure. If Christian [McKay’s character] had been able to forgive himself for the death of his lover and sister, if he had come to a place of forgiveness, not powerlessness and guilt. If Jeremy [Piven’s character] had accepted his actions and gone home and gone to prison, would his wife have forgiven him? Maybe, maybe not. Rob Lowe‘s character], I think it’s like a series of dominos so the energy kind of pushes Rob Lowe, okay, your kid doesn’t call you daddy anymore so is that a reason to OD? Did he OD? Did he do it on purpose? At that point, it’s vague.
Q: Could you imagine how the film would be especially hard for someone who embraces a more positive worldview?
MP: Very much so. Very, very much so that I’m sure that people will be like, “Wait, how could this be the same person that made Henry Poole?” But there’s all different aspects and range of interests thematically. Again, my life’s journey is always reflected in where I’m at.
Q: What do you say to people who walked out of the movie here?
MP: What do I say to them? Well, I haven’t had that experience but I wouldn’t say anything. That’s their experience.
Q: Are you surprised at Sundance people weren’t more open minded?
MP: I’m a little bit surprised. It’s funny, I was able to go downstairs with somebody and I saw his thing. He had written a really scathing review. I said, “God, I would love to talk to you further.” Because you don’t get a chance to say okay, what was it? Part of it was that hopelessness. He goes, “Well, are we supposed to think these guys are heroes?” And I was like, “In no way, shape, or form. They’re all weak. That’s the whole point. This is an examination of male failure and weakness. These guys did not make the right choice in any way, shape or form. Maybe throughout their life or certainly in this period of six days.” So I’m a little surprised that it’s been so divisive.
Q: Did you cut in Challenger footage just so people would interpret it?
MP: For sure. It’s totally left open for people. It’s all thrown in there, the text on screen, the Challenger, that’s all meant to be interactive and provoke and take it out of the realm of, let’s say, a traditional narrative. It’s not really three acts in the movie. It was kind of like two halves. Again, it was the experimental nature of it. We had an animated sequence that we ended up not doing because just for length and it just didn’t work out, but it was meant to just be just try some different formal ideas.
MP: Look man, look at Woody Allen. Or Rob Lowe breaks the [fourth] wall. Sometimes the break the wall. Sometimes you throw in that stuff, yeah. It’s not like ooh, I want to keep people on their toes, it’s more like oh, let’s try that. That’s cool. That’s fun.
Q: What do you want to do next?
MP: I have a movie called Dolly Dimple that Glenn [Porter] wrote that we’re going to make in the summer. Or, a remake of The Orphanage.
Q: You’ve been trying on that for a while.
MP: For a year, if they can ever get their shit together. What happened was it got held up at New Line and then when Guillermo left The Hobbit, Universal [stepped in.] So now Universal’s like, well, maybe Universal wants to make it but these people take three months to set up a conference call. The wheels move slow.
Q: Is there something uniquely American that would change the film?
MP: No, I just think it’s a great script. I never saw Let the Right One In and heard the remake was very good. I’m not into doing remakes, I just love the story. I love the story so much and got the job and never saw the original. I was like I don’t want to watch the original so then when I did watch it, I thought it was very well done but I’ll never watch it again. I’ll just trust the script.
Q: Working with Glenn again, do you have a real connection with him?
MP: Oh, we’ve been friends for a long time. This Dolly Dimple script is something we’ve been trying for eight years to get made that’s been flirted with, different actors have maybe been interested, Amy Adams. Different people over time but the timing to get the right actor and the right financing at the same time has never worked.
Q: What’s it about?
MP: It’s about a journalist. It’s about a writer who steals a little girl’s story and gets blackmailed into basically a shame based thing. It’s a total mindfuck of multiple endings. It’s metafiction about how do you recover your creative instincts that have been overwhelmed by trauma over the years.
Q: What would the tone be?
MP: Scary, it’s very scary. Alice Eve is going to be the lead. It’s just like taking a good all American girl and running her through the grinder, through hell.
Q: See, the first description seems whimsical.
MP: No, it’s Swimming Pool meets Saw but without the blood, but it’s tonally very, very disturbing and very creepy. It’s that kind of package, that kind of Lionsgate thriller, the super ingénue just taken to south America, the dark and corrupt politics, going through hell and being forced, because of her own shame about stealing this girl’s story, she can’t reveal her secret to anybody.