- 18 Apr 19
Acclaimed director Neil Jordan on his new psychological thriller Greta, which explores loneliness in the social media age.
Neil Jordan is back to his old tricks. The acclaimed director of Interview With A Vampire and The Crying Game has directed a new film, Greta, a psychological thriller that sees the Dubliner doing what he does best: subverting genre expectations and creating a unique and unexpected experience.
Beginning as a familiar Single White Female-style thriller, the plot finds Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young woman grieving her mother, happening upon a handbag on the New York subway. She tracks down its owner, a lonely French woman (Isabelle Huppert), and the two women strike up a friendship. Their surrogate mother-daughter dynamic turns sour when Greta begins to obsessively stalk Frances – but just as Jordan establishes the narrative rules, he upends them. Greta turns into a funny, nightmarish fairytale, with Huppert delivering a delightfully unhinged performance.
Does Jordan deliberately seek out stories that twist audience expectations?
“I’m more interested in stories that haven’t been told,” muses the director. “I liked that the stalker was a sweet, middle-aged lady. That really intrigued me and I wanted to see where I could play with that, and push the stalker logic into some kind of twisted fairytale. It felt like a contemporary urban version of Hansel and Gretel; but it’s also about something quite serious. It’s about loneliness, and a character who is so lonely she’s willing to do monstrous things to keep people around. I found that desperately sad and interesting, so I just pushed it as far as a I possibly could.”
These emotions, explored delicately in the first act, are taken to extremes as the film progresses. Jordan is aware that the film may be too outrageous for some. But then, he’s never been scared of being divisive.
“You do wonder if people will come along for the ride, and some people won’t,” he notes. “They find it too outlandish. But that’s the nature of the material, and some people do come on that journey with you.” He pauses before adding wryly, “I think Irish people should be able to understand the idea of a demented mother.”
Greta’s pursuit of Frances is dependent on technology: she bombards Frances with texts and phone calls, and sends her photographs to show that she’s being tracked and followed every second of the day. It’s an extreme portrait of the perils of technology; the idea that we are now constantly available to each other – but that availability rarely translates into a deep and healthy connection.
“It’s terrifying how quickly you can find out information about people,” says Jordan. “How you can track them – everything about your life is exposed. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter. I try to resist the urge to Google oneself – it’s a hard one to resist, but I try! What intrigued me about the story was the idea of being in a contemporary urban setting – that you can have this pathological loneliness, in spite of all these promises and possibilities of contact and connection. There’s nothing as lonely as feeling alone while surrounded by people; being on the subway watching everyone on their phones, and wondering ‘Who are they texting? How do these people have all these friends they’re texting?’ There’s something strange and true there.”
Is that sense of communal loneliness echoed in the film industry? Everyone seems to know one another. But they also use their friends to build connections and get projects made?
“My relationship to Hollywood is a weird one, because I live in Dublin,” considers Jordan. “But every time I make a movie or a show like The Borgias, I make contact with Hollywood. In a strange way, it can be like coming into a weird home, because it’s the only place where everyone does what I do and understands it. But Hollywood is also changing by the minute.”
The director has been closely following the conversations around representation and equality, and supports all the cultural shifts that are happening, empathising with those filmmakers and actors who have felt overlooked and bullied by the industry.
“When I started making movies, I was a very young Irish dude, working with a group of people who had made huge Hollywood movies. They’d say ‘What do you know, kid, let us tell you what to do’ – it’s very difficult to assert yourself and it’s a very brutal environment. So I absolutely understand how Hollywood has been a very intimidating industry for people of different backgrounds; for women, for people of colour. I think it’s brilliant that other voices are demanding space, that people are finally listening, that different stories are being told.”
Jordan himself, meanwhile, has enough of his own stories for two lifetimes. Last year, he donated vast archives of his own materials to the National Library of Ireland, including voluminous correspondence with film industry professionals, drafts of scripts, storyboards and still photographs. Are there any scripts he wrote a long time ago that he still thinks about making now?
“There’s a lot!” he laughs. “There are a lot of scripts I’ve written over the years that have never got made, for reasons to do with serendipity or whatever. When I look over everything I’ve written that hasn’t been made, there’s an entire alternate history there. At the moment I’m trying to adapt a novel of my own, The Drowned Detective, which I’ve never done before. The script is written, I’m just waiting for it to come together. Essentially what I do, it’s almost Greta leaving handbags on the subway – I put out ideas into the world, and hope somebody picks it up.”
Keep leaving those artistic breadcrumbs. The resulting fairytales are far too entertaining for us not to follow.
Greta is in cinemas today.