The apocalypse has fascinated storytellers for decades. Our fear of disappearing is so deeply ingrained in us that it has become a defining genre of literature, cinema and television. It’s understandable—we dress up our doomsday anxieties in sci-fi trappings featuring zombies and aliens, but facing the end is actually the most certain and human thing one must do.
I Think We’re Alone Now is all about introducing the human element into the classic Armageddon tale. The new film, directed by Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale), stars Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) and Elle Fanning (The Beguiled). It follows Del (Dinklage), who believes he’s alone in the world after it has been wiped out. He lives in his small, empty town, content in his solitude and the utopia he’s methodically created for himself. That is, until he is discovered by Grace (Fanning), an interloper whose history and motives are obscure. She inhabits his sacred place and wants to stay. A meditation on loneliness, the movie tackles our struggle for connection and the idea that the walls we build to keep other people out often only succeed in locking us in.
Observer recently sat down with Morano, Dinklage and Fanning to discuss how they managed to portray the last days of humankind with both desperation and humor.
The “end of the world” genre that has been mined for so many stories, but this fees like something more. How do you think the setting makes for a more human story rather than just a sci-fi epic?
Morano: It’s a relationship story. It just so happens that it’s set in the apocalypse. How many movies can we see about the apocalypse where it’s, “OK, there is a problem, we need to solve it, we need to find civilization”? What’s interesting to me is that we’re telling a different part of the story, which is more realistic in many ways: There are people left, and what do you do? I’m very interested in telling stories about human behavior and how different types of personalities interact. Put these characters in a stressful situation and what does that do? How does it change them? Who do they become?
Fanning: That’s why I was drawn to the script. It’s a genre that’s been done so many times, but in this film there are no zombies. It’s a more realistic approach. Peter and I are not these two action heroes—
Fanning: Peter was saying earlier that these two people would never have met in the real world. Their paths wouldn’t have crossed—this relationship would never have been if the apocalypse had not brought them together.
It’s like a silver lining to the end of the world.
Fanning: Yes, exactly.
Dinklage: Apocalypse movies have, sadly, become cliché. And I love zombie movies. 28 Days Later is amazing, but that’s a fantasy. This is the first time I read something and worked on something where the situation is kind of understandable—this is how I could see it actually happening, god forbid. And people who don’t have any sort of scientific knowledge—how would they deal with it? My character thinks he’s pretty OK with this situation, and then [he meets] somebody who’s not and who wants more answers than he does. I just found that really interesting and refreshing. Also, Reed has such a strong visual sense, and there’s not a lot of dialogue in our film—why would there be? There’s just this very strong, beautiful sense of the landscape and of these two people, which Reed naturally does so well. It’s something that has been lost in film, I think.
Speaking of that, early on in the movie there are these wide shots and a lot of empty space, and Peter’s character is the center of the universe. Then, when Grace comes into it, there’s more cross-cutting and there are more close-ups. What were you trying to convey with the visual language of the film?
Morano: It was purposeful that you would see what’s right in front of you. So that means cutting between very tight, close, intimate shots and super-wide, empty spaces. I like the contrast of that. What’s interesting is that when Grace comes in, there is a little more of a middle ground. Now we’re seeing these two people in medium-size shots, but always with the same kind of shallowed-up field. I was shooting with these anamorphic lenses, which distort the background to focus in on these two people. It’s the end of the world—the only thing that matters is them, so everything else just sort of falls away. It was about putting them in the center of the frame.
Elle, you’ve put together an eclectic résumé very quickly. What drew you to this project?
Fanning: This film is so unique. It stands alone compared to other films. It’s an apocalypse drama, but it’s also a beautiful love story that you can read so many different ways. That’s what I love to watch on screen. This is kind of my first love story. Also, the script is very different. It has a comedic side, and I had not really done much comedy. There’s a lot of levity to it, even though it’s very haunting at times. I also feel like my character Grace is more like my true self than any character I’ve played before. She allowed me to bring a lot of my weirdness and my quirks to her.
There is a lot of levity in this film. How do you balance a very serious story about loneliness and sadness with comedy?
Dinklage: Well, everybody works different ways. I’ve worked with so many different actors who have certain ways of working, whether it be the method or not method, but it’s just me and Elle in this movie—and Reed. It was the three of us and our very small crew. It was very intimate. We’re a tight family here, and to come in with some sort of method would have been like [makes a fart noise].
Sometimes actors will get so confused and hurt when someone is laughing at a serious moment, but I dig that. People are strange—we react to things strangely. We cover things up. We laugh when something’s sad. We cry at something funny. It’s more interesting to shoot a person who is not talking, who’s listening. That’s the beauty of this film. There’s nothing more painful than a comedy where nobody’s laughing. There’s nothing more thrilling than a drama where people are laughing.