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Kenneth Lonergan Discusses the 'Extended Cut' of 'Margaret': 'I'm happy to have both versions.'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire July 6, 2012 at 4:03PM

Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" is the ultimate little movie that could. The sophomore feature from the writer-director of "You Can Count on Me" hit theaters last September in a very limited release after years of troubled post-production that resulted in a lawsuit filed against the filmmaker and multiple cuts of the film. It has been officially reported that there were a trio of different "Margaret" cuts, including one prepared by Martin Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and that Lonergan preferred a three-hour version to the one he prepared for theatrical release that ran 18 minutes shorter.
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Can you elaborate on some of the material you've added for the extended cut? There were some rather significant additions that stood out to me, like a therapeutic exchange during Lisa's theater class and another that follows her loss of virginity.

The scene in the school theater was a scene I always liked. It's kind of a pivotal scene. Lisa basically realizes she's through with high school and not going to get anywhere with the things she's been trying to do. I was very curious to see whether the movie would work without that. I think it does, but I also think it really adds something to have it. There's something so embarrassingly adolescent about that situation -- her isolation at the end of it works really well.

There's a scene after she sleeps with the Kieran Culkin character. He tries to be nice to her and she's too shaken up to accept it. She's essentially upset about what has happened. Then he gets dressed and leaves. It was nice to put that in as well. On the other hand, there's something good about just having him sitting there. This is the nice thing about not having to make up my mind.

"You live in New York and just to survive you have to cut out a little tunnel for yourself."

I liked very much just cutting to her opening the door and he's sitting there in his underwear. Then we cut to her mother on her date. I think that works really well, but it's nice to see that more sensitive side of her after she's lost her virginity in this very cut-and-dry way that she inflicts on him.

It's nice to see his character fleshed out a bit because he's not just a shit. He actually tries to be nice and she won't have it. She kicks him out. I think I'm the first filmmaker to ever show a guy getting dressed from start to finish, putting his shoes on and having to leave. It's one of the most horrible, awkward moments in life. It just goes on and on.

There are also other scenes I like that I didn't put in this because I didn't want it to be three-and-a-half hours long. I don't think, had everything gone smoothly, it would have been this long to begin with. I was never shooting for a three-hour version. I've read all over the place that I was. I wasn't. That's just repeated gossip that's made the rounds in the press. I like very much the enhanced scenes with the developed relationship between J. Smith Cameron's character and Jean Reno's character. This is the detailed version as opposed to the suggestive version. Which one is better filmmaking? I really don't feel qualified to say.

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A key aspect in both of these scenes is the challenge of communication, which is one of the movie's core themes. The climax seems to imply that opera can say more about Lisa's problems than she has the words to express.

I think so, as can theater, which is why there's so much talk about theater in the film. I didn't do that on purpose; it just came out that way. I've been asked a lot why there's all this discussion of theater in the film. I don't have an answer except that her mother works in the theater so we see her job. The theater is often seen as comical in the movies; to me, it's not comical, it's my life.

I don't mean that it can't be comical, but it's not only comical. It turns out that there's a thematic and emotional connection between the theater and what Lisa's going through and what they're all going through, this idea of real feelings mixed with a certain amount of showing off. Adolescents show off. That's another way of wanting to connect with people. It's not an aspect of human behavior that we generally consider to be very admirable, but it is, in some way, a means of connecting with someone else and not being alone.

Do you think "Margaret" could work as a stage play?

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No, I don't, because it's too involved with the environment of the city to work on the stage. Possibly, if I was very clever, I could write a play that did these same kinds of things in terms of having lots of characters with different points of view, structuring the play so that the main character was forced to confront the fullness of the experience of other human beings.

But I couldn't do it visually. The city shots aren't there just because they're cool-looking. She's being reminded that there are so many other people in the world that don't know or care what's going on with her. That's the big obstacle she's facing. There's something very touching about that sometimes. You live in New York and just to survive you have to cut out a little tunnel for yourself. If you're not open to the environment, you go insane.

This article is related to: Interviews, Kenneth Lonergan, Features, Margaret






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