Seeing the film for the first time in 18 months, I was struck by how it felt different in the context of the last year and I’m curious how the film has changed for you in that time? And what’s it been like to hold onto it for so long?
Actually, it changed quite a bit. It’s more or less the same movie but going through isolation and this year of people you love being away is interesting. More or less, I was going through what Will went through last year—stuck in a house, thinking about things, and watching people but not being able to do anything about it. Even my family is off in Brazil, where the situation is not the best. I can only see people on the screen and not being able to touch or do anything. So, I think it does have a different meaning. At one point, I went to the beach by myself, and I was just like ‘I’m going to go in the water.’ At that time, everyone seemed afraid of everything, and I just wanted to feel the water. It had such an impact on me that I started crying. Just touching the water. Which is kind of like a scene in my film.
It fits so many themes of the last year like helplessness and trying to understand something that can’t be understood. Where did that come from? What are the origins of this story?
There’s a lot about feeling helpless about another person but also about yourself. Will is based on an uncle of mine who committed suicide when he was 15. I was 12 at the time. He was very sensitive, kind, and artistic. At the time, I didn’t have the connection. Somehow, I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it and there was that kind of distance, but I also didn’t understand what he went through. After I started going through similar feelings and struggles, I thought that now I understand. I have a connection. Through connection, you feel less powerless. There’s something about feeling connected that somehow you feel like … I don’t know. For example, my family is in Brazil, but I feel connected to them. There’s something there that makes you not feel powerless. It’s an energy that’s almost spiritual. The sense of powerlessness I had during this struggle and not feeling connected to my uncle and my family gave me a little more power than trying to go through that moment. Even this moment. Connection is the answer.
Let’s talk a little about that. Roger Ebert famously said that “Film is an empathy machine.” And that quote came to me at the beginning of this movie when Will is watching other experiences on screens. Am I crazy to read a subtext here about the importance of art and simply viewing other experiences or was that in your mind?
100%. He is able to see but he is not able to influence. He is not able to directly change it. He can’t change the others, but he can change himself. In this way, I think there is a parallel to art because when you watch art, you can’t change the artist, but you can change yourself. However, I do feel sometimes when that happens that there’s an impact on the artist too. It can be very metaphysical. You make an impact on the world and the artist is going to feel that. Even if they’re distant, there’s a connection. Mostly, it’s the change that the art has on the watcher, rather than the opposite.