To date, the films of Shane Carruth have been both small in size, and huge on ideas. His breakout time travel puzzler “Primer” from 2004 is still dissected today, while his more recent “Upstream Color” presented a relationship unfolding in a sea of visual and thematic riches. For a while now, we’ve known his next picture would be “The Modern Ocean,” but as usual, the filmmaker is keeping a fairly low profile. When we talked to him about the movie a couple of years back, he shared some intriguing details about what it would focus on.
“There’s no genre or otherwordly elements in it, it’s set in the modern day on shipping routes, with people who build routes to trade — you know, vanilla from Madagascar and then pick up crude oil and drop it off in India. They build up this intellectual property of a route that is profitable and they sell it off to a bigger corporation…They’re building up the proof that this route will work, and selling it off, dealing with tidal systems and routes and currents and weather,” he told us in Berlin in 2013. “So there are these competing companies and these inner personal things happening. It’s pirates, repo men, bolt cutters and sniper rifles, but at the same time it’s the same emotional language as ‘Upstream Color,’ just magnified. I’m very excited by it.”
He also added that he wanted to shoot during the summer season, so could it be that his movie is gearing up to go in front of cameras? Somewhat randomly, Motherboard managed to track down and chat with Carruth who revealed “The Modern Ocean” is now in pre-production, and the director spoke about his brewing picture, starting with why it needed to be set on the water.
“…the ocean is a place where I can set a story on a world stage. The ocean is not policed in any kind of perfect way. And a lot of things happen out there that, you know, it’s sort of every man for himself or every group of men for themselves. And it tests everything. It tests everyone’s loyalty, because there is no one to run to and say ‘someone did something bad, I need to call the cops!’ You have to deal with it right there with the means at your disposal,” he explained. “So that was the number one reason, because I’ve got a story where I need that. I need to have my characters all making choices that are a combination or compromise between loyalty and their own motives and that gives me that playing field.”
Helping to play out this tale will be the largest cast Carruth has even worked with. The filmmaker says there are ten roles for the core ensemble, along with twenty more supporting characters, and between them he’ll explore how their differences breakdown and lead to explosive conflict. “I’m constantly interested in the politics, interactions between different personalities, different characters. That’s what this boils down to: it erupts into a big action film, essentially, but the reasons why it does are the reasons the story exists,” he said. “That characters are unable to get aligned is because they’re all pointed in different directions, they all have slightly different motives. And that’s not always known to the group.”
And while the thought of battles on the open seas conjures images of “Captain Phillips” or “A Hijacking,” and the immediacy of the filmmaking technique, Carruth notes that this film will not deal with those issues. “…we’re not tackling the Somalian pirates angle. When we deal with skirmishes, we know the motivation and it’s always within its set of characters. The skirmishes escalate into full-scale naval battles using these improvised weapons on these cargo ships and so it’s not trying to make a commentary about pirates. We are a world of ourselves, unto ourselves, in ‘Modern Ocean.’ ”
For further details, we’ll have to wait and see, but I’d imagine unlike his previous efforts, a movie this big in scale can’t be made in total privacy. Here’s hoping it’s not another nine year wait for the next Shane Carruth picture.