IN A PARALLEL dimension, Mute would have been Duncan Jones’ debut feature, but in the real world, because of a confluence of happy accidents — including a writers’ strike that freed up the soundstages of Shepperton Studios — that honour went to cerebral thriller Moon. Jones followed up with the futuristic Source Code and, after detouring into fantasy with Warcraft, he is now returning to sci-fi and his long-gestating passion project, a tale set in a neon-soaked Berlin 30 years from now.
Ironically, though, Mute (which is coming directly to Netflix) was supposed to play out in the modern day, telling the neo-noir story of Leo, a mute American ex-pat looking for his missing girlfriend in the city’s seedy underworld. But after a lot of “tinkering”, Jones’ story found its mojo, growing to incorporate such hot-button topics as the corporatisation of everyday life and, in a contrast heightened by having Leo come from an Amish family, the tyranny of new tech. Says Jones, “What I found really interesting about moving it into the future is that when you live in a society that’s become so reliant on technology, how do you function if you’re technophobic?” Despite its shimmering, state-of-the-art surface, Mute is firmly rooted in the past, notably a slew of very different films made between 1967 and 1982 that are represented by the film’s sleazy, mysterious villains, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. “It’s a thriller with a very weird tone,” says Jones. “I’ve said in the past that it’s my homage to Blade Runner but, in a way, the references to that are more superficial than the references to things like Robert Altman’s
M*A*S*H, Paul Schrader’s Hardcore and Don Siegel’s Point Blank.”
Alexander Skarsgård, who plays Leo, namechecks two further influences. “I didn’t know Duncan at all — I was just a fan — and then he sent me the script,” he says. “I thought it was such a different story. It’s a sci-fi but with these very dark film-noir elements to it. It definitely has that Maltese Falcon, Casablanca film-noir vibe. Tonally, it’s like the movies from the ’40s, although we’re not trying to tap into a specific movie.” Well, that’s not strictly true. Fans of Moon will be thrilled to see elements of that story recurring — a sly tip of the fedora to the film that started it all. DAMON WISE
Alexander Skarsgård’s Leo seeks his missing girlfriend in a future Berlin. Below: Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux are the crooks he’s up against.