June 28, 2007
Mia Goldman’s film is an ‘Open Window’ into trauma and recovery
One night in 1989, Mia Goldman awakened to find a menacing stranger sitting on top of her, ordering her to keep her mouth shut or he would "shoot [her] brains out" with a gun he had placed on a nightstand. |
At the time, Goldman, a film editor, was living in a two-story condominium in rural Virginia, on location with the film, "Crazy People." Her assailant revealed that he knew she was working on the movie, that he had been stalking her and that he had entered the condo through a downstairs window she had left open a crack for air.
Over the next five hours, he brutally raped, tortured and beat Goldman, covering her body with bruises and injuring her neck. In the aftermath, she developed a heart murmur, endured cervical surgeries, experienced flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and lost her boyfriend, who had tried to be kind but ultimately could not deal with his own feelings of trauma and violation.
Goldman says it took her six years to work through her depression and to heal, which she did with the help of her psychoanalyst, her family and her growing spiritual connection to Judaism. She drew on her experience to write and direct her debut feature, "Open Window," which premieres on Showtime July 16 at 8 p.m.
The intense, intimate drama revolves around Izzy (Robin Tunney), a struggling photographer, Izzy's fiancé, Peter (Joel Edgerton), and how their relationship unravels after she is raped by a man who enters her studio through an open window.
Both Izzy and Peter are devastated by the rape: "I wanted to show how the act violates not only the woman, but also the man -- and how it creates circles of pain that may extend to the entire family," Goldman says.
But the 52-year-old filmmaker does not intend the movie to be a "rape film," per se. "The specificity is rape, but I wanted the drama to be about how an individual may be able to survive any kind of trauma," she says. "After my experience, I learned that I could go through something horrible, and that it didn't have to destroy me. I felt that I was right on the line -- that I could have been ruined but I didn't want to give the rapist that. So I muddled through, I made a lot of mistakes, and I found that if I persevered I could become stronger, I could be brave. And that is what I wanted to convey."
Jewish texts informed her film, Goldman adds during a conversation at her home, where a hall is lined with expressive portraits of rabbis and landscapes of Jerusalem.
In her bedroom, volumes by authors such as Adin Steinsaltz and Joseph Soloveitchik line a bookshelf. "Man's Search for Meaning," by the Auschwitz survivor and psychoanalyst Victor Frankl, deals with life after the Holocaust and directly inspired how Goldman's film depicts loss and the possibility for healing, she says. The movie -- which won best picture at the 2007 Reel Women International Film Festival -- was an official selection at the Sundance and Jerusalem film festivals and has screened at a Los Angeles high school and the UCLA School of Medicine, among other venues.
"Audience members have come up to me and said, 'I have cancer' or 'I lost my husband in a car accident, and this is my story,'" the filmmaker says.
Struggle and transformation is a theme that has run not only through Goldman's life, but the life of her remarkable family. Her grandfather, Julian Goldman, grew up in an impoverished family that had escaped Russian pogroms; he became the owner of a chain of department stores and an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- but never spoke to FDR again after the president declined to bomb the railroad tracks to Auschwitz.
Mia Goldman's father, the screenwriter Bo Goldman ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), scraped along financially for years before achieving fiscal and artistic success. (His family disapproved when he married an Episcopalian, Mia's mother.)
"I was the oldest of six children, and we lived this haphazard existence, always on the edge, borrowing other people's summer houses and running around barefoot," Goldman recalls of her childhood. "My parents were loving but exhausted and overwhelmed. When I was 10, I was hired out to work as a baby sitter. By the time I was in the 12th grade, we had moved 20 times."
Goldman paid for her first year at Vassar with a scholarship and by working as an apprentice film editor in New York. At 19, she left school for a time after she lapsed into a suicidal depression, prompted by an identity crisis; she began seeing the renowned analyst, Dr. Abraham Gottesman, in Westwood.
Gottesman encouraged Goldman -- who had been raised Episcopalian -- to explore her budding interest in Judaism, if only in order to dismiss it. Eventually she started attending services at Sinai Temple and converted to Judaism under the auspices of the Conservative movement.
Temple Sinai's Rabbi David Wolpe officiated at her marriage to a Jewish physician in 1997. Along the way, she edited films such as "Choose Me" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."
Goldman believes her work with Gottesman -- which lasted until his death in 2005 -- gave her insight into the psyche that helped save her life back in 1989.
"I intuited that my rapist had suffered terribly; that the rape was an expression of his anger, and I kept trying to make a human connection with him," she says, quietly. "I noticed that he smelled like Irish Spring; the fact that he had washed for me made me feel like, in a perverse way, he saw this as a date -- and that just maybe I could get through to him."
At one point, Goldman refused to engage in a particular act because "I don't love you," she told the intruder, causing him to take pause (Izzy makes the same declaration in "Open Window"). As Goldman's ordeal drew to an end, however, she realized the man still intended to kill her, and she spent more than two hours negotiating for her life. "In a strange way I felt grateful to him when he let me go, because I had seen all those rape movies, like 'A Clockwork Orange,' where victims are severely maimed or murdered." To make "Open Window," Goldman watched classic films, such as Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon" and Ingmar Berman's "The Virgin Spring," which inexplicitly depict horrifying rapes. "So many movies depict wide shots and men thrusting, but I did not want to be so literal," she says.
"People think they see a rape in 'Open Window,' but there is no rape depicted," she adds. "Rather, I tried to use montages of close-up, intimate images -- like Izzy's limp hand moving during her ordeal -- so that the viewer feels the cumulative effect of many shots."
One scene -- a close-up of Izzy's toe plugging a dripping bathtub spout -- suggests the sensitivity to sound experienced by post-traumatic stress victims. "It's also her desire to stop the 'sound' of the rape that keeps replaying in her head," Goldman says.
"You can become so sensitive to sound, you feel almost like an alien," Goldman adds. "You feel like you're alone, and that's the reason I made the movie, [so people will] know that in the aftermath of a trauma you don't have to be so alone as I had felt."