Jamieson Pearce’s Adult touches upon those awkward moral grey areas where relationships, as defined by a society, aren’t supposed to cross. Without spoiling the film, Adult tracks a mother’s journey towards closure, it deals with themes of grief, mother/son relationships and empathy, but most importantly it does one of the great things that art can do, which is to provide a space for ethical questions and boundaries to be queried and challenged. Having already played festivals world-wide, including South by Southwest, DN is proud to be premiering Jameison’s complex story online and spoke with him about how he manifested these ideas onto the screen.
What’s the origin of Adult? What made you want to tell this story?
I adapted the screenplay from a short story by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas called Porn 1. When I first read it, it left an immediate emotional impact. I remember putting the book down, and falling back into my pillows, feeling absolutely gutted. The way the story incorporates such loaded ideas around motherhood, grief, sexuality, guilt and shame into such a tight dramatic premise is thrilling. And this character of the mother, who on the one hand portrays such determination in her attempt to find some sort of absolution, but who just can’t truly reconcile herself with her reality. I found her heartbreaking.
It was the complexity of this character and this situation that made me think it could be a great story for the screen. The audience aren’t sure whether they want to be on this woman’s side or not, which I love. At the time of reading this story, I’d recently lost a friend to suicide, the reasons for which were linked to his sense of shame of being gay. And so the depiction of grief in Porn 1 resonated with me particularly strongly and further motivated me to tell this story.
Adult is led by such a beautiful and subtle performance by Victoria Haralabidou. What was it like working with her to create the character of Elena?
I am very fortunate to have worked with Victoria. When we first met and we were discussing the character, she pushed me to justify my choices. She really took on the role on and interrogated the script to make sure all of the character’s actions felt true to her. She also gave me the great advice to steer away from any dialogue and make sure the story was communicated through images.
She gave me the great advice to steer away from any dialogue and make sure the story was communicated through images.
She has the emotional expressiveness to convey the story without words. I’m in the midst of cutting another film with the same editor of Adult and as she said the other day, Victoria has the most captivating face that she’s ever edited. She’s a formidable actress and every frame was brilliant. Thanks to her, Elena has that combination of strength and fragility that was essential for this character.
I love the juxtaposition of the scene where the mother is watching the video and the scenes with the younger boy, it totally counteracts the objectification of pornography, was this your intention?
Yeah, that’s interesting, I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms. Of course that makes sense, but my intention wasn’t about characterising the porn industry in a particular way – I didn’t want Adult to have any anti-porn narrative. The most important element of these juxtapositions for me was that for Elena, the pornstar on the TV is her son, the same little boy that she’s lost. But of course, he’s not the same little boy that she’s lost, and her inability to accept him as an adult has led to her losing him altogether.
My intention wasn’t about characterising the porn industry in a particular way – I didn’t want Adult to have any anti-porn narrative.
For me, the other important element in these juxtapositions is how the same gestures of touch, with very different meanings, are used to cut between time. Images of touch were a strong motif in the short story that I wanted to maintain in my adaptation. I hope that this series of juxtapositions culminate to underline in the final flashback of the film, the absence of touch. In this way, I wanted to subtly underline Elena’s ultimate state: that she is alone in her grief.
Adult played some pretty large festivals! What have been your favourite responses to it so far?
Two responses really stand out for me. We had our international premiere at South by Southwest, which was truly wonderful, more than I’d hoped for. Amidst the whirlwind of that festival, there was one guy who complimented me on the film at its first screening, then got hold of me again several days later wanting to reiterate how just much the film had affected him. He said that it had tapped into something for him and his experience of grief. That was really gratifying to hear.
I also presented the film as part of an immersive installation at Melbourne Queer Film Festival. I recreated the spaces of the film, an adult store, a dark liminal space, and Elena’s lounge room. Five people entered at a time, exploring the spaces, and eventually sat down in Elena’s lounge room where they watched the film on the TV. After one of those screenings, this soft-spoken, polite young man approached me. He wanted to say that it was wrong that the mother watched her son’s porn-video. He kept invoking this moralistic, black and white view that it was simply one thing that a mother should never see. We had a really interesting discussion, and it was fascinating to see how the film had provoked him, even if it hadn’t gotten him to the empathetic place that I would have liked.
And finally, what are you working on at the moment?
I’m just putting the finishing touches on my next short, which is called Strangers. It’s set in an aged care home and it looks at what happens there when two women with Alzheimers are found in bed together. The film focuses on the divergent responses of the son and daughter of one of these women, and the home itself. I’m making the film through a fellowship at Sydney Film Festival, where it will premiere in June. Apart from that, I’m chipping away on those pipe-dreams of a TV series and a feature.