Interview: ‘The Rover’ director David Michod wanted to keep things simple

Australian filmmaker David  Michod has followed up his hit crime film "Animal Kingdom" with the dystopian "The Rover." Credit: Getty Images
Australian filmmaker David Michod has followed up his hit crime film “Animal Kingdom” with the dystopian “The Rover.”
Credit: Getty Images

Australian filmmaker David Michod made quite a first impression in Hollywood with his 2010 debut, “Animal Kingdom,” so a lot of eyes were on him as he chose a follow-up. That choice is now here in the form of “The Rover,” a simple post-apocalyptic tale about a man (Guy Pearce) out for revenge against the guys who stole his car.

Australia seems to lend itself to these post-apocalyptic setting.

I love this kind of movie, people stranded in a really inhospitable landscape. And in some ways it doesn’t get more inhospitable than Australia, largely because 80 percent of the country is desert and there are so few people out there. It’s both epically beautiful and wholly terrifying when you’re out there, because you know that only a couple of little things would need to go wrong and you could die. For instance, New Zealand doesn’t really have any animals, so there’s lots of beautiful stuff to look at, but it also makes it a little bit dull. I realized how much I love roaming in the bush in Australia because of the fact that at any moment something that might kill you could pop out.

Of course, in “The Rover” it’s more the people that might kill you.

In a way, it’s a kind of geopolitical inversion of the world in present day, because the world of “The Rover” in a way sort of exists on the planet today. It just happens to be in super-violent, resource-rich countries like Nigeria or West African states, where there still is an infrastructure and official organization, but it’s just incredibly cutthroat, and there is violence bubbling under the surface at all times. Whenever I see that shot in the movie of bodies hanging on crosses on the side of the road, I just think straight away of American soldiers dangling from a bridge in Fallujah or something. This stuff happens in the world.

There is a sense of anger threaded through this narrative.

I can’t remember at what point in the writing process this started to happen, but I started to funnel a lot of my anger and despair into the world of the movie and specifically into Guy’s character — anger at the willingness that the people today seem to have to just let the world fall into disrepair solely to service the rampant greed of a very small number of people. You look at the invasion of Iraq on a certain level, and it would seem to me that the only reason that administration embarked on that ludicrous endeavor was to enrich their friends. I mean, to cause so much suffering in order to enrich a small number of people is pathologically evil. And it’s difficult, when you think about these things, not to get angry.

Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson hit the road in David Michod's "The Rover." Credit: A24
Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson hit the road in David Michod’s “The Rover.”
Credit: A24

Did you feel a lot of pressure after the reception “Animal Kingdom” received as far as how you’d follow it up?

Totally. And it’s all coming home to roost now. It’s kind of weird. There was something really beautiful about that experience at Sundance in 2010, where we could roll into town totally anonymously, on nobody’s radar, and then have this beautiful, exciting thing unfurl. And yeah, I was in Cannes a couple of weeks ago and starting to get the first sense of where this movie was going to sit, and it became immediately apparent to me that I am contending not just with what people think of this movie but what they expected this movie to be. And I know I can’t control that stuff. I’m already sensing that there are people out there who expected something else. Maybe they expected something bigger than “Animal Kingdom” — a bigger, crazier expansion on the first movie — and instead I went way smaller and way leaner.

I love the simplicity of this story.

This story was exciting to me because of its simplicity. I was trying to figure out what kind of movie to make after “Animal Kingdom,” and I decided I didn’t want to try to do something bigger and more sprawling than that one, because that one was a pretty unwieldy beast in itself. I thought I would go the other way and do something that was much leaner and elemental. The simplicity of Guy’s objective in the movie was one of the things that appealed to me. He has a very clear, simple kind of super-objective, which is to get his car back or seek vengeance on the people who’ve taken it, but actually really for him the main objective for him is to find some reason to stay alive. For me, the movie opens with him sitting in his car contemplating suicide.

How much has “Of Mice and Men” come up while making this or promoting this? Because there are some similarities.

I did think about it a little bit, and once upon a time I did think about the character that Rob [Pattinson] plays as more of a man-child than Rob is, and maybe a little bit like the character in the Cormac McCarthy book “Child of God” — a sort of hulking simpleton. The elemental simplicity of it obviously immediately evokes memories or Steinbeck, but I didn’t re-read the book or anything when I was writing this. I always just wanted the characters to take on lives of their own.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter @nedrick


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