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Film

Stoker

Mia Wasikowska stars in South Korean auteur’s suspenseful English-language debut

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India (Mia Wasikowska) regards her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) Warily.


Stoker

Directed by Chan-wook Park

Opens March 15 at the Charles Theatre

Every year, India Stoker’s father gives her a new pair of black-and-white saddle shoes as a birthday present. On her 18th birthday, her father dies. We see India (porcelain-skinned Mia Wasikowska) curled up on her bed, mourning her father (Dermot Mulroney), 18 pairs of Oxford shoes arranged in a horseshoe around her. Mourning, perhaps, isn’t a precise description—she doesn’t wail, sob, or even sniffle. She stares forward, expressionless. Her grief comes across as icy stoicism, a mood befitting India, a withdrawn, enigmatic teenager who never cracks a smile and who despises her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).

Though India, the central character of Stoker, may sound like many a mopey, self-conscious teen you know, she’s not your average misfit. When a menacing male classmate taunts her and motions to hit her, she meets his blow with the sharpened tip of a pencil, piercing his skin. She wears the buttoned-up outfits of a conservative woman of an earlier era. She has no friends, no confidantes. Formerly, she was close with her father (they would go hunting together); now she sits sullenly through dinners with her mom and her equally cryptic though far more charismatic Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a handsome newcomer to the Stoker household, one who introduces a different kind of tension into the already-strained mother-daughter relationship. India watches—often spies on—the disproportionate affection that Evelyn develops for Charlie, who seemingly has eyes for India. The strangest love triangle begins to take shape.

Stoker is the English-language debut of South Korean director Chan-wook Park, best known for Oldboy, a mystery thriller currently being remade by Spike Lee. Park’s visually striking direction enhances an intensely engrossing and creepy story line, which centers on India’s coming of age. We spoke via phone with Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre) about the complexities of her role.

City Paper: Was this your first leading role in a psychological thriller?

Mia Wasikowska: Yes, I think so. Yes, definitely.

CP: And what was that experience like compared to something like, say, Jane Eyre?

MW: It was a different part. There’s kind of a similar level of intensity on most film sets, but it was definitely so many different elements. . . working with a director who didn’t speak English and being in a psychosexual thriller/drama. It was very different.

CP: What was it like working with Chan-wook Park?

MW: It was great. I love him, I think he’s brilliant. He’s definitely got a really unique style and he’s very meticulous, very visual. He storyboards the whole thing start to finish. It’s been great to be part of his first English-language film.

CP: A lot of people have compared this film to Hitchcock. Do you like Hitchcock?

MW: Yeah, I love Hitchcock. It wasn’t something that we were given as a reference by director Park at the beginning. It’s more just come about now. During press, everybody seems to reference it, so I guess something about it speaks to the audience.

CP: Can you speak to India’s dynamic with her mother?

MW: Yeah, they’re incredibly different. Evie is much more social and India is very reclusive. But at the same time, they both have this similar sort of stubbornness about them. It’s a very removed mother-daughter relationship.

CP: India’s character is really unique. What was it about that character that attracted you to the role?

MW: Pretty much just that. I’d never played a character like her before and I hadn’t read one or come across anything like it during the last few years I’ve been working on films. I knew it was a rare opportunity. And it was the easiest decision ever really, between the character and director Park and the wonderful cast.

CP: I would describe India’s character as inscrutable—we never know whether she’s leaning toward good or evil. How was it to play a character like that?

MW: It’s quite fun. I mean, that’s what I like. It’s a fine line, because you need to give enough away for there to be something there, but also hold back a certain amount to give the audience something to think about. That’s what I liked when I first read this script—that you’re not sure which exactly direction India’s going to go in. And until the very end, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty as to what her nature is and her character.

CP: Her relationship with her Uncle Charlie is very complex. Sometimes she’s resistant, sometimes she’s intrigued by him, and sometimes she’s almost attracted to him. How did you and Matthew Goode [who plays Uncle Charlie] approach that dynamic?

MW: It was very clear in the script sort of the dynamic between the two of them. But one of the best ways that we’ve come to talk about it and describe it is that their relationship is like a metaphor. It’s sort of hard to tell who’s the hunter and who’s the hunted. There’s this whole, the hunter’s the prey, and it’s kind of shifting between them the whole film. You’re never quite sure who’s in control in the relationship.

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