Director Jennifer Lynch continues her tradition of warped filmmaking with Chained. A mother and son are abducted by a serial killer, Bob. Mom is raped and killed, and the child (nicknamed Rabbit) is chained up and raised into a young adult. It is a fascinating exploration of nature versus nurture, one Ms. Lynch was happy to explore with us.
Chained is based on someone else’s screenplay. How did it come to your attention?
It was sent to me by Lee Nelson and David Buelow, the two producers. I thought it was a really great, scary idea, about a serial killer who drove a taxi, picked up a fare, killed the mother, and kept the boy. But the rest of it felt more like torture-porn to me. That’s not to criticize Damian O’Donnell’s original script. There are people out there who enjoy, and are very good at, making torture-porn. I’m just not one of them. So I was a little puzzled as to why they thought [the script] was for me. I went in and met with them and they asked what I would do with it. What fascinated me more were the characters within this. I’ve always been curious and fascinated by why people do what they do - good or bad. So I wanted to make a film about how the human monster is made. So I eliminated the B story about detectives following the serial killer, and I changed the way he killed, what it was about, and why. I focused on the characters. Damian had done this great job at creating this name for the boy [Rabbit.] When I re-wrote it and shot it, it was actually called Rabbit, which I much prefer as a title, but the distributors decided they didn’t know how to sell a film called Rabbit, so we went back to the original title Chained.
The casting for this film was pitch-perfect. Vincent D’Onofrio... I mean, he’s Vincent D’Onofrio. But how did you find the younger actors? [Evan Bird, who played young Rabbit, and Eamon Farren who played older Rabbit.]
I have been a fan of Vincent’s for so long, and fallen asleep many a night in my life to Law & Order: Criminal Intent [playing on the TV] and Full Metal Jacket is one of my favorite movies ever. When I first thought about who could play the role, and really scare the hell out of me, Vincent came to mind. He was so gracious about. I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind about how brave he was in this role. He set aside his own ego and vanity in order to devote himself to playing this character in such a human and beautiful way.
I actually found Evan less than two weeks before we started shooting, and I hired him over Skype. He was a recommendation by the casting people. He is on The Killing, and didn’t have much work on it, but what he did have he was amazing at. He sent in an audition tape that gave me chills.
Eamon was a recommendation from the Los Angeles casting office. He sent his audition tape in, and we talked on the phone. About three minutes in I said, “You’re a real fucking asshole. Let’s make a movie.” He just had it in him. The most amazing thing about both Evan and Eamon is that they are so bubbly and gregarious. And yet they were both able to play the hushed, introverted, delicate character. I wish they would do some TV interviews so people could see how magnificent each of their performances is - they are both so opposite of Rabbit. I asked a lot of them, and they gave 100%
And it shows. Especially with Eamon - there are so many layers there. It was startling.
Yay! I hope people tell him that. You know how sensitive actors can be. I’m not sure any of them realize how great they are.
Chained is both a coming-of-age story - in a very twisted way, and a story of nature vs. nurture. How did you balance those two aspects?
I think the coming-of-age I was conscious of in the rewrite. That sort of works on its own. That’s not to discredit what was in the original script, but to say that those things are kind of natural when you are playing a child of that age. As far as the nature vs. nurture, I am really hoping that a dialogue can be started because of this film, about the fact that we’ve got to stop hurting children - and we’ve got to stop acting surprise when we raise killers and abusers. I think there is something to be said about people being born with a greater or lesser propensity to be violent, but I think that even the most predisposed of us to be violent, can be wonderful, gentle people, if surrounded by nurturing families.
The example for me is that young Rabbit had these formative nine years with love. Bob the killer did not. So as devastating as things are, Rabbit is able to commit terrible acts, but all in the name of protecting himself and others. I really do think that we go around building monsters, then have the audacity to act surprised when they start behaving like monsters.
It could have been so easy to make Rabbit a killer and continue this cycle, but you didn’t.
Wouldn’t that have been boring?
It would have. I really liked the twist. I feel like I always see the twist coming (maybe I watch too many horror movies) but this one, I didn’t.
Fantastic! I hope I get to do a director’s cut because Jake Weber did such a masterful job in that final sequence and I had to cut a tremendous amount of it out for time. That was not my preference, but I was contractually bound to a certain time length. Jake was incredible and I really think people should see what he did and what he worked so hard to give to me onscreen. I didn’t want the twist to feel disappointing. I think some people do feel it is disappointing, that it is tacked on, and hopefully that will change if people see it in its entirety.
I could see how that could help. It did feel very abbreviated.
Yeah, it’s very obvious. And poor Jake was devastated. “Where did my scene go?” is never something you want to hear from an actor who has worked that hard for you. So I want to not only do him justice, but do the story justice. I don’t think he would have ever taken the role had he thought it would be this brief. I owe him a version where he is done justice.
Do you see the ending as a hopeful ending?
I do. I also see it as a very realistic ending. My last-minute choice of having the end credits roll with just [environmental] sounds sort of in support of this idea of what becomes of us after we have had this kind of experience. From where do we draw and what do we do? I think the first thing we do is go to the safest routines we have. Rabbit is going to have breakfast the way he knows breakfast to be. I think it is a happy ending because, if nothing else, Rabbit is alive. It has its tragic elements because he is alone in a way he doesn’t deserve to be. So it is a happy but realistic ending.
What are you working on next?
I am finishing casting and financing on a film called A False Embrace which stars Tim Roth and Vincent D’Onofrio. That is a detective and serial killer film, but again, it deals with the abuse of children, which seems to be a topic heavy on my mind these days. I am not on any soapbox about it, but I think that any opportunity I have to visually discuss what is happening, I’ll take it. It’s got a bunch of really dark things happening in daylight, and a bunch of dark things happening at night, so it is right up my alley.
That sounds about right. Have you ever made a film that wasn’t filled with darkness and weirdness?
[Laughs] I venture into things that are a lot unlike my life. My life is very sunshiney and giggle-filled. I think the challenge for me is in things that aren’t like my life, so that is where I go. After A False Embrace I have a film called The Monster Next Door, which is a horror comedy about vampires, werewolves, and zombies. It is an incredibly good script written by Jim Robbins, and I am really excited about being scary and funny and sexy all at once with that one.
Do you ever feel that, because your father is David Lynch, you are supposed to be a “certain type” of filmmaker?
I think that what is surprising is that everyone thinks I should feel that, but I never did. It never occurred to either he or I that that would be said, but we have both encountered it a lot. The funny thing is that I think it has made me hold even more tightly to my individuality. I think even if I was making rom-com musicals, they would make some sort of comparison. I think it is just the nature of the business to identify me as his daughter, and then make comparisons - or note lack of similarities. But I don’t really feel that pressure. It’s nice, but sometimes I wonder, should I? Should I be more nervous about this? But it just doesn’t come in to play.
No. I was just curious. When I first saw Boxing Helena, I had no idea who you were - I just knew it was a weird movie that I enjoyed immensely.
With Boxing Helena, I had never picked up a film camera before. I was thrust into it, and I think the last thing I was thinking about was any sort of comparison or having to live up to something. I probably would have fainted right then and there and never gotten up again! I just kept doing the next thing, and tried to stay glued to the story I was telling. The gift of my childhood was that having two parents who were artists really helped carve into my soul: “Do what you love. Don’t do what you think people will love, don’t do what you think people want you to do. Do what you love.” And I am doing that. I feel like I grow more when I do things that challenge me and scare me. I hope I’m always brave enough to say, “I’m scared shitless, I’m not sure how I’m going to make this work, but I’m going to do it anyway.”