God Gave Rock & Roll to Her
Last month, Electrick Children had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. Which is pretty remarkable when you consider that the film's writer/director, Rebecca Thomas, is still in film school and Electrick Children is her first feature. Even more remarkable is that Thomas didn't even start writing the script until last April, which means barely 11 months passed between the moment she first put pen to paper (or finger to iPad) and when her movie opened at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. If Thomas weren't so nice, I would hate her with great enthusiasm.
Electrick Children is a modern-day retelling of the Virgin Mary story set in a small fundamentalist Mormon colony in rural Utah. Thomas' story follows Rachel (the brilliant Julia Garner), a 15-year-old innocent who believes God has caused her to immaculately conceive a child by way of a rock song she hears on a forbidden cassette tape. Convinced that the voice on the tape is the father of the child, Rachel sneaks off to Las Vegas in search of love and religious revelation.
"I was raised in Las Vegas, in a normal Mormon upbringing," Thomas says. "But my grandparents lived in southern Utah, and we would visit them and see the FLDS [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints]. I was intrigued by it because I had seen it my whole life and wondered about the places where Mormonism and fundamentalism overlapped. I really wanted to adapt the Virgin Mary story, and I thought if there was ever a girl who thought she had gotten pregnant by God or by some force, it would probably be someone from one of these sheltered places."
Thomas wrote the screenplay for Electrick Children after her second year at the Columbia University School of the Arts. She and her producer, Jessica Caldwell, also a Columbia student, had planned to shoot the film on a microbudget simply for the experience, but after producer Richard Neustadter expressed interest in Thomas' screenplay, Electrick Children suddenly had a real budget and access to a casting director. Soon, Billy Zane (Titanic), Cynthia Watros (Lost), and Rory Culkin (You Can Count on Me) were onboard.
To capture the hidden life of a notoriously secretive and suspicious sect, Thomas visited several polygamist colonies in Utah. She wanted to translate, without judgment, the rituals of a group that has been plagued in recent years by allegations of widespread, even institutional, abuse of children and women. Though the plot of Electrick Children hinges on the forced marriage of a minor, Thomas says she was more interested in exploring faith through the eyes of a believer than in debating the more controversial religious practices of the FLDS.
"The movie is subjective; it's told through Rachel's eyes, and I don't think she can see the controversial things," Thomas says. "As the audience, since you're in her POV, you can feel that there's something else going on, but you still remain in her subjective view believing this thing really happened, but she never really gets into the details of it. She just accepts this thing and goes with it.
"I want people to think about the repercussions of faith in a good light and in a negative light. I want there to be a conversation. I want to keep my mind open. I love existence and I love talking about it. I love thinking about faith and what it means and if there's something else out there or if it's just us. That's something that haunts me, and I'm sure you'll see more movies from me about it."
Electrick Children, Emerging Visions, Thursday, March 15, 5:30pm, Violet Crown