Although they have never met in person, Cody (John Gallagher, Jr., The Newsroom, Short Term 12) and Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil, House of Cards) are in a happy, healthy long distance relationship. She's in Berlin on an academic program, and he's at home in Manhattan's East Village. Things start to unravel, however, when Cody begins to suspect that Virginia is not thousands of miles away, but rather a few blocks. We talked to The Heart Machine writer/director Zachary Wigon about the perils of virtual relationships and his tonal influences.
The film takes place in modern day Manhattan and deals with modern relationship grievances, yet it has a mystery, gumshoe tinged narrative. Can you speak about some of your influences in crafting the tone?
There weren't a ton of direct filmic influences, although something about Eyes Wide Shut did really speak to me. That's another example of a film that juggles relationship drama alongside mystery, intrigue, and even thriller tones at certain points. I suppose another film that does that juggle relatively well is Vertigo. I was interested in depicting a relationship between two people that had a genuine emotional connection, while simultaneously exploring the obsessions, desires and pathologies that crop up as people begin to fall for each other, especially when that connection is being fostered online between two people who have never met in person.
Do you feel that social media and the Internet are beneficial or detrimental for our interpersonal relationships?
I think they're both beneficial and detrimental - social media and the internet are extremely broad categories, and I think often the effect of the media in question has to do with the specific construction of the app or website in question. I think the fact that people can find great matches via websites is a wonderful thing. I also think the construction of a self that is a part of creating a profile, or the way in which we're conditioned to view relationships via certain hookup apps, can be extremely destructive with respect to our social skills when we meet our matches in person. Ultimately I think these tools are extremely powerful, and there's not much by way of education in how to use and not use them - it's like giving nuclear bombs to children, often.
The Heart Machine is an extrapolation of your 2012 short Someone Else's Heart. What do you feel you expanded upon or altered in tackling a feature length film?
Character. There was so much more room to explore the nuances of both characters in the feature. In a short there's still room for nuance and character development, of course, but in my short I was more interested in exploring an atmosphere, a tone, and letting our characters make their way through it. In the feature I wanted to plumb the depths of who these individuals are and try to understand more about why they behave in the manner which they do.