Movies about disconnection and loneliness in L.A. are almost a cinematic staple at this point. In 1999, auteur Paul Thomas Anderson gave his take on the subgenre with Magnolia, a three-hour-plus epic involving former quiz show stars, an aggressively macho self-help guru, and frogs. Lots and lots of frogs. In 2005, director Paul Haggis gave us Crash, a meditation on race and privilege that somehow won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Mukunda Michael Dewil continues that tradition with 2022’s Collide, which sees multiple narratives crash, er, collide (apologies) with each other over the course of one night at a swanky restaurant. In an interview with Digital Trends, the director talks about how he juggled three different narratives and how the theme of connection ties his sprawling film together.
Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: How did Collide come about?
Michael Mukunda Dewil: I always liked Magnolia and Crash and other similar multinarrative movies that connect and interweave with each other. Also, I’m competing with TikTok and short attention spans, so one of the great ways to keep tension going is just to put three movies into one. You just do that and you get to have these organic heightened moments in the film.
I had the idea for the bomb under the chair previously as another feature, which I never finished. Second, I always liked the idea of someone finding a whole lot of cocaine washed up on the beach, thrown out by drug runners who were cops first, and how cocaine can just change someone’s life. So I had those ideas, and I was looking for a third, and then I found one in Jim Gaffigan’s character, whose wife is having an affair with the restaurant manager.
My main challenge was putting them together. What environment would work for all three? The restaurant gave me those different options to do it. I really like the way that I was able to seamlessly do it because the restaurant allows you to bring all those different narratives together in a cohesive way.
Like you mentioned, Magnolia and Crash have sprawling narratives but are set in different places. Your film is largely confined to a restaurant, yet still has to juggle multiple storylines. What were some of the challenges in pulling that off?
My chief concern was to engage the audience but have them be unaware of what’s coming next. I wanted to give them enough information so that they’re actually comprehending the story.
From a cinematography point of view, we used a technique seen in Succession, which uses very messy, out-of-focus camerawork with lots of foreground blurs, to link all three stories. They are separate narratives, but the cinematography was consistent throughout.
How did you keep track of all the narratives and how they would intersect? Was it just purely in the script? Did you storyboard it?
I would say 80% of what’s in the script was preplanned. And then in the edit, we just rearranged scenes so they would occur later in the narrative. You have to pay attention to the rhythm of the edit. You can’t have too much sugar. You’ve got to have a palate cleanser every now and again. So you can’t have too much tension. You have to drop it back to normal again.
With a narrative that has three stories, there’s a luxury of options that you don’t have with one story. I can choose heightened moments. I’ve got a lot of fat that I can get rid of if I chose to do so. The three stories give you a lot of room in an edit to maintain a cohesive narrative.
Collide sports an impressive cast of veteran and new actors such as Ryan Philippe, The Sopranos‘ Drea De Matteo, and comedian Jim Gaffigan. Was that intentional on your part to showcase the wide array of characters in your movie?
Yeah, I wanted to have a nice mix of people. And I think we’ve got young, bright-faced actors and established people like Drea and Ryan. I think that that combination worked together pretty well.
The film touches on a lot of things: race, economic disparity, and drugs. Is there a central message behind the movie? Is there a commentary that you wanted to make about these issues that the movie raises? Or is it just organic from the characters and what they must deal with on this one night in their lives?
Everyone is searching for meaningful relationships. There was a study done that the happiest people are those who have a large community of friends. It doesn’t have to be close friends. It can be uncles and aunts or whatever. But the more meaningful relationships are, the more satisfied and happy they are.
The characters in this movie are looking externally for things like revenge, but really they are looking to connect. Everyone in this movie is suffering equally. If one can show a little compassion and kindness, you can actually go a long way to actually doing all of this external healing that these characters are trying to with the racism, sexism, greed, and violence they’ve experienced. All of that is coming from a lack of connection and dissatisfied people acting against this suffering.
That’s a very powerful answer. That might be the same answer to my final question: What do you want viewers to take away from this movie after they’ve watched it?
Everyone’s reaching and often reaching in the wrong direction. What we have is enough. We can just give a little bit of what we have. I mean they say that one of the greatest ways to help depression is to give out. That selfless act gets rid of some of the absorption in our suffering. If every little person gives out a little bit, you can actually do some good.
Sometimes, we can actually take a little time to try and become strong ourselves and then we can actually go out and help people see that we’re looking for love in the wrong places. I think that’s what the movie is [about]. And if we try and connect a little bit more on a human level, we can get that satisfaction that we’re looking for.
Collide is currently in theaters and is available on demand Aug. 12.
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