Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney talked to Stephen Dunn about his directorial debut Closet Monster:why he wanted to tell this story, its magical realist elements, and how he got us inside Oscar’s head.
When Stephen Dunn’s directorial debut, Closet Monster, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, it picked up the award for Best Canadian Feature at the festival. A few months later, it was selected as one of Canada’s Top Ten films of 2015 before making the rounds at LGBT film festivals this year. Now, it’s finally opening in the U.S., almost a year after its world premiere.
Set in St. John’s Newfoundland, the film tells the story of high school senior Oscar (Connor Jessup), who dreams of moving to New York City to be a makeup artist in film. Although he’s never responded positively to his female best friend’s sexual advances, he has trouble coming to terms with his own sexuality, scarred since childhood from witnessing a hate crime. The film tells the story of his sexual awakening and self-actualization, as he struggles to deal with his broken family, helped by his trusty hamster (voiced by Isabella Rosselini).
When Closet Monster screened at Frameline, San Francisco’s LGBTQ Film Festival, I talked to Dunn about internalized homophobia, magical realism, and how he got us inside Oscar’s head.
Seventh Row (7R): What made you want to make this film?
Stephen Dunn (SD): It’s a very personal film. I wanted to make a film about internalized homophobia, which I feel is something that’s very hard to articulate for a lot of gay men. Internalized homophobia is something that you don’t fully even understand when you’re experiencing it yourself. I suffered from that for a long time. I dealt with a lot of self-hatred when I was growing up. I went to school with an ulcer every day because I was so afraid. I didn’t even know. I wanted to make a film about overcoming that.
I had the idea of an image of Oscar pulling a hate crime weapon out of his stomach as a way of releasing himself from fear. The whole idea of the film centered around that one image, of physically removing fear from the body as a way of overcoming it.
I remember when I first came out, that feeling of exhaustion and pain, like ripping off a really horrible bandaid on a really hairy part of your skin. It felt painful to come out. But after I did it, I felt so empowered. But it was like literally ripping a part of myself out of my body. I wanted to make a film about that one image and tell it in a surreal body horror, magic realist kind of way. That’s my film language that I’ve always worked with in my shorts and writing.