Much like their wildly creative collections as the designers of Rodarte, the directorial debut of sister act Kate and Laura Mulleavy is a truly immersive experience, told from their distinctively dreamy point of view. Though their work has transcended the runway into film before—most notably as the costume designers for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan—the release of Woodshock, a movie they also conceived and wrote together, is another trip altogether, set among the humbling backdrop of the redwood forests in Humboldt, California.
The film stars Kirsten Dunst (one of the Mulleavys’ best friends) as Theresa, a mercurial employee of a marijuana dispensary who, while coping with the loss of a loved one, is not surprisingly also questioning everything and everyone around her. As it turns out, this includes her relationships with handsome costars Joe Cole, Pilou Asbaek (widely recognized as Euron Greyjoy from Game of Thrones), and Jack Kilmer (son of Val).
The sisters noted how they wanted Woodshock to feel like a “watercolor painting,” and no, that is not a ploy to appeal to the Instagram-obsessed filterers of the world, but rather a means of illustrating Theresa’s fragile state of cannabis-tinged paranoia. The visually stimulating results are presented through a prism of gauzy haziness, drawing parallels between Humboldt’s seemingly reckless acts of deforestation and Theresa’s own deterioration.
Here, the Mulleavys delve into their thought process behind the film, which is in theaters now.
ON WORKING WITH BFF KIRSTEN DUNST:
Laura Mulleavy: We have such respect for Kirsten and she has such respect for us that we kind of stayed in our own lanes and vice versa. She is such an emotional vessel that doesn’t ever feel like she’s acting.
Kate Mulleavy: Kirsten had the script for a long time. She worked with a person that teaches her how to utilize her dreams to carry a story forward. It’s a really fascinating process so she’s ready by the time she gets to set. It helps her to know her character so she can feel it. One time then we went and worked with her too, so all of us worked together. Kirsten told us that she’s never done that with a director before. And I thought, Wow, because it just feels like what you would want to do. Like this character has to communicate so much with so few lines, so how are we gonna come together and make sure that can be revealed in the right way?
ON TELLING THE STORY FROM A FEMALE POINT OF VIEW:
LM: Someone said to us that we pulled off this impossible feat, which is doing a story about someone’s mind and making the interior exterior. I think what we try to do is manipulate the external space so that it’s hers, so you’re immersed in this world that’s what she’s sensitive to. And then you’re just a part of her in the moment, rather than saying this is Theresa’s backstory and Theresa had an abusive father or… all of those things did not matter. It was about Theresa’s mother passing away in a certain way and her experience of guilt plus love and her disintegration.
Kate Mulleavy: We experience the things as she experiences them and leave questions, because the questions in the female experience are very important. I mean, I think for Laura and me it was about resisting the idea of taking a woman’s experience and giving you a straightforward answer. Life isn’t straightforward, and this film is about an existential journey in terms of her saying, what is my meaning in this world? Through the isolation grows this process of grief.
THE CHALLENGES OF FILMING IN THE REDWOODS:
KM: This amazing writer had written something that had really struck a chord with Laura and I when we were working on the script, because we knew we were going to start in redwood country. He was writing a book about what trees meant to him. He said that the deepest part of the forest is connected to the deepest part of our brain, and the further we remove ourselves from nature and the forest space, the further we’re disconnected from our own humanity. And I think we felt like the forest represents Theresa’s mental state. This movie is about the exploration of parts of the mind that we don’t even access.
LM: You can take a photo of a redwood tree, but there’s something there that you can’t capture in image. It’s that feeling or energy that they emit. It is so strong. So we took it as a challenge to say, how do you make this energy force? What would standing in those forests would feel like?
Part of me felt like, well these are the natural wonders of the world and we can’t explain why they’re here. Scientists are still learning things about them everyday. I think one of the big discoveries they made about them recently is the farther you go up these trees, the ecosystems are so complex, it’s like complete… it’s like New York City up there, over and over again.
ON CLIMATE CHANGE IN GENERAL:
LM: That’s why I’m so happy that this movie is coming out his year rather than last year. Because after the Paris Accord… what more do you have to say artistically? People need to pay attention to the natural world. The story is about a woman assisting her mother’s suicide, but that is a grand statement. The correlation is to this idea of earth and our being a part of it and how connected we are.