Dear Mr. Hartley,
As I said, No Such Thing is the centerpiece of my seminar, Myth Made Visible. I asked the students to formulate questions for you and I tried to make them comprehensible and useful without compromising their integrity. It was important that they each formulate one essential question. The film was universally acclaimed – they didn’t know your work (but they generally see only mainstream stuff – almost no European films, etc.) – and they really all thought it was fabulous. And that’s a good thing. Thanks for the film!
Best, Nancy Goldring
Q: What does “corporate” mean to you as a filmmaker and how do you balance commentary and art?
As a filmmaker, “corporate” means to me much the same thing it means to me as a person; very specific regulations on an individual’s freedom of decision. There is always some degree of corporate procedure in even the smallest company and the smallest film production. It’s necessary to some degree. In the bigger corporate environments I’ve witnessed (and, admittedly, they were particularly unhealthy) it tends to become an outright restriction of a person’s right to think for him or her self. For me, art – in my case, specifically, fiction – has always been the best way to relate commentary. I almost never start from having something I want to say, but from something I want to ask. The joy of creating characters is that they can disagree. And then one can – if one makes the effort to appreciate the two opposing positions – let the characters relate the commentary by way of their argument; sort of a demonstration of how an issue exists in the world.
Q: At the end of the movie, what is the relationship between good and evil. Is it the same at the beginning and the end? Why did the film end so abruptly? Did you have other ideas about how to end the movie?
If good and evil are treated in this film at all, I’d have to say it’s as being beside the point in the bigger scheme of things. I tried to tell the story from the Monster’s point of view. The monster, not being human, doesn’t share human notions of good and evil. Even one set of humans – say, the villagers – have a totally different conception of right and wrong from other communities – the city folk, for instance. No, I had no other ideas about ending the film. I realized how it would end while writing in the early stages. Once I came upon the idea that the monster’s friend, Doctor Artaud, would suggest that the monster might just be a figment of the collective imagination – a myth – which, having become so real it might exist more surely than we ourselves do… Following that train of thought, I knew the film would have to end as if the world were ending with it… as if the world of the story was the dream of the Monster… so, if he is eliminated, would the world around him be eliminated as well?
Q: Why was the monster not explained to the viewer; his existence or non-existence after he is destroyed?
Because the Monster himself doesn’t know what he is. He doesn’t know why he exists or how he came in to being. Some people, like Dr. Artaud, have suggestions. But no one knows for sure. For me the important thing is that none of us knows how we got here or why – but we have to continue.
Q: Why did you have Beatrice succumb to corruption after having overcome so may obstacles and remains so strong?
This is a very telling question and one I have had to answer a lot – in America – since making the film. I can only respond to this question by posing another: what is so corrupt about a young woman who has been through all that pain and suffering taking some time off to party and have sex? Personally, I think she deserved a little fun. But my personal feelings don’t have much to do with the decision to illustrate her relaxation. As a storyteller I suspected we would like her more, empathize more with her, if we witnessed all aspects of her – and a healthy young woman wanting to make love is just as important as her spiritual certainty. I didn’t want her to be a nun.
Q: What is the role of media in relation to myth in our times or can it possibly be a contemporary mode of transmission?
I think the media is the primary generator and conveyance of popular mythology now. Which is probably no different than in ancient times, except media was word-of-mouth then. But speed is important. And what we call media now is specifically characterized by speed of transmission.
Q: What role if any did the painful surgery Beatrice undergoes have in the way she reacted to her meeting with the monster?
It seemed important that the heroine endure some sort of rite of passage. This, I’m sure, is a regular part of any so called coming-of-age myth or myth of spiritual attainment. You all might know more about that than me, seeing as how you’re discussing these things in class. But it seemed required. On a more basic level, I thought she needed to be strong and fearless by virtue of having already endured intense suffering, both physical (the operation) and emotional (the panic she must have witnessed in the plane as it crashed into the ocean). And I imagined that this would make her a very different kind of person. Different in such a way that people who saw her on the street would know that she had been to places (again, physically and emotionally) where most people haven’t been. This was the meaning of the townspeople trying to touch her as she leaves the hospital – a really old kind of hero/saint transformation. As if her very presence had healing powers, etc.
Q: Could another mythical character have been as effective as the monster? Was the monster based on a person (such as Norman Mailer)?
Norman Mailer? No. Wow, interesting, though. No, the Monster was based on no one in particular. But I drew on the book Grendel, by John Gardner. Grendel is popularly referred to as Beowulf told from the monster’s point of view, and it has always been an important book for me. There is a lot of James Cagney’s gangster characters in there too.
Q: What most inspired you to make this movie – was it related to 9/11?
The movie was shot a year before 9/11 and, in fact, it’s release was delayed because the studio felt it would be too troublesome to distribute after the attack. I drew on contemporary news items relating different kinds of terrorist attacks for Beatrice’s arduous journey to the airport – the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway in 1995, the first attempt on the Twin Towers in 1993, Timothy McViegh’s bombing in Oklahoma City, etc…
Q: Is this based on any specific pre-existing myths?
No. I thought I might be able to make a perfectly contemporary monster movie – a sort of relevant fairytale of modernity. But The Wizard of Oz was helpful – Sarah Polley’s hair is done just like Dorothy’s. Murnau’s Nosferatu – it is Nosferatu and the novel Dracula that dwell on the sadness of eternal life. And the Mothra and Godzilla movies made in Japan in the fifties and early sixties were helpful – there is always a journalist trying to unearth some well-kept government secret or the niece of a famous scientist looking for her uncle.