For FX’s “Legion,” showrunner Noah Hawley takes a deep dive into the traumatic mindscape of Marvel mutant David Haller (Dan Stevens). And when it came to his institutionalization at Clockworks in the pilot, Hawley and his team turned to Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” for visual inspiration, with its oppressive concrete architecture and narcissistic interior design (lots of white space with raw metallic ornaments).
The aesthetic proved just the right recipe for distorting reality and memory, as Haller discovers his extraordinary and dangerous psychic powers.
A Brutalist Production Design
Hawley wanted to embrace the look of the concrete buildings where they shot in Vancouver, which flaunted the Brutalism of the ’60s and ’70s. It was a tough, no-nonsense, architectural look perfectly suited to the cold brutality of “Legion’s” tyrannical society.
And production designer Michael Wylie went straight to the source that inspired Kubrick’s future dystopia in “A Clockwork Orange.” “I pulled hundreds of pictures of Brutalist interiors and then we sat down and [selected favorite ceilings, doors, and stairs],” Wylie said. “And I chopped together a board of all the stuff that we really loved and our set was an amalgamation of 30 referenced pictures of Brutalist architecture and interiors.”
The script clues were all about making sure the audience couldn’t discern reality. So when it came to designing Haller’s apartment, the plan was to make it flexible so they could dolly through the whole space in a circular motion when his mental state becomes unhinged.
“Doors had to be wider and taller and things had to pull apart so that you could film in there. But I wanted it to look like we were in Paris or Budapest. Everything was made slightly to put you on your back foot,” said Wylie. It was akin to ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ where it’s so stylistically pushed that there is no objective reality. We are immersed in the mindscape of Haller.
For Clockworks, they even installed nearly 200 LED lighting fixtures in the ceilings to control color, brightness, and temperature. “When you can do whatever you want,” said Wylie, “it doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. It’s incredibly free and liberating.”
Seeing Clockworks Through Kubrick’s Perspective
Armed with the Arri Alexa Mini, cinematographer Dana Gonzales went straight for the same wide-angle lens that Kubrick used in “A Clockwork Orange”: the the 9.8 Kinoptik. “When Noah and I threw images back and forth, most of the ones we were attracted to were shot with this lens,” he said. “We used that lens as David’s point of view moments in Klockworks.
“Early on, when we’re more in his head, before other people get in his head, the distortions are with that lens,” added Gonzales. “Specifically, in the hallways when he’s running to find Syd (Rachel Keller).” She’s a fellow psychiatric patient and mutant, who becomes Haller’s girlfriend. He also turned the camera upside down for a strange world disorientation, when they kiss and switch places.
What Gonzales liked most about the Kinoptik was how it allowed you to meld environment and character in a heightened emotional state. “Kubrick always used these lenses that had character. They’re not meant to jump and change anything. They’re meant to add to the story… moving through hallways and onto these striking faces,” Gonzales said.
With the main Clockworks set, Gonzales emphasized the roundness of the room as well as the lights in the ceiling. He particularly showed them off during the Bollywood dance sequence. “It distorts the lights in an organic, natural way,” added Gonzales.
Although the sets provided lots of trippy lighting opportunities, Gonzales didn’t reference “A Clockwork Orange” for lighting. “But I had to be able to design the right lighting and be able to change the color,” he said.
This was done on the fly. For example, in Episode Five, in a white room, when the love story heats up physically and psychically, the cinematographer went for a cobalt blue color before amping up the red as the devil comes in. “The sets were designed that way to find an emotional response that the scene dictated,” Gonzales said. “That came from those early Kubrickian concepts and the tone we wanted to create.”