Rick Alverson’s films don’t tend to lend themselves to easy elevator pitches or punchy plot descriptions, and the “Entertainment” and “The Comedy” filmmaker’s ambitious next film, “The Mountain,” keeps with that trend. When it was first announced, the period drama, which he wrote alongside Dustin Guy Defa and Colm O’Leary, was billed as the story of “a young man who lost his mother and was raised by his emotional stunted father goes to work with his mentor, a doctor who performs lobotomies and shock therapy.”
And while’s that a relatively meaty description of an Alverson film, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Just ask the guy playing that lobotomy-giving doctor: Jeff Goldblum.
The actor, who’s next heard in this week’s “Isle of Dogs,” has a packed schedule, including both big budget sequels like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” and the intriguing “The Mountain.” It doesn’t take much to get Goldblum going about both Alverson and the film, and the actor was eager to talk about their inaugural project when IndieWire spoke to him this week.
“Oh, he’s something special,” Goldblum said of Alverson. “I loved his movies, and I loved ‘Entertainment,’ particularly. This is a different movie. I want to stay in this world, seeing everything through his eyes.” (One unexpected tidbit from Goldblum about Alverson’s world: Goldblum credits him with turning him on to the films of Claire Denis.)
According to Goldblum, “The Mountain” takes place in 1954, and features the actor playing a character based on Dr. Walter Freeman, “the guy who pioneered the lobotomy, did Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy. This is an extrapolation of that kind of character. Drugs have come in, so it’s very controversial what I’m doing.”
Goldblum’s character, known as Dr. Wallace Fiennes, has “pioneered a way of doing it…like [Freeman] did, through the eyeball, with my own kind of ice picks…I’m trying to teach people in these institutions, where my name isn’t mud totally yet, and I’m trying to shore up my legacy. Teach people how to do it quickly, and do a lot more lobotomies.”
Wallace’s quest for that legacy brings him into contact with a slew of different characters, including roles played by Udo Kier, Denis Lavant, and Hannah Gross.
Mainly, though, he gets mixed up with Tye Sheridan’s Andy, the “young man” mentioned in the film’s plotline. “He’s a very special man, and a very special actor,” Goldblum said of Sheridan. “And all the things that he’s done? Oh, he’s a very brilliant, interesting guy. I loved working with him.”
But back to the plot of “The Mountain”: “I take this kid with me on the road in the Pacific Northwest,” he said. “He’s lost his father, and I’ve lobotomized his mother, and so I take him under my wing, get him to photograph me as I’m doing these things.”
That’s when the pair run into Lavant’s character Jack, the father of Gross’ character, Susan. Young Susan is in an institution for an unspecified mental illness, and Jack is eager for Wallace to lobotomize her. But he might have other reasons for wanting to drastically change the makeup of her brain — for one, that eponymous mountain.
“He’s the leader of a cult, a new age kind of cult near Mount Shasta, there by the mountain,” Goldblum said. “He’s leading these people in these kind of Americana, religioso, hysterical chantings, in relation to Mount Shasta.”
Finally catching himself, Goldblum slowed down a bit. “Anyway, I’m not gonna tell you the ending of the movie, but it reminds me a little of ‘The Florida Project,'” he said. “Where, by at the end of the movie, we see a kind of iconic American mythical ideal, in juxtaposition to the real psyche of America and conditions of America, spiritually and otherwise, which leave something to be desired.”
Per Goldblum, Alverson is putting the final touches on the film and is gearing up to submit it to festivals, including Cannes and Venice.