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In Death in Love, one of the most challenging movies this summer, Jacqueline Bisset is a Holocaust survivor, but only by the loosest definition of the word “survive.” Now a grown woman with a family of her own, she’s passed her trauma on to the next generation. The eldest, Josh Lucas, has become a womanizing con artist. The youngest, Lukas Haas, is an obsessive, phobic recluse. And that’s looking on the bright side. Josh Lucas explains …
Q: Usually people call something “the feel-good movie of the year” as praise, but you couldn’t say that about this.
A: It’s almost a feel-bad film [Laughs]. If you’re a fan of Sweet Home Alabama, you don’t necessarily not like this movie, but it’s a totally different kind of movie. It’s not a drama, it’s a tragedy, filled with pain and violence and deep intellectual contemplation. The one thing people consistently say — whether they love it or hate it — is they can’t get it out of their mind for a couple of days, and that’s really what all of us set out to do.
Q: What was your reaction when you first read the script? Did you ask yourself, “What is this?” I mean, the mother — sleeping with the Nazi doctor…
A: I think those are the questions that [director] Boaz [Yakin]
is asking, this idea of can you fall in love with, not just your
captor, but your Nazi murderer? Boaz is talking about his own
relationship to being Jewish, and to the profound sense of pain he
feels about the Holocaust, and then to contemplate a parent, or his
mother having slept with a guard, and even desiring that. It goes into
this whole Patty Hearst, Stockholm Syndrome. I think Boaz is asking
some very harsh questions about love, about guilt, about what families
deal with, and what they pass on to each other. Can you actually pass
on pain through genes, through cell structure?
Q: Or it’s passed on by the way they relate to each
other. Since the mother had gone through this major trauma, she
couldn’t really love in a normal, happy, healthy way, she passes along
the kind of relationship she had with her captor to her family.
Sadomasochism — with and without sex — can apply to a lot of things.
A: I think you’re dead right. This is like taking Hostel and Saw or
any of those torture films and putting them in a context of something
deeply personal and real. I think Boaz wanted this film to be so raw,
you either run from the cinema or you sit down with your family for
three days, and talk about what your deepest, darkest secrets are.
Q: Did you do that?
A: I did not. I was single when I made this film. I don’t think
I could have made this film while I was in a relationship, actually. I
think it was too painful to do, and too risky. Being in a solid,
healthy relationship, you don’t want to go to the places this character
goes to. You don’t just go to work and even mock having a S&M
relationship without that causing an impact on your life.
Q: Can you separate the sex scenes from the S&M ones?
A: I don’t know, because for me, I went into that naively. Most
sex scenes are about sex or love, and this was about pain. This was
more dealing with abuse and self-lacerating self-hatred, things beyond
sex. So I would walk away from the days we did these scenes feeling
really dark to say the least. I was like, “Great, glad I experienced
that, I never need to do that again, I know that’s not who I am!”
[Laughs]. I’m not Jewish, I’m not yet 40, I don’t have any of the same
level of emotional baggage this character does, but I could understand
pieces of it.
Q: Part of your character, too, is that he’s a con man — but a con man who can’t see when he’s the mark.
A: I think one of the interesting things about him is that he’s
hungry for hope, he’s hungry for love. And I think all human beings,
even the greatest monsters — there’s a little moment early on with the
SS doctor, and you almost see him light up like a child — every human
being wants love, light, and joy. My character made all the choices to
go in a dark direction, partly because when he tried to choose light,
someone got back at him and it confirms all his worst fears about
humanity. But I don’t believe that’s how life goes. That’s just how
this story goes.