There are basic human needs which we all seek out in our lives. The needs for shelter, food, friendship, even love, tend to lend themselves as driving forces for our very existence. Isolation creates rifts in the patterns of our lives, and can prevent us from attaining those needs. Isolation and alienation to an extreme extent will no doubt change a person. In Child of God, based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, we are invited to experience just how extreme isolation, alienation, and devastation can take hold of a person’s soul, and what they are drawn do to overcome these obstacles.
The screenplay for Child of God was co-written by James Franco and Vince Jolivette. The film was Directed by James Franco, and he also makes an on-screen appearance in the film as well. Set in a small town by the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, in the 1960’s, the story is about Lester Ballard (prolifically played by actor Scott Haze). Lester is an empty, abandoned soul, having tragically lost his parents at a young age, he grew up in isolation from the community. That isolation created numerous social difficulties for Lester, and both his speech and concepts of reality suffered under the circumstances.
In a statement from James Franco, he refers to Lester as an “anti-protagonist,” which is a very accurate term to describe the nature of his actions compared to the audience’s need to emotionally respond to a leading character. You almost want to feel bad for him; you almost want to have compassion, especially when you learn of why he was isolated all his life; in some scenes you almost want to smile, laugh with him. Almost. As Scott Haze explains, “Lester was acting out of a place of wanting love, rather than feeling hate for society, being motivated out of resentment. Lester wanted to be loved, like we all do and there have been times when that’s been denied from all of us.”
James Franco sums it up, “Lester is a killer and a disturbed individual, and in no way is his behavior condonable, but in the realms of art, a character like him can be used to study what is inside all of us. And heck, he’s even a little funny. He’s a bumbling killer. Half Deliverance, half Charlie Chaplin.”
An interesting twist connects “Child of God” with the Horror Genre. Some of the inspiration for the character of Lester Ballard came from the 1950’s serial killer Ed Gein. Gein also played a part in the inspirations behind Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (among countless other films).
Scott Haze is a method actor, to the truest extent. In order to prepare for the emotionally and physically demanding role of Lester Ballard, Haze spent three and half months in self-imposed isolation, living in caves in Seiverville, Tennessee. Haze said, “I lost 45 pounds subsisting on apples and fish, and learned the hard way that a campfire in a cave needs adequate ventilation or the smoke will agitate the bats.” He forced himself to experience the living conditions of Lester Ballard, and more over he forced himself to shut out his connection with society. He added, “You don’t have Internet access, or the numerous things that you normally have in life to occupy yourself, so you invent things and talk to yourself. I made friends with these things that were not there.” The dedication from Haze’s thorough preparation truly shines through his performance. Haze presents an intense, gritty, and gruesome character, with which the audience somehow still can’t help but sympathize with.
Also noteworthy, appearing in film is actor Jim Parrack, who plays “Deputy Cotton.” Parrack is mostly known in the horror community for his role of Hoyt Fortenberry in the HBO series True Blood.
Director of Photography, Christina Alexandra Voros, also worked with James Franco on As I Lay Dying. Their directorial vision has gifted the audience with an intense, raw, and very dark look into the effects of isolation vs. the needs of human nature.Child of God is in theaters now