Unlike many contemporary horror films, The Unborn opts for old-fashioned suspense over gore and treads ground rare for its genre; twin studies, Nazi experimentation, Jewish mysticism and even the abortion debate pop up thematically throughout Goyer’s tale, which also stars Meagan Good, Gary Oldman, and Cam Gigandet.
Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Goyer about his other extra-cinematic influences, how he developed The Unborn through his own personal fascinations, and whether or not the film is meant to spark the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. He also shared his Five Favorite Films, noting that his choices are ever-changing and perhaps surprising. “Those aren’t necessarily the kinds of films I might make,” Goyer explained. “But that’s okay — I think people are more complex. We’re not just little sound bites.”
Well, my favorite film of all time, period, is The Man Who Would Be King. John Huston, you know, based on the Rudyard Kipling story. Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Christopher Plummer. First of all, I love Connery and Caine, and John Huston is probably my favorite old-time director, and I just love that movie from start to finish. I love everything about it — I can never get enough of it. It’s epic adventure, and I love the rogueish relationship between Connery and Caine’s characters. I think I was 13 or 14 when I first saw it. I watch it probably once a year — I love it.
Another one is Being There. Hal Ashby — that’s finally coming out on Blu-ray and DVD, so I’m very excited about that. That movie, I think, is just a really lovely, amazing movie. Peter Sellers‘ best movie by far, and Hal Ashby’s best, in my opinion. I think it’s just terribly funny and terribly touching, and…I don’t know. I love that movie.
What else? 28 Days Later is one of my favorite movies — a horror film. Danny Boyle is probably my favorite director. I just loved how ballsy 28 Days Later was, from start to finish. He’s fearless, he’ll do any genre — “Fine, I’m going to do a zombie movie” — and just smack you in the face with it.
Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my top five. That’s just a perfect movie, a beautiful movie, and I thought it absolutely deserved to win Best Foreign Film until I saw The Lives of Others.
Rotten Tomatoes: Pan’s Labyrinth was made by Guillermo del Toro, who you’ve worked with. Were you able to see it before it came out?
David Goyer: I just saw some artwork. He showed me some of his journals where he sketches, and told me a little over dinner one time, a year or so before he made it, but it’s kind of an impossible film to describe. I think everything he does is interesting, but it was hard to visualize until I’d seen it.
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it, and among recent movies, it’s probably in my top five as well. I couldn’t believe Pan’s Labyrinth got shut out, and then I saw The Lives of Others and was floored. I bawled like a baby at the end of that movie. Just staggering.
Next: Goyer discusses his influences outside of film and how his creative process took him from twins to Nazi science to demons and beyond…
Rotten Tomatoes: You’re known for your love of comic books, and how it’s influenced your filmmaking, but I’m sure that’s not the only medium you love.
David Goyer: Oh, no. I still read comic books, but they aren’t the only things. I’m a voracious reader.
RT: What other kinds of art influence you?
DG: Well, I like documentary filmmaking very much — I’m a big fan of that. Photography, modern art, things like that — I love to travel, so I like historical and cultural art. Just last year, I went to Vietnam and Cambodia for about five weeks and immersed myself in that world. In college, I minored in poetry, so I pull from all over the place.
RT: One of the most striking aspects of The Unborn is how detailed it is, and how it delves into areas like Jewish mysticism, religion, and other layered themes that are developed.
DG: Well, I like even my genre movies to have a lot of historical underpinnings and research. There’s probably a lot more in there than you might realize. I hope it catches that air of authenticity — at least it helps me when I’m writing. So even if the imagery isn’t explicitly stated, a lot of the imagery comes from [historical research] — like the dream where she’s on the ceiling and looking down on herself, that comes from the idea that in olden days, Jewish people believed that their souls would go wandering while they were sleeping, so when they woke up, they’d say a prayer like Jane Alexander does in the movie for being thankful that nothing sort of unwelcome inhabited their body while their souls were out wandering. So the imagery of that dream comes from that, and obviously there’s the subtext of this thing crawling into [Casey’s] womb…
RT: It seems that a lot of what you explore in this movie comes from your own deep personal interests, such as the fascination with twins.
RT: Was it the same with Jewish folklore?
DG: You know, it’s not like I was steeped in Jewish folklore. It started with the idea of the twins first, and that led me to researching heterochromia — the changing of the color of the iris — which is the condition that the lead character suffers from in the film, and that led me to the experiments that Dr. Mengele was doing in Auschwitz, which coincidentally also had to do with twins. That led me to the legend of the dybbuk, which in turn led me to all the imagery of the mirrors. So it wasn’t like I started off thinking I was going to make a movie about Jewish mysticism. I just kind of started with an idea, and started doing research, and let myself wander. One by one, the elements just sort of fell into place with one another. I was trying to see if I could kind of craft a new legend, at least filmically, because I don’t know that anyone had done a dybbuk story before, and it’s a different take on possession and exorcism. Ironically, most people’s perceptions of exorcism come from the Friedkin film, of course, but the tradition dates back five or six thousand years and actually originated in the Jewish faith, long before it started in the Christian or Catholic faith.
Next: On dybbuks, Holocaust guilt, and whether or not The Unborn overtly addresses the abortion debate….
RT: Your characters talk about how the idea of demons —
DG: Predates organized religion. Well, they would. I always thought it was funny that you’d hold up a cross and Dracula would shy away from it, because it seems to me that evil isn’t Jewish or Muslim or Christian. In fact, I had a character say that in the film.
RT: There’s also the idea in the movie that younger generations are detached from their heritage, that Casey not only doesn’t practice the Jewish faith but also is unaware of the dybbuk that has cursed her family for generations.
DG: Well, it’s a subtext. They’re detached from their lineage, they’re detached from their heritage, they’re detached from their families, and that makes them more vulnerable, because there’s not as much of a sense of community. It’s all subtext, but it’s in there, yeah. Absolutely.
RT: What about Holocaust survivor’s guilt, and the idea that Casey now becomes responsible for setting right things that began so long ago?
DG: Well, I could make a joke about Jewish guilt, but yeah, that’s in there a little bit too. The grandmother has survivor’s guilt, and she unintentionally passes it along to her daughter, who does the same to her granddaughter. I think there’s this sense that in reality, whether it’s genetics or learned behavior, that generations tend to pass these things on to successive generations, and whether we know it or not, we’re often dealing with things that happened three or four generations prior to us. Hopefully, people will watch the movie and it’ll make them think about these things in different ways.
RT: Another underlying theme that persisted for me was the question of whether this is a pro-life or pro-choice film.
DG: It isn’t meant to be either. I mean, you know, it’s funny that a very small percentage of the audience when we were testing it — we’re talking three or four people out of 500 — would say either “this is a pro-choice film” or “this is a pro-life film.” It’s not really either, and I don’t mean to make an overt political statement there. Obviously, people are going to imbue it with whatever their specific belief is, but in the same way, some people were saying that The Dark Knight was a Republican apology, and some were saying it was an anti-Bush film. Both sides were sort of claiming it for their own.
RT: Well, I think you’re in the clear, because at different times I thought it could possibly be either a pro-life or a pro-choice film.
DG: I try to walk that very thin line, so good.
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