Since his debut movie GATTACA (1997) warned over the use of advanced eugenics, writer and director Andrew Niccol has continued to question the human and moral implications of advancements in technology with movies including THE TRUMAN SHOW (1999 – as writer), SIMONE (1992) and IN TIME (2011). His latest is ANON, a remarkably timely SF noir thriller about a society where everyone’s point of view experience is recorded and anonymity is a dirty word. Clive Owen – a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown if ever we’ve seen one – stars as Sal Friedland, on the trail of a mysterious stranger played by Amanda Seyfried who has found a way to opt out of this tyrannical system and use the power of her anonymity in a unique and profitable way…
STARBURST: Like most of your writing, this feels like a very short jump into the future.
Andrew Niccol: That’s what I call a parallel presence. You’re going to go out on the street right now and you’re going to see people looking down at devices. You’re going to go to a concert and you’ll seeing nothing but people videoing the concert. They’re never going to look back at those videos, by the way, but it doesn’t matter, they still have to have evidence. We are life-logging.
In line with your previous work, there’s a very explicit warning message in this movie, but you’re also looking to tell an entertaining story. How do you walk that line?
I think you can see this film on a number of levels. On one level, it’s a serial killer film, if that’s what you want. There’s also sex, drugs, and violence! But if you go for ideas, that’s always my aim. Just in researching it, this word ‘de-anonymising’ [data mining in which anonymous data is cross-referenced with other sources of data to re-identify the anonymous data source] is such a horrendous concept.
A key part of ANON’s futurism is the POV text and graphics we see from Clive Owen’s bio-implanted viewpoint. How did it evolve?
It was a nightmare for me because I had to write all of it myself, but for once in my life, I won’t mind if someone freezes the film because a lot of work went into writing it! All of it is legible and all of it makes its own sense in terms of biography. So, for example, the prostitute’s biography is very interesting because she gives a ‘military discount’, amongst other things. So when you just look at her for a second you can freeze the frame and find out. There are lots of nuggets in there.
Another cool aspect is the futuristic cars. We do love futuristic cars!
I love cars, too. It all goes back to Gattaca because on that I never had enough money, you know, I didn’t have the budget to build my ideal car of the future. So here, I thought, well, I’ll take the best of the past and drag it screaming and kicking into the future and just update it. My favourite vehicle in this is a Facel Vega, which now has a hydrogen cell in it and other updates. Again, that’s all POV information seen that you can freeze-frame.
The movie has a very specific, stylised visual look to it.
I went with two different aspect ratios. Interestingly enough, nobody really seems to have minded. I thought that might be jarring to some people, but it’s not. So, when it’s a subjective point of view it’s more square, its 16:9, full of clutter and shot with spherical lenses. And then in that same scene, when I look at it from an objective point of view, it’s 2:40:1, which is much more cinematic, the camera doesn’t move as much and there’s no clutter. I had to do some very weird things to make it work. He’s walking down the street, there’s a parking lot there with a physical sign, so I have to remove it. I removed all signage from the film, physically and digitally, because I knew that from a story point of view, it’s absolutely superfluous. Why would you have street signs when people get street signs automatically popping up in their mind’s eye?
How is your relationship with technology these days?
My relationship with technology is as it’s always been – dysfunctional. But I do think there’s hope. You just need to find the right countermeasures.
ANON has a limited theatrical release and can be seen exclusively on Sky Cinema from May 11th and Netflix in the US. You can read out review here.