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.