This article was originally published September 29, 2016.
Disclosure: Tim League co-owns NEON and Birth.Movies.Death.
The Bad Batch comes out soon! Get your tickets here!
If there’s a stranger, more intensely realized vision than Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch released in 2016, then we’ve yet to see it. A post apocalyptic acid Western that features Jim Carrey as a mute homeless man, Keanu Reeves as a drug dealing desert town dominator named The Dream, Jason Momoa as a body building cannibal named Miami Man, and Suki Waterhouse as a one-legged, one-armed skateboarding gunslinger, it’s outlandish and utterly mesmerizing. In an era where sameness and safety dominate at the box office, it’s refreshing to see this wonderful artist keeping truly quixotic cinema alive, even if mixed early word reveals it’s not for everybody.
We had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Miss Amirpour, and what followed was a wandering conversation that covered everything from the films of Alex Cox to her distaste for Fury Road. Check it out…
BMD: While your movies contain narrative, they almost seem to work more on a “vibe” than anything else. How do you tap into that?
Ana Lily Amirpour: I don’t entirely know how to answer that question. It’s always a long, arduous process to create film. I start with the script, and then I rewrite the shit out of the script. I think it’s kinda funny that people think the narrative’s thin or something, but that might be because there’s very little dialogue.
BMD: Well, I don’t necessarily think that the narrative’s thin. It’s more like you hang out with these movies. It’s an atmosphere. They wash over you. I’d say that’s far from thin.
ALA: Like there’s many different visceral elements coming at you at once?
BMD: Exactly. I felt the same way with your film as I did with American Honey. In that, you’re trapped in this van with these kids. Only in your movie – the van is post apocalyptic Texas with Keanu Reeves dealing drugs and bumping club music.
ALA: I think it’s a multi-faceted experience. At least, that’s what I strive for. For me, in the cinema, storytelling, whatever…it’s about expressing this feeling in this moment for this character or this world. It’s why I don’t have a lot of dialogue here. It’s because the talking reduces the movie to a certain one-dimensional plane. And movies should be more than that. They should be physical. Think about a Sergio Leone movie, or something like High Plains Drifter. It’s vast, empty quiet on just a visual level. But then you start bringing in sound and music and, I dunno…have you seen El Topo?
BMD: Of course.
ALA: You go on a mystical journey with that film. You feel the fabric of everything in space all at once. Same thing goes for The Neverending Story.
BMD: With yours I kept thinking about Alex Cox movies. There are elements of Repo Man with the philosophical meanderings, but it also felt like his acid Western Walker.
ALA: I haven’t seen Walker.
BMD: Really? It’s the one with Ed Harris about William Walker. He invaded Mexico in the 1800s and made himself President of Nicaragua. But in Cox’s version there’s like machine guns and Joe Strummer music and a helicopter falls out of the sky at one point. It’s wild as shit.
ALA: Is that the one after Repo Man?
BMD: It’s like ’87…he made Sid & Nancy and Straight to Hell before. Then Walker fucked his whole career up…
ALA: All I really know from him is Repo Man…I need to watch this movie.
BMD: I think you’d dig it, seeing as how both Girl Walks Home Alone and Bad Batch have such strong spaghetti influence.
ALA: I grew up watching Westerns with my dad. My dad loves a lot of Westerns. I don’t like a lot of the older stuff.
BMD: Like John Ford type stuff?
ALA: Yeah, no. I need that Leone. I love the more poppy type stuff. Early Clint Eastwood…
BMD: But with yours it’s adding all of these elements and then a dystopian riff. People keep making Mad Max comparisons, but I sometimes wonder if that’s the only dystopian movie they’ve ever seen.
ALA: I’m cool with it, as long as they’re talking about the OG Mad Max. I personally didn’t care for the newest one.
BMD: Fury Road? Crazy. Why?
ALA: I just had a problem with the giant water faucet. It was dumb and too absurd. I don’t know why everybody liked it. It’s just got the goofy dude with the thing that he breathes through and then the CGI layered onto it. I don’t get it.
ALA: I love the original, though. It definitely did trickle into Bad Batch as I was writing it. But again…we’re talking about the OG shit. Not this new stuff.
But to be honest, I don’t think my movie’s post apocalyptic at all. It feels like it’s set in the now for me.
BMD: Really? Go on…
ALA: Just in the way that everybody’s eating each other. Mine just has literal cannibalism in it, but people are eating each other today, too.
BMD: In what way?
ALA: Dude, you tell me. People do horrible things to each other for reasons much harder to understand than hunger. So, to me, Bad Batch is a much easier to comprehend portrait of the types of atrocities that are going on right now.
ALA: I’m pretty sure I just heard some dude talking about making a fucking wall to keep immigrants out if he becomes President. These ideas – the destruction of other people – they’re way more grounded in reality that the construction of a giant fucking water faucet. The whole thing about The Bad Batch is, the way I see it, people are unsavory and not easily categorizable in all of our cities around America. And they’re all doing horrible things to one another.
BMD: So do you see it as a tale of undesirables and how they survive?
ALA: We’re all undesirable in some way. You can look at some fucking drug addict here or some illegal immigrant there and how they keep coming into our country and taking jobs. But that’s not how they are as people. That’s how they’re labeled by those in power in order to easily classify them and then deal with them in a specific way. But they’re everywhere in every city, and they need to live despite whatever the fuck these assholes running for President call them.
BMD: One of the most amazing things, which I think you’re getting at here, is the level of empathy your movie has for all of these characters, too. One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Miami Man (Jason Momoa) is quietly painting a portrait with his daughter and then, seconds later, walks out and murders this woman who is chained up behind his trailer. Nobody is ever one thing in your movies. And we’re forced to essentially live with these characters for two hours.
ALA: Your situation also dictates these sort of actions and how you react to the world you’re in. You really don’t know what you’re capable of unless you’re forced to find out. I don’t think Miami Man would necessarily be doing the things he’s doing in order to survive if he didn’t have to. A lot of things led him to this place he’s currently at.
BMD: And there’s a strange resignation to the scene. He doesn’t seem to want to do it, but has to in order to survive.
Now – there’s also an interesting class divide you create within these little border towns that we wander in and out of...especially once we get into [Keanu Reeves’ character] The Dream’s organized base of operations named Comfort. He’s created his own economic system through drugs. Is this an allegorical riff on capitalism?
ALA: I love the word allegorical. I use that shit all the time. I am a fan. I think what we’re talking about is that the art that we’re creating is just portals to other levels of experience, making you think about your own existence as well as the existence of these individuals we’ve created up on screen. When you think about it: what is Comfort? Comfort is a place, where you’re provided with things and a way to earn a living. But then you start thinking beyond that into what “comfort” itself is. I mean, that’s a fucking psychedelic next level question you could spend your whole life answering every fucking day. Because who knows, what made you comfortable yesterday may not make you comfortable today. You gotta keep moving and striving to find that place for yourself.
Those things that The Dream makes are what bring comfort to the people who call his town home, and part of that is an economic system. Like this [slams her beer down on the table], this beer you and I are sharing together as we talk and these clothes on our back, these were created by a system we exist inside of. But is that all there is? Is there any comfort beyond that?
BMD: I’d like to believe there is.
ALA: You’re goddamn right, and let’s express how to find it through our movies.