With the release of 20th Century Fox A CURE FOR WELLNESS, we had the opportunity to speak with visionary director Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean) about his latest film, where his inspiration came from, and if those eels are real.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Gore, thank you so much for speaking with me today, it really is an honor! To start things off, for those who may not be familiar with your latest film, A CURE FOR WELLNESS, can you tell us a little bit about it?
Gore Verbinski: It’s about a young stockbroker who gets sent to the Swiss Alps to a wellness center to retrieve his CEO who went on a spa vacation and hasn’t returned. But really it’s about this place that’s high above the clouds that has been watching modern man through the industrial revolution and personal computers and cellphones and is offering a sort of diagnosis. It’s almost like if you got a note from the doctor saying you’re not responsible because you’re not well, it’s kind of like a form of absolution and it becomes a sort of opiate for these people and this place. Nobody ever leaves and it’s because the cure might be worse than the disease.
NC: You co-wrote the film with Justin Haythe, how did you both come up with the story and was there anything in particular that inspired the inception of it?
GV: This idea of a wellness center or health spa, a place of tranquility, seemed ripe for corruption. I think the genre works really well when you tap into some contemporary fears, even though at it’s bones, this is a Gothic tale. There must be a reason why we are vulnerable to the pharmaceutical industry or the “kale” wrap or whatever; we must somewhere deep down inside know we aren’t well. We are playing around with that concept and the idea of sickness as an invisible force, like a black spot on your X-ray or a cancer that’s not going away; the protagonist is not aware of it but that force is there from the beginning of the movie all the way through the end. We also loved Thomas Mann’s novel, “The Magic Mountain“, and all things kind of Lovecraftian. We wanted to say that there was two worlds in this movie and by the end of the film, Hannah and Lockhart don’t belong to either of them. Certainly as Lockhart makes his way to this place he sort of slips into a dream logic, he’s not really in a waking state as he leaves one world behind.
NC: Throughout the film there is so much symbolism, most notably with the eels. Was there a specific reason you wanted eels to be showcased throughout the film and were you able to use real eels or were they all CGI?
GV: There was a combination of real and CGI – it’s always nice to keep people guessing so there was a combination of practical eels in the bathtub and toilet scenes. In the big isolation tank I would have never gotten Dane out of there if I had to rely on eel performances to get me through that shoot (laughs). Beyond the Freudian implications with Hannah, I think there is also something hardwired in our DNA that rejects anything that slithers. I think some of the best villains are usually correct in their point of view, such as the one in our film, who I think is right in his diagnosis of Lockhart; however, his obsession with purity is sort of his fatal flaw. The patients are told to be hydrating with water and using water as a purification but there’s something in the water and therefore something inside of us. Those are specific nightmares that I enjoy sharing.
NC: The performances in the film were incredible and captivating. What was the casting process like? Did you have any of the actors you chose in mind prior to casting?
GV: We were intentionally writing Lockhart as an asshole for the first third of the film because not only did he have a greater distance to fall, but he had to be susceptible to the diagnosis. On paper he’s going to do whatever it takes to get ahead and be in that world. It was very important to get Dane DeHaan as I had been wanting to cast him for awhile. I wanted him to inhabit the character of Lockhart because I think there is something about him, even if he’s being true to the character and performing correctly in terms of the lack of likability, that makes you not want to stop watching him. As he begins to have doubts you begin to have more empathy for him. The Hannah role was really tricky because she can’t just be naive, she has to have a very specific worldview from being kept in this castle for all those years. In many ways the movie is a reverse “Sleeping Beauty” in that Lockhart’s being put to sleep and she’s sort of awakening because he’s the contagion or the pinprick. She had to have a very specific point of view on things that is unique to her situation. She’s watched all these people come and be processed in this place and it was very important that we didn’t have somebody who was putting off the wrong mannerisms. When Mia Goth came in and read for the part it was just like “okay, that’s our Hannah” and honestly, she’s not that different from Hannah. There was real honesty in her and her portrayal. I’ve always liked how Shelley Duvall worked so well in THE SHINING so I wanted somebody unusual and not just a traditional type.
A CURE FOR WELLNESS is now out in theaters nationwide. If you are wondering if you should see the film, check out our review to see why we consider it to be one the most uniquely beautiful and haunting films to come this year.