Rick Alverson made a film, The Mountain, about a womanising doctor who travels across America in the ’50s to perform lobotomies. So who better to embody that character than human negroni Jeff Goldblum, whose awooga eyes and humina humina voice lend themselves perfectly to a lustful doctor who carries around a brain icepick? The doctor is based on real-life brain poker Walter Freeman, who first named the psychosurgical procedure the “lobotomy” before he popularised it.
The Mountain has little dialogue and is slow to watch – on purpose. It’s, in the words of its director Alverson, a salve for the media mundanity we’re consistently fed. “The lobotomy was a procedure to engineer passivity in restless minds,” he says. “In a broad sense, the entertainment industry has a similar motivation.” This is all to mean that watching Love Island or Are You the One? is probably melting your brain. But you already knew that.
This film, Goldblum explains, (literally) taps right into the mind of the viewer to get to the nucleus of self – if self even exists… Goldblum, now 66 and frequently woken up either by his two children or his Olympic gymnast wife Emilie’s foot on his face, enjoys projects that buck narrative convention. He is a self-proclaimed snob, hates The Apprentice, and has a few ideas for how to get a second date.
Everyone came out of the theatre where I watched The Mountain stunned; there was no talking.
I think it’s something. [Director Rick Alverson] means it to be the antithesis of a movie that lobotomises you and provides a story that you expect and that entertains you, distracts you to sleep in some way. This was meant to disturb and disrupt your faith in stories and mythology.
Is that what attracted you to it initially?
It’s one of the things I like. I’m interested in that. It’s what I like about The Master and There Will Be Blood and Death of a Salesman and movies like that. And this book Fantasyland by Kurt Anderson talks about the American character and that movie that the Coen Brothers put out last year, [The Ballad of] Buster Scruggs.
Who do you think needs a lobotomy?
Who needs a lobotomy? Well, nobody needs a lobotomy. That was a bad idea, probably. But we need what this movie provides, which awakes us into seeing our unexamined stories that we find ourselves swimming in and allows us to possibly touch reality and see the difference between the two for the first time. Many people need help. Who of us doesn’t need a little help mentally. [Laughs]
I’m just curious what you think of the whole obsession with celebrity? If you think that’s lobotomising or dangerous? Or do you read The Daily Mail’s celebrity section once in a while?
Well, yeah. [My wife and I] are not letting our kids look at any screens at all. We want them to have eyes, lively experiences with reality and people and nature. Anything probably can be – I’m no expert, one way or another about anything – but any content can be used for intoxication and dulling. Or the opposite. And you know a person of sharp wit can look at a reality show and be awakened by it in another way. I myself have a taste that does not lend itself toward reality shows.
I had a friend who said, “You’ve got to see this Apprentice” years ago, and the people in the scene that I saw go and look at some gold appointments. Something that, to me, is crummy and grotesque. It’s garish. I was like, “Turn this off, for god’s sake.” I aggressively avoided it forever. I’ve never seen another episode nor many other shows like that.
I know I probably am snobbish in one way or another. But I do have the taste I have. And I’m not attracted to those things myself. I like to have fun too and turn on something dumb, but not much these days. I like to watch football. I have a sort of a guilty pleasure around the Pittsburgh Steelers, so I still watch that you know and get overly involved. So, like that. You listen to Noam Chomsky and he would say the entire consumerist culture is is ready made for getting people to be uninvolved politically and inactive. So smarter people than myself would say, yes.
I have no set prejudices against one thing or another. But my taste is toward movies these days and material that keeps me feeling like I’m awake, awakening.
In this movie, your character is a womaniser.
I was wondering if you had any advice on how to get a second date?
With a woman or man or anything, how to get a second date?
Well, I’m no expert at advice, but a second date, there are all sorts of ways to follow up. I think the answer is, there’s no broad brush. Everything has to be specific. I would say don’t be manipulative and don’t be strategic. Be yourself, whatever that is. And of course these days, the life sciences tell us that there’s no such thing [as being yourself].
Do they say that? I’ve never heard that before.
Oh, yeah, yeah. Read Yuval Harari. The major religion of the last century really has been humanism, which is that there’s something in us that’s individual and if we contact it, it will give us all the answers.
Life sciences [argue that] is we have no free will even. Free will is, yes you want the things that you desire, but why do you desire the things you do? Why do you think the things you do? You don’t choose to think things you do. They come and go. Some people say the best you can do is watch them. And get in touch with the reality of your breath and and your thoughts coming and going. So be authentically whatever you are.
Don’t pretend, don’t do anything in order to get anywhere. Just present yourself openly. Try to be open. And be actually interested in this person with whom you may want to have a second date. See if there’s anything that you specifically are interested in about them. Or express to them something, open up about your interests. The most attractive thing is somebody who’s interested in something.
Yeah. Passion, conviction. Engagement… Why? You’re going on a second date?
Not right now.
The Mountain is out in US cinemas now.