What brings this home to me the most is the ending of Glory at Sea, which does seem to have this very religious overtone to it. But you see it in Beasts too, in the "You're my friend kind of" sentiment [this is Hushpuppy's reconciliation with the Aurochs who have come to destroy her world]. This thing that is destroying the world is in a way my best friend.
Exactly. I think the way people think, the way our brains function, is as essentially an organizational mechanism that puts beginnings and ends on things. It's like: This is where the cup ends and this is where the table starts, so this is called a cup and this is called a table. Language is built in these beginnings and ends. We think about a life beginning and a life ending, and that's where a lot of pain comes from. But that's not actually true. If you were able to not be a human being, and look at nature from God's eye or whatever, you would see this infinite set of particles that's evolving through different forms and that nothing is actually disappearing off the planet.
It's like that really hokey concept that when you die you then turn into a flower. Hushpuppy in that moment is like, "I have to stand by and be sad and experience this tragedy," even though she's coming to understand that there's something larger than that, which is beautiful and which is not tragic, and is actually natural—that the way things flow in and out of one another has this beauty to it that she can't understand and she can't help but be crushed by. I think that Glory is sort of fighting with that same thing. It's like if you go toward destruction, if you go toward death, go toward the thing that breaks your heart and that kills you and that makes you sad, somewhere in there you start to see that that's not going to crush you, or that if it destroys your body that's one thing, but there's something in there that's very true.
For Hushpuppy it's about thinking that the world is there to eat her, nature is there to consume her and coming to understand that she's not actually different from nature, that everything is eating each other and that that's not tragic, and coming to terms with it frees you in some way of feeling like death is a tragedy.
This may all sound a bit dark, but your movies actually have, not happy endings, in the sense that everyone lives happily ever after, but the audience does come away with an overwhelmingly positive feeling at the end of both the movies we've been talking about. Several reviews of Beasts said that the audience at the premiere at Sundance was shocked or bewildered by seeing this movie. Why is it so surprising for smart, aesthetically rich independent movies to also aim to engage the full emotional register, to be meaningfully uplifting?
I don't know. I don't understand why a lot of indie movies are made. I really don't. I feel like indie film is like minor league baseball a lot of the time. It's not competing with major movies. It's its own niche. I don't want to shit on indie film, it's just that a lot of it is not any more sophisticated than big action movies. Action movies are a lot more interesting a lot of the time because they are engaged in myth and genre and culture. You can track your culture through Hollywood, you can't track it through indie movies.