Monday, March 23, 2015

Diane Thomas's "In Wilderness"

Diane Thomas is the author of the psychological thriller In Wilderness and The Year the Music Changed: The Letters of Achsa McEachern-Isaacs and Elvis Presley. She was once the film reviewer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Here Thomas dreamcasts an adaptation of her new novel, In Wilderness:
In 1966, Katherine Reid, a successful professional woman dying of a mysterious wasting disease, retreats to an isolated cabin in a southern Appalachian wilderness to live out her last days. Also in the forest is Danny, a 20-year-old former reconnaissance sniper and washout from the Vietnam War with what today would be recognized as PTSD. He stalks her obsessively from the moment she arrives and eventually makes his presence known. The two begin an erotic relationship that threatens them both.

In my film of In Wilderness, either Julianne Moore or Reese Witherspoon would play Katherine. It’s a role with a lot of range. I’m not sure I would have considered Witherspoon before Wild. Her brilliant against-type portrayal of a woman who goes so totally out of control is what won me. For Katherine’s early patrician aspects, Moore or Witherspoon might channel Old Hollywood, say Kathryn Grayson or Jennifer Jones.

There’s one hurdle for Witherspoon: She would need dark hair to contrast with Danny’s anemic, southern Cracker blondness—his scraggly little beard and tangled, greasy hair. Possibly brilliant, he had one scholarship year of university education before the war and dreamed of becoming a lawyer. Now he is wiry and feral, devoid of all hope. And out of his obsession for Katherine, he is dangerous. This is a role that could make an unknown actor’s career. He would need the scary unpredictability of an early (Easy Rider) Dennis Hopper, the ratty twitchiness of a young Kiefer Sutherland, the focused intensity and tortured tenderness of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper. Ideally, he would also have Matthew McConaughey’s skinny muscularity and his wry and mildly threatening southern drawl.

In Wilderness will of course be an independent film: No car chases, just outstanding acting. And superlative direction. For a long time I didn’t think my novel could be made into a movie. Then I saw Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan while I was still working on it, and my opinion changed. Aronofsky showed a bent toward the surrealism that presages madness, which is what a film version of In Wilderness requires. But after Swan he veered off into fantasy; I was saddened to lose him. My attention next turned to Kathryn Bigelow after I saw The Hurt Locker. She was so good with war, surely she could plumb Danny’s soul. And probably Katherine’s, too. Plus, as a Santa Fean she’s homefolks.

Then last year, volunteering with the Santa Fe Film Festival, I was privileged to interview producer Michael Fitzgerald, there to present his newest film, Closer to the Moon. Though mentored by director John Huston, Fitzgerald does not himself direct, but remains actively involved from start to finish in all aspects of his films. He turned out a wonderful version of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood for his first screen endeavor. (She had lived with his family for a time in London, when Fitzgerald was a boy.) Huston directed it. I saw the film not long before beginning work on my first version of In Wilderness in 1980. There’s a lot of Hazel Motes in Danny.

Okay, what do I want to see on the publicity posters for In Wilderness? How about “Produced by Michael Fitzgerald, starring Reese Witherspoon/Julianne Moore and Dennis Hopper/Kiefer Sutherland/Matthew McConaughey/Bradley Cooper, and directed by John Huston/Darren Aronofsky/Kathryn Bigelow”?

That’s it. So what if Hopper, Sutherland, McConaughey, and Cooper are too old and Huston’s dead? There’s still Witherspoon and Moore. And I can dream, can’t I?
Visit Diane Thomas's website.

Writers Read: Diane Thomas.

The Page 69 Test: In Wilderness.

--Marshal Zeringue