Tye Sheridan -- you knew from early on that he was going to be your Andy?
Alverson: Yeah, I mean, I thought of a couple other actors, but me and Tye wanted to work together again. I said, "I'm thinking about this project," and we came back to him. He was the first person on, by far. So, yeah, Andy's sort of built around him. He's really empathic and vulnerable and fragile as an actor. He has the capacity to play those characters and did them really great in Tree of Life and Mud, so it was fun for us to play with how he's naturally cast and some of his strengths and sort of remove them and denude them of their spark [laughs]. He's just a blank slate in it, almost searching for a narrative, and the film pretends to do that, too. And I love that the audience would be, like, desiring narrative, but narrative's really the problem the whole film looks at. These men's narrative with blinders -- it's justifying behavior, the aspirational.
With Andy, from the second that he appears on screen, it's sort of like, Oh, something's gonna go bad for him. At least for me.
Alverson: Oh, really? That's fine, I don't mind that. I like spoilers.
Yeah, in my mind, his path was heading towards a lobotomy. Was that always going to be his fate for you, or were you considering alternate ends?
Alverson: No, it was always that way. I mean, it turns into sort of a conventional love story with a very perverse ending. It's almost like Romeo and Juliet: she has the bravery and this act of bizarre, submissive rebellion. It's sort of like a "fuck you, this is what you want?" She even says it to one of the doctors, like, there you go. And she moves into this unknown place. And he follows her in, and they're unmoored there. But I was just so fascinated about what happens when we muddy the perception of our protagonist that we're supposed to use as an avatar to see the world if we as an audience don't know what they're experiencing? What happens to us? Are we caught in the film? Are we lost?
I'm such a huge fan of '70s American wandering cinema, whether it was [John] Cassavetes or Elaine May or Bob Rafelson or Dennis Hopper, this profoundly uncertain, kind of lost, beautifully unmoored wandering. It's our natural condition as Americans. And, you know, most people in the world but. Sometimes it's said, "Oh, well, that's just because of the war," but I don't know. It's something we've lost; there's so much emphasis on resolution and clarity. I think we're losing something about nuance and muddiness.
Ironically, I was hoping to unpack the ending with you.
Alverson: There's, like, multiple ends. It overstays its welcome intentionally, which I sort of love. As [Goldblum] drops him off, you can just see the credits rolling as he pulls away. He abandons the boy, and it goes into this, Oh, well, are we going on? Metaphors in films have always sort of bothered me because I think they're really convenient ways of saying "this has sense because you look over here and this means this." So it's just entirely representational, but it's not experiential. It's not like, what is happening to me watching the film? Not like, what am I thinking the film is? Because the film is a thing in itself. It's like social media, on Facebook, it's -- that is a thing. There's something happening to you when you're engaging, but you're thinking that this is community, but it's not. It's terrifying, you know.
But so, the end, I mean, because I find those were problems, it's been interesting to play with them a bit. There's an oversaturated amount of symbolism and subtext and metaphor in the whole film, and the idea of utopia is throughout it, and the aspirational models and modes of athletics and medicine and spirituality and this idea of the perfectible, perfect union between people, between the genders, between the past. That's a whole theme through the hermaphrodite of antiquity, the platonic ideal of the union of the man and the woman. This glorious being, the perfectible, perfect union that runs through the thing, and ultimately, the normative idea of coupling in the '50s. It's sort of consistent with the normative suppression of the prickly particulars of personalities with a lobotomy. And ultimately, the couple, they end up in this uncertain space of normalized passivity, and it's a domestic space. They do what they should do, they follow the dream, and, you know, ascend the mountain, and there's just not a hell of a lot up there [laughs].