'Violet': Director Justine Bateman Faces Her Fears With New Olivia Munn-Starring Self-Doubt Drama [TIFF Interview] - Page 2 of 2

It’s a theory of mine. I think that voice with negative thoughts hits all human beings. In that sense, it’s really about the human condition. There is a specific group of things that are said to women in their minds for sure. 

One aspect of the film that delves further into what you’re talking about is the use of on-screen cursive for one part of her thoughts and this male voice, Justin Theroux, for this other part of her thoughts. What went into that decision to balance it that way?
The voice is male because one of the things that made the biggest difference for me when I was crossing that bridge was thinking about these negative thoughts in my head as if they were being said by someone else. Like if someone else was saying to me, your hair looks lousy. Would I take it as fact, or would I think it as hey, what’s going on with you? Why are you saying that to me? There would be at least a seed of doubt. After all, it’s coming from someone else versus taking it in as fact because it’s my own thought. So, just as an experiment, I started doing that. How would I react if someone else said it to me? It made all the difference to me. I could really then see those negative thoughts objectively and see that they were lies. I wanted to give that to the viewer.

The film is meant to be an immersive experience where the main character is the viewer; the most important character is the viewer. All these audio and visual elements are there to intensify that immersive experience. I wanted to give them the negative thought portion. Make it as different from Olivia as possible in tone, in gender, everything to help the viewer think of their own negative thoughts separately from themselves so they could look at those thoughts objectively through their lives. 

The cursive came in during the editing process. For me, every project has to have a thesis statement. When I got to what I thought would be the end of the editing portion of the film, I realized I didn’t really have it. By my own standards, I hadn’t really nailed it. What I was missing was this compassionate underbelly of her desperately needing to get out of living this kind of life. I wrote it on the screen. I didn’t know it would work, but when I put it on there, not only did it work for my purposes as the director, but it created this pressure cooker on Olivia’s performance — which was already great — but with the voice pressing down her and then these desires and thought handwritten on the screen bubbling up from underneath. It created a sandwich on her performance that really made the film more intense for me. So, that element stayed because it worked for what I needed. 

You mentioned how cursive came into the project after filming. Disturbing imagery that would flash up on the screen also intensifies the character development. Was that something always in your mind, or did that also come up after you had finished filming?
Yeah, that was always there. For me, that represents the violence that negative thoughts have on our spirit. In my experience, I’ve found even the slightest little thing, especially the slightest little criticism, will tend to cut in the same place over and over again. So, something that seemed like a paper cut or somebody brushing it off cuts at the same place over and over again. Before you know it, you’ve got a gouge, and it will kind of scar over. It becomes this sort of an alley, almost, bowling alley, the gutter in the bowling alley. Where it’s gonna go in your thoughts and behaviors are just gonna go down that route over and over again until you think this is part of your personality.

It’s some lie that you absorbed as the fact that now you’ve assimilated into your life, especially for those kinds of beliefs in them. I hope they see this film and go, oh, wait a minute, I’ve got this whole portion of my life that is based on this lie that I heard in my head or through someone else years ago, and I let it cut in the same spot over and over and over again. Oh my God, that was a lie, and they can unwind it. They can start doing the opposite and become their true selves and then keep becoming their true selves because it’s a dynamic process, just like nature. Everything changes; nothing stays the same. My hope is that people can keep progressing in the direction that’s really true for them that day that year and then continue to progress. I think if you let the instincts have more of the stage than the fear, then eventually kick the fear off stage completely; that life’s a much different experience, much better. 

That’s really great. You could be a guru.
Just see my films and read the books, and then I’ll go make more. 

I like that. Guru status unlocked, Justine.
As I said, the important thing is the viewer in this, not me, take the stuff that I’m saying or that I write or that I created in my films and have it apply to their lives, or maybe they just watch the film and maybe they just dig my work as a director, and that has value too. How does it apply to their lives, and how does it apply to their lives today, tomorrow, next year, 10 years. Maybe they’ll see the film and go; it was alright, it really doesn’t apply to me. Maybe in a couple of years, they’ll be going through something and remember one of the ways that “Violet” dealt with something, and it will be of use to them. 

I think this kind of speaks to something anybody can understand. “Violet” can speak to something in any part of our lives. 
I mean, it is really the human condition.

“Violet” is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this week.

Follow along with our full coverage from the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival here.