To describe the movie Locke as minimalist is certainly appropriate, but that applies only to its location – the front seat of a car. Its narrative, on the other hand, is whatever the opposite of minimalist is (maximalist?). Because … well, let’s put it this way … on this ninety-minute drive to London, Ivan Locke’s life gets complicated.
In part one of my interview with writer/director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things), we discuss the genesis of Locke and its unique visual style.
STEPHEN SLAUGHTER HEAD: This series of phone conversations, all of which happen in [Ivan Locke’s] car, they escalate to points in which [Locke] has certain self-revelations – things he didn’t think he’d feel, things that he didn’t think would come about. Were you trying to push the limit in terms of, say, how far can his life spin out of control over this ninety-minute journey?
KNIGHT: The further he goes on the journey from where he started, the more different everything becomes, and the more different he becomes. And he’s a solving problems physically, calming people down and physically, with his hands, sorting stuff out. This a problem, and he keeps saying, “I want to move onto the practical next step.” But this is a problem that isn’t going to be solved that way. And as he gets further and further into the wilderness. Basically he more and more realizes that it’s not going to work. That things are going to go wrong.
That he’s made a mistake and the consequence is going to happen. And he does what he feels he must do to succeed. He does what he says he would do. He goes down to [spoiler edited] and he takes responsibility, which his dad never did. And, you know… you could see that as a noble, heroic thing to do. But you could also argue, he’s doing this whole thing to prove something to himself, and to his father. And he’s that selfish. You know, you could say, if he just lied to [spoiler edited], everybody would be happier. But it wouldn’t be real.
HEAD: One gets the impression that [Locke] is so determined to simply do what he believes is the right thing at the expense of everything else in his life, that everything’s going to fall apart, that all of these dire, important commitments are going to break against him. So, by doing this, everything was… he was excepting all of it falling apart, and that’s fine with him. Unfortunate but acceptable.
KNIGHT: Oh absolutely! If viewers pay close attention, there’s a moment at the very beginning of the film where [Lock stops at a traffic light and his blinker is] indicating left. Then he thinks … and he changes his mind … he goes right. That’s what the film is all about … this decision. And it’s a decision that he normally wouldn’t make.
HEAD: I’ll admit, I didn’t catch the importance of that moment at the traffic light. Completely missed it.
KNIGHT: Well, it’s one of those things that if you see it again, then you think about it. That moment is the moment that normally goes at the end of the film. Here, it happens in the first thirty seconds. And when he’s made that decision, nothing is going to stop him. I mean, [everything] from there is basically the consequences of that.
HEAD: Visually the film is fascinating. What’s beautiful about it are the reflections, the lights moving along the windows. It gives an almost impressionistic look to everything around [Locke] outside his car. How did you get this look, knowing that lighting it like this might be a problem?
STEVEN KNIGHT: It was part of the reason for making the film. It was two things. First, it was to try to capture the performance as the primary element, a single performance as substance in the film. And second [it was] the cameras.
I had just finished making Hummingbird – which is know [in the U.S.] as Redemption – and during that process we tested the digital cameras by shooting a moving vehicle, on the motorways, and in urban environments. [We wanted to] test the sensitivity of the cameras. We put the test footage on the big screen and we sat and watched it and it was absolutely hypnotic seeing the lights in the reflections and all of that. I just thought, you could make that your theater and put an actor into the film.
So when I got together with Harris [Zambarloukos], our cinematographer. I said, “My ambition is to make a film that would work without pictures. If you took away the sound it would be beautiful, like a painting.”
He said, “I love the idea that outside the car the imagery is chaotic, uncontrollable and random, and inside the car there’s Ivan, trying to create order. It’s what a human beings goes through, trying to make sense of everything.”
So the idea was to make these lights, glares and reflections look as beautiful and random and chaotic as possible.
HEAD: They also seemed to represent the movement. This constant ever-shifting movement of the story.
KNIGHT: Yes, absolutely.
HEAD: I don’t quite know how to explain it, but it seems like [Locke], driving his car, is in a zone amid this chaos and motion. It’s somewhat trance-like,
KNIGHT: It is. This mode is the idea. It’s sort of beautiful, but not controlled, and that’s what I think is the lesson that Ivan learns on his journey. There are things you can’t control that can be good. And can be beautiful. [Spoiler edited] and it’s like the opposite of what Locke – whose name is a reference to John Locke, the philosopher who was a rationalist who believed one can find reason with everything – believed … That you could control everything. And it’s sort of … this is an examination of that Lockean principle.
HEAD: He isn’t at all proud of his name though, which is telling.
KNIGHT:Yes, but he’s [intent to] straighten that out, you know what I mean? He’s [determined] to reconcile himself with his father, with his past, and with his name. And do the right thing, or what he thinks is the right thing.
Locke opens Friday, May 9th in the Boston area at Kendall Square, the Coolidge Corner Theater and the West Newton Cinema.