Interview with Beatrix Christian

Can you remember when you first read Raymond Carver’s short story “So Much Water, So Close to Home”, and how you came to write the “Jindabyne” screenplay?

When I was doing the adaptation of “The Three Sisters” for Sydney Theatre Company we read a lot of Raymond Carver in preparation for that script. Raymond Carver was quite fascinated with Chekhov’s short stories and he had written some poetry that was like prose fragments, based on the Chekhov stories. There was something about Raymond Carver’s style. I felt the Carver writing was like clear water, something about it was so simple and yet it was really evocative. It was ordinary and yet it took you somewhere much bigger than the story might suggest. We used the Carver Chekhov fragments as a guide when we were doing Three Sisters. So I was really familiar with the writing. When Ray said he wanted to do So Much Water I was really excited but also a little anxious because Carver is an American icon. I went home and read the story and I was pretty ambivalent about it. There were things I loved about it, mainly the men and the trip to the river. I got very curious about what happened at the river. It is not very explicit in the story and I kind of got hooked on this idea—what would have happened if there had only been one man or two men? The fact there were four men, seemed to me to be really fascinating. The dynamics of four people agreeing to do something like stay at the river seemed very different to one person doing it, or two people doing it. I started thinking about what that trip to the river meant to the men. On the other hand I didn’t like—it is not that I didn’t like the female character, but the Carver stories are very rooted in their own time and era and place, and the Carver female character seemed to me to have become somewhat dated. There was almost a passive-aggressive quality to the way she would emerge, she would surface for a moment from her life, which was almost like a life of sleep, she would respond and then she’d sink to the bottom again. The big question I had for myself was do I really want to spend a year or two, knowing how long it takes to write anything, in the company of this woman? Ultimately, working with Ray was the deciding factor.

In adapting “So Much Water, So Close to Home” to a new setting in both time and place, what was the guiding idea that you wanted to address in “Jindabyne”?

We conceived of the story as a kind of a ghost story. Everybody in the story is haunted by something, whether it’s somebody who’s died, or whether it’s a past they would like to change, or whether it’s the person they thought they might have been but never became. There is this group of haunted people, and then you have the serial killer who emerges in his season to create havoc.

People are now haunted by the future. I think when you talked to people about the future at the turn of the 20th century, even though nobody had any idea what was going to happen in the 21st century, people were genuinely smiling when they talked about it. They were quite optimistic. Then, after September 11, when you talked to people about the future they tended to look haunted because everybody became very anxious about what might happen.

In our film, when Gregory comes out and kills, people suddenly become haunted by the future. And that creates the imperative for them to deal with some of the things that have risen up from the past. The girl’s body being found in the river is a beautiful but terrible image of something rising to the surface emotionally for the men.

Can you talk a little bit about the exploration of the different ways men and women handle problematic situations in the story? And how that compares to Raymond Carver’s “So Much Water, So Close to Home” written all those years ago?

The men’s business and women’s business in the story was quite a challenge for me to write. I grew up in an era where, politically, you were supposed to think of men and women as being the same. As I’ve gotten older, of course, I’ve realized that it’s possible to be equal and be very different. As the script developed, and I talked to men and women, it became more and more obvious that they had very different attitudes. You talk to men about the fishing and even though most men couldn’t imagine themselves doing it (leaving the girl there and going fishing) they were also much more prone to saying ‘Well she’s dead, you know, so there wasn’t really anything you could do.’ When you talk to women about it, it was as if they instinctively understood that what the men did was actually shocking. And there it became quite a polarized situation.

What would you like the audience to take away after they’ve seen the film?

If you’re living in a world where you can’t control what happens, which we all are, where really quite bad things can intrude into everyone’s life, and where you feel quite powerless, when you’re sitting there watching television and there are people being blown up and people being killed in wars that you haven’t been able to prevent and all the rest of it, how do you keep going, particularly if you no longer have faith in a particular religion? So, one of the themes in the film has been this sense of people’s spiritual beliefs. My own feeling is that you’ve got your personal integrity and you’ve got community and, even though they seem old fashioned and simplistic, hopefully by the end of the film when we see everyone gathered around at the smoking we’ll get a sense those things can actually help you through difficult times.

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