In a world that focuses on how to maximum happiness, the premise of the latest sci-fi drama LITTLE JOE stands out. The film follows Alice, a single mother and dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species. She has engineered a special crimson flower, remarkable not only for its beauty but also for its therapeutic value i.e. making its owners happy. Needless to say, things don’t go quite as planned, which is what makes for an intriguing story that could easily be found in the “Black Mirror” series.
For the theatrical release of LITTLE JOE, I got the chance to talk to co-writer and director Jessica Hausner about the film. During our discussion, we talked about how LITTLE JOE was conceptualized to how the plants were created for the film and wrapping up with our discussion on the distinctive sound design featured in the film.
To start things off, can you talk a little bit about how the story for LITTLE JOE came to be?
Jessica Hausner: Well, the initial idea was to make a film that played around with certain types of genre films, especially Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I was always very much intrigued by the set-up of that story because I think it’s a very basic human experience that you think that someone who you knew well suddenly changed. I think it’s a very typical human fear also, that the one you love turns away from you. At the same time, it was so nicely disguised in this sci-fi story so I thought it would be an interesting thing to take this basic situation and build a story with it.
One of the themes that I picked up from the film was the use of anti-depressants and how doctors push medication without fully understanding what they may be giving their patients. Was that a theme that you were hoping to show?
Jessica Hausner: No, I wasn’t thinking about that very much, but since the film was finished I noticed that a lot of people interpreted it like that. I think that’s totally okay because the film is about those influences, whatever they are – medication or other drugs that we use, like the plant itself. It also tries to talk about influence, in general. We all are very much influenced by the surroundings we live in, more than we think. I think that’s also something the film is trying to say.
Speaking of the plants, how were they constructed? Was it through the use of CGI, practical, or a little bit of both?
Jessica Hausner: The plants were handmade by prop makers and I preferred to do this during the shooting otherwise if it’s all CGI, then it’s very theoretical. We have so many scenes with flowers in it and if they’re not there during shooting than it’s very abstract. I didn’t want to do it like that so we decided to build all the flowers. We had five different stages of growth and for each stage, we had a thousand flowers. We ended up making, altogether, five thousand flowers (laughs). But it was worth it because then we could film whatever we liked, in which direction, and the way we wanted. That was a really good thing to do, actually.
One of the aspects of the film I loved was that though this is a lab with scientists, you didn’t rely on keeping everything stark white. Instead, you incorporated soft pastel colors as well as the bright look of the flower. Can you elaborate more on the visuals and color choices?
Jessica Hausner: The idea was to create a visual aesthetic that dragged us into a more surrealist world. I didn’t want the audience to be too much convinced that this is going to be a sci-fi thriller because then they will not be satisfied in the end. I wanted to create visuals that give you that feeling that there is something dreamy about it. I did this because, of course, the film could be read as a parable or a fairytale as it talks about very basic human needs and fears, more than maybe just about gene technology.
My last question for you has to do with the sound design and music, which I absolutely loved. Can you elaborate on using the high pitch noise, as well as the bodiless dog barking, that is heard in the film?
Jessica Hausner: The sounds are all part of one music score made by a Japanese composer, Teiji Ito, who had composed this music a long time ago, I think in the 1980s. I found his music on a CD and [all the sounds] were in there – those high tones and the barking and the sound of an airplane, are all in that music. I asked for the rights and got them and when I was drawing the storyboard I knew already I was going to use that music. Some of the scenes are really designed to go with that music. The music is also very strange, it adds to the colors of the strangeness of the situation which is also what I liked about it.
LITTLE JOE is now in theaters. Will you make happiness your business this holiday season? Time will tell. On the fence about the film? Check out our review of the film here, where we call it “a rather subtle science-fiction drama that plays out like an episode of ‘Black Mirror’.”