- Keith Bernstein/Netflix
Duncan Jones has wowed us his whole career with movies like “Moon,” “Source Code,” and “Warcraft,” but his latest is his most ambitious work yet – which might explain why it took over a decade to get made.
“Mute” is a futuristic who-done-it set in Berlin starring Alexander Skarsgård as a mute bartender named Leo. In the film, Leo must navigate the shady underworld of the city, filled with unique characters like two ex-pats Cactus (Paul Rudd) and Duck (Justin Theroux), to track down his missing girlfriend.
With the backing of Netflix (which released the movie on Friday), this movie that is part “Blade Runner,” part David Fincher fever dream, has been let out to the masses.
And if you’ve seen it, you probably want more insight on what you’ve experienced.
Here Jones chatted with Business Insider about three standout scenes from the movie, and one that’s his favorite.
Warning: Spoilers coming if you haven’t seen “Mute” yet:
The Sam Bell clones cameo
Sam Bell is the beloved main character of Jones’ debut feature “Moon,” which follows an astronaut, played by Sam Rockwell, at the end of his three-year stint working on the Moon who realizes he’s a clone. At the end of the movie we see him get off the Moon and head back to Earth (there’s a lot more to this movie, you should really see it if you haven’t yet).
Jones always planned to continue telling the Sam Bell story in future films, and in “Mute” he does that by having the story take place when Bell has landed back on Earth, and is testifying about the misuse of clones by the company that does work on the Moon.
In a scene where Leo walks into a coffeehouse, the TV screen behind him shows a live look-in on the Bell testimony, which is interrupted by other Sam Bells who are in the courtroom.
And if you look close enough, you can catch “free the Sams” graffiti throughout the movie in shots of the streets of Berlin.
“I wanted to have some way of not exactly wrapping up ‘Moon’ in this film but at least giving those who are curious about what happened to Sam an answer to that in this film,” Jones said. “But at the same time, ‘Mute’ is its own story and I wanted to see if there was a way that I can do that and at the same time not be too distracting from the film that we’re trying to make.”
Jones had Rockwell come in for a day of shooting. Rockwell had numerous wardrobe changes, including beards and wigs put on him to play the Sam Bell clones.
Jones said he hopes to close out the Sam Bell storyline in a third film.
“For the third film you’ll see Sam again probably in the same way you saw him in ‘Mute’ – him in the universe of the story being told,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking, but it’s flexible.”
Cactus confronts Duck
In a movie that has a lot of disturbing moments, one of the most chilling is a scene an hour into the movie when Cactus goes to Duck’s office. There he notices Duck’s been secretly videotaping his female teen patients, which enrages Cactus, since he’s the father of a little girl, and leads to the two war buddies (which Jones based on the friendship between “Trapper” John McIntyre and “Hawkeye” Pierce in Robert Altman’s “M*A*S*H“) having a heated encounter.
The scene highlights how dark Rudd and Theroux got in their performances for this movie, which Jones said came from shooting the movie chronologically as much as possible.
“Paul and Justin were able to get some of the fun friendly scenes done earlier, so there was already a rhythm before we allowed them to sort of play with ‘How do I get furious with someone that I’m normally cool with?'” Jones said.
Jones said he also allowed both actors to improvise as much as they wanted on the movie, often doing a few takes of he and Michael Robert Johnson’s screenplay and then letting them do some takes on their own.
The director said the biggest challenge with this scene was getting Rudd to a point where he begins to slap around and shove Theroux.
“I think I did push Paul a little bit to be more physical,” Jones said. “Between the three of us we agreed we’d work our way up to really whacking Justin, but Paul needed to be the psychopath in that moment. We had dropped hints over the course of the film, he needed to be the violent guy at this moment.”
Cactus’ final moments
- Keith Bernstein/Netflix
You get the feeling in “Mute” that sooner or later the bad guys are going to get some kind of gruesome end, and Jones doesn’t disappoint with Cactus.
Leo’s journey to find his love Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh) leads him to Cactus’ basement at the end of the movie, where he learn her fate. Leo then avenges her by putting Cactus’ trusty knife through his throat.
The graphic death was how Jones always saw Cactus going out, but he also wanted to give the buildup another darkly twisted feel like the Cactus/Duck confrontation. So he wrote Cactus taunting Leo and cracking jokes before his death.
“I wanted a weird energy and for me it comes out of that excitement Cactus gets out of confrontation,” Jones said. “He carries that in this scene, he doesn’t want this to be the situation, he didn’t want Leo to show up, but he comes down those stairs and he knows he’s going to have this confrontation and Cactus gets off on that.”
And playing off the Trapper/Hawkeye vibe, he also wanted Cactus to have a swagger like he’s going to survive the encounter with Leo.
“He thinks he’s going to get out of it,” Jones said. “He’s always thought he and Duck are smarter than anyone else around them.”
Duncan’s favorite scene
For Jones, the scene he says makes him laugh every time he sees it is the scene where Leo tracks down Oswald, who lives at the address Naadirah wrote on Leo’s pad before she disappeared.
Oswald (played by Dominic Monaghan) opens the door dressed in a Geisha outfit and has a whip. Leo forces himself in and finds that Oswald is having some fun with two sex robots. Leo finds a picture of Naadirah and has a brief scuffle with Oswald, as the sex robots turn back on, before he leaves.
“The comic book sensibility of ‘Mute’ is really shown in that scene, everything is turned up to 11 with the strangeness,” Jones said.
In fact, Jones admits he didn’t know at first who to cast for the role because it was so strange. But he’s been friends with Monaghan for a while and thought he would be fun to have in the role.
“He was on the other side of the planet and he flew to Berlin for half a day to shoot that scene,” Jones said.
And where did they get those crazy sex robots?
“We had them built,” he said. “They were all puppeteer, so there were two puppeteers on the top of the set, one underneath the set, and when I called action they would all start thrusting and pumping in unison while the actors tried to focus on their work.”