Critically acclaimed director Rebecca Miller returns with She Came to Me after an almost six-year hiatus. In her latest work, Miller worked on the struggle of a brilliant opera composer, Steven, who deals with writer’s block. Steven’s wife, Patricia (portrayed by Anne Hathaway) is also his therapist, but Patricia might be hiding something, even from herself. She Came to Me was selected to open this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Its cast includes Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, and Brian d’Arcy James. Shortly after the movie’s premiere, ComingSoon spoke with Miller and Hathaway about the relationship between art and life, the place of religion in our society, and more.
“The delightful comedy about love in all its forms weaves together the tales of a charming cast of characters living in the romantic, bustling metropolis of New York City. Composer Steven Lauddem (Dinklage) is creatively blocked and unable to finish the score for his big comeback opera. At the behest of his wife Patricia (Hathaway), formerly his therapist, he sets out in search of inspiration. What he discovers is much more than he bargained for, or imagined,” reads the synopsis.
Tudor Leonte: Rebecca, I would like to start with you. At the core of She Came to Me there is love, a topic your story explored through different characters and in different ways. I really appreciated the play-within-the-play expedient, it’s really Shakespearean. My question here for you is, does art immediate life or life imitates art?
Rebecca Miller: Well, I think it’s actually, that’s an interesting question. I think that art certainly is always feeding from life and can’t live without life because what do we have as artists, but life to take from and to build from? I mean, even if you’re an abstract painter, you’re still synthesizing color and light, right? Inevitably, there’s some connection between art and life. I also think that art influences life all the time. I think that’s why deciding what you’re gonna put into the world is important.
Anne, your character, Patricia, helps other people open up about their issues, but there were some moments in the movie when I was thinking, ‘Where is her therapist?’ Your character looks very strong on the outside, but, at the same time, she’s very vulnerable. Where does her vulnerability come from?
Anne Hathaway: My understanding of Patricia is that she was handed an identity at a very young age with tremendous responsibility that she didn’t really choose for herself, but she accepted and she accepted it with grace and brilliance and love. She did something almost unthinkable, which is she became a doctor while being a young mother. It’s such an exception to the way that story goes, which I actually think the film shows beautifully. The way she was able to do it was because she had a stroke of luck in the form of a magical grandmother who supported her. That’s the way that she was able to do it. She feels such a debt of gratitude to her good fortune that she’s never really asked herself what her needs are. She’s been afraid to ask herself what her desires are and her needs are because she feels like she’s gotten so much more than she had any right to expect.
But the fact of the matter is that she is a human being, and her true self does come knocking, and it gets louder and louder and louder until she can’t ignore it anymore. Then, she comes to the revelation that perhaps she’s been lying about her life. Perhaps she’s been lying to herself about who she is. By just allowing the possibility of not lying anymore to herself and to others, a whole new version of herself opens up. So for me, all of those things are vulnerable and her amazing ability to listen to herself and to listen to others, and to live in a world in which she’s not harmful to others or making others wrong, but is actually open and curious as to what’s gonna happen next. That’s very vulnerable.
Rebecca, where did you take inspiration for this story? Have you ever dealt with writer’s block?
Miller: I have, yes, and it’s completely terrifying. I mean, when you really have it, it’s like being locked in a coffin.
Hathaway: Oh, no!
Miller: That’s what it’s like. It’s horrible. Oh, when you’re used to living in a kind of garden of like lots of little flowers growing around, and then suddenly the flowers go away, there’s nothing.
Miller: It’s very terrifying. One of my favorite moments in the film is when you first see Steven at the piano, and he’s looking so lost behind his glasses, this sort of terrified look on his face of just not being able to… as he says, “I can’t get inside it.” You know, it’s like you’re locked out, you’re locked out of the paradise.
That moment of ecstatic revelation Patricia has in church. Where does she stand in a society which is more and more estranged from religion in general and on the relationship between a person and God and religion?
Hathaway: Well, I think the film says it when she goes to the church and she is the only person there. We’re li living in an increasingly secular society, and yet it’s not like our souls have gone away. I think that all of us are longing for our connection to something larger than ourselves. It’s very interesting because we do talk about mental health and we do talk about physical health, but we don’t often talk about our spiritual health. That’s where Patricia, that’s kind of where she is in the modern world, a bit of a pioneer in that sense that she allows of her it to be a possibility, and she does move boldly towards it.
Miller: It’s radical.
Hathaway: Yeah. There’s, there’s a radical streak inside of her, and perhaps it’s radical in a way that a hundred years ago would’ve been very traditional, but I guess that’s life. Times changed!
Rebecca, you relied on the pillar box format from time to time in the movie. What does it stand for? The frame seems almost to suffocate the characters, but at the same time, it forces them to stay closer to each other.
Miller: Yeah. Well, inside a tugboat is so small that there’s a natural desire to have a more square format. Honestly, that’s part of what was going on. There’s also the sense that these two characters are very intimate together, Steven and Katrina. There’s that sense of like, that Peter’s character can’t get away from this in intimacy, which he’s so uncomfortable with. When you come into the operas, you want that widescreen kind of sense of breathing, and I just sort of thought, ‘Well, let’s just cut them together.’ I think part of the film is about the power of the imagination, right? I wanted to honor the audience that their imagination would be able to expand to just understand and digest the fact that there were two different aspect ratios in the film. I think people are able to.