Writer / Executive Producer’s Statement
When I set out to write the screenplay for BEHIND THE MIRROR I had a clear idea on the story’s nature and direction. It was going to be a tale of two worlds as well as an odyssey, all in one. It had to be driven exclusively from the point of view of Xavier, its main character, a conflicted man in his mid-thirties, a husband-and-father eager to throw caution to the wind and step off the beaten path, come what may.
It also had to be relevant to the times we lived in while retaining a timeless feel to it, ignoring the day-to-day politics, focusing instead on the human element.
Xavier is a paradox, both brilliant and despicable at the same time, an author in conflict with the world around him as well as himself. Like Bukowski, he is battling his demons through his writing, often ill at ease with the calmer and more graceful parts of himself. Like Hemingway and Kerouac, he is romantically devoted to a wilderness that has taken over his mind. He loves his family but refuses to settle for the dream life. He craves recognition but values his privacy. Like Whitman and Emerson, he is attracted to the transcendental. He is a walking contradiction, an American dealing with predominantly American problems, yet at the same time he is beyond culture, an individual at odds with a life that fails to satisfy him on a deeper, personal level. The American landscape is the backdrop on which his story unfolds. A symbol of innocence and individualism in a world of cliques and lobbies. A complex and interdependent world where the odd man out often pays the price for his otherness.
Xavier takes the leap, and in the process he realizes, rightly or wrongly, that the only person he can trust is himself, an assumption not altogether accurate. Soon he finds himself sliding down a course he is unable, or unwilling, to reverse.
In many respects, this is a story of entropy, exploring the tendency of any given system to break down, and the lengths to which people will go to restore it to the best of their abilities. It examines the risks they take when seeking out the things that make their lives meaningful.
The story draws inspiration from a number of sources, all of which have been blended together to create a picaresque atmosphere of dread. Xavier’s journey into the dark forest and the voice he is attracted to is reminiscent of HEART OF DARKNESS. The struggle to write an elusive poem in the wake of alcohol frenzy is a Bukowski moment. The obsession with nature and the traumatized approach to life is a tribute to Septimus Warren Smith in MRS. DALLOWAY. The break with reality is a shamanic moment that embraces Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow self. The world is more than what it seems, the story suggests, layered with meaning we either choose to ignore or fail to register.
The story takes place in the town of New Rome, a fictional town in upstate NY. Having a fictional setting allowed the production to take creative liberties with the location, painting both the town and its inhabitants in ways that suited the story. When I wrote the script, I had Minos Papas’ (director) vivid style in mind, writing shots and sequences that would play into his scope. I also wanted George Kallis (composer) to score the film. His poignant and evocative music created the right atmosphere for a journey into Xavier’s world, completing the experience.
Nicolas D. Sampson
The essence of BEHIND THE MIRROR lies in the isolated figure of its lead character, Xavier. Much like Milton’s Lucifer, or Odysseus and Aeneas, Xavier is trapped in a landscape of estrangement. But for Xavier the traumatic loss of his parents is what creates the seed of his anger. Xavier projects this anger forcefully onto his environment, his wife and friends, onto New Rome and its local-minded citizens, and ultimately it becomes the pretext for Xavier to seek a release from the physical realm where the child’s desire for freedom is restricted – and a pioneering journey into the mind becomes the paramount objective: a journey to seek out the child itself, the shadow self, the essence of freedom. Shadows are everywhere in the film. They exist in broad daylight, at night, and sometime have a life of their own; human shadows, or the shadows of trees, which emerge as characters and have a private dialogue with Xavier. The wind blows and the leaves rustle, whispering thoughts to him, thoughts that are at times revelatory, at times deadly instruction.
As he embarks on this journey to discover his shadow self, issues of mistrust, freedom, victimization and manipulation set their roots deep in Xavier’s mind and release a potent paranoia. Xavier’s journey ends as he becomes what he sought out: the shadow within himself, now exiled in the dusk; a shadow disappearing into the forest. Or maybe his journey is actually just beginning there.
The ideas in Nicolas D. Sampson’s script attracted me immediately. The isolated protagonist in a vast wilderness has always seduced me. This isolation and criticism of an individual rings true to me as a theme of our times. You’re either pro-gun or anti-gun. You’re either a ruthless pro-development capitalist or a spoiled tree-warrior. You make one statement online and you’re instantly branded. There’s no middle ground. There’s no grey area to allow for humanity. There’s got to be a “golden medium,” as Xavier says. And hence, Xavier is quickly labeled a “freak.”
The film was shot in 28 days thanks to our tireless cast and crew. We shot in over 30 locations with a cast of over 45 characters. Framing such a large cast of characters demanded a Kurosawa samurai placed-heads approach of composition. I also drew inspiration from SHANE (1953) and other westerns with outsider themes. We used antique Cooke and Taylor Hobson lenses on our Red One, the same lenses my father (Michael Papas) used on his films in the 1960s and 70s, adding a unique look to the film. Telling the story in a 1:2.40 aspect ratio was always a huge intention for the spectacular landscapes. I knew I had to create a rich background against which to tell the story, and Athens and Coxsackie, NY, provided just that. The community came out in droves to generously be a part of the movie.