In Ana Lily Amirpour’s “The Bad Batch,” Keanu Reeves plays The Dream, the slick ruler of a post-apocalyptic encampment called Comfort, where social rejects party late into the night. He’s one of a few key characters in a dramatic story that finds Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) escaping an encampment of cannibals led by Miami Man (Jason Momoa) before she falls in love with him. With a bit part for Jim Carrey as a mute desert hermit and violent confrontations that leave you wondering who the real hero is, the movie offers a lot of entry points for discussion. That was evident on its opening night at New York’s IFC Center, when Reeves made a surprise appearance for the Q&A and found himself in the unexpected position of pitching the movie.
The actor has been largely absent from the campaign trail for the movie. He didn’t attend the Venice International Film Festival premiere last fall and, until sitting through the movie on Friday, hadn’t seen the final cut. After he joined Amirpour onstage, he was asked how he might pitch the movie to someone in an effort to get them to see it.
At first, the actor seemed taken aback. “It depends on who you’re talking to,” he said. “There’s a lot of different ways to reflect on this work. God, I gotta pitch ‘The Bad Batch’?” Then he slowly found his way through it. “I would say that it looks great, sounds great, there’s a really great story,” he said. “It’s a challenging film, an immersive film, it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, it’s seductive, it’s persuasive. The music fucking kicks ass. The acting is amazing. Suki Waterhouse is a fucking miracle. Jason Momoa is killing it. Jim Carrey — are you kidding me?”
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The crowd applauded as Reeves gained momentum.
“The performances, the symbolism!” he continued. “How deep do you wanna go? I mean, you could just start with the pictures and keep going. It’s about constructs, communities and tribes, morals, ethics, confrontation of self. Romance. Is this an Adam and Eve story?”
Reeves said that he had been a fan of Amirpour’s first feature, “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” and was pleasantly surprised to find that she had written the character of The Dream with him in mind. “I had your poster on my wall, FYI,” Amirpour told the actor as the audience laughed. She said the two of them looked to the Hugh Hefner documentary “American Playboy” as a template for the character.
“The collaborating was, ‘What is this person? Let’s [have him] wear white, like Hugh Hefner, psychedelic, he had these glasses, then we found this great building for his place,” Reeves said. “It was like, this place needs more water, ice cubes. She was like, ‘Yeah, let’s get more ice cubes.’” Amirpour added that Reeves suggested the character should be growing tomatoes and basil. “Yeah, he had vegetables and fruit,” Reeves said. “I’m nurturing.”
As Amirpour reflected on the themes of the worlds she’d created, Reeves took charge of the discussion. “What about the cannibals, the people eating people?” he asked. “You created this dystopian world. Where did this come from?”
“I feel like we people are tearing each other to pieces,” she replied. “That’s how I see it, when I look outside.”
He wanted more. “Wait, so you wanted to write a script? You had a story?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I wanted to kind of take a look at our moral fiber. I think any single one of us can go toward good actions or bad actions, being hostile to one another, nice towards each other. Our environment puts us in certain situations, and I’m curious what we’re capable of on either end of the spectrum.”
For Reeves, the themes were “a kind of moral, ethical, almost Eastern-Chinese thing — like, if I give you a horse, but then that’s the one that kills your son. It’s the kind of rolling morals and ethics that we start seeing when we’re trying to survive.”
“The Bad Batch” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. It is also available on VOD.