Adam Smith’s directorial debut is a psychedelic exploration of patriarchal parenting starring Michael Fassbender
At a time where cinema is slowly exploring gender roles, and traditional ideals are being pushed and questioned, Trespass Against Us is a film that grapples with the toxicity of hyper-masculinity. Set in the heart of the Irish traveller community in Britain, the film is centred around Chad, played by Michael Fassbender, and his attempts to live a quiet domesticated life despite growing up in a crime-ridden community under the thumb of his violently patriarchal father – played by Brendan Gleeson. The film follows Chad's struggle reconciling his upbringing and the way he was raised with how he intends to bring up his own child in spectre of his father’s intentions for him and his son.
Director Adam Smith understands the subconscious imparting of masculinity from father to son, having recently become a father for the second time. “Being a father to a son is just such a different relationship,” Smith says. The story reinforces the idea that parents imbibe values and attitudes in their children that shape how they grow up. But it also poses the question as to what happens when you try to refuse who you were brought up to be.
The film also boasts a score from The Chemical Brothers with whom Smith has worked before: he was the art director for their 2015 world tour. He draws links from their music to the script, tied in with the emotional weight of the narrative.
Trespass Against Us draws out the careful intricacies of the father-son relationships between both Chad and his father, and he and his young son, highlighting the tensions and differences between the two. Like most parent-child relationships, healthy or otherwise, there is still an underlying element of love and of duty towards each other, shown by Chad’s passivity and lack of action towards his father. We talked with Smith about the madness of being macho, why the spirit of The Chemical Brothers inspired the script and cuddling your son.
There’s a clear generational gap between the three sons, seen from their perceptions of masculinity. Is that something you were interested in when making the film?
Adam Smith: That’s a really interesting question, and, yes, it was definitely something I was drawn to. I’m not sure how conscious it was. As the film was being made and then being edited, you know, I realised that some of it was actually about the insanity of the macho male – how mad it is. And also, during the time when we were making the film, I became a dad as well.
Adam Smith: I’ve also got a daughter who’s older. Being a father to a son is just such a different relationship. The way I’m acting towards him compared to the way I used to act to my daughter when she was that age is completely different and I’m aware of it. It’s like – hang on, why? He’s upset he’s fallen over, give him a cuddle don’t be like, ‘Come on, get up son!’. And so much of it is conditioned into you. Some of the making of this film was tough for that very reason, that we were making a film about two anti-authoritarian, dysfunctional macho men. And sometimes that energy would spill into the process, you know, and therefore, spill into the whole thing. Sometimes you couldn’t breathe for the testosterone.
As actors, did the atmosphere affect their roles?
Adam Smith: They weren’t doing it consciously, and it wasn’t kind of deliberate. I think when actors are playing parts, often they can’t help that some of the character and some of the dynamics ends up spilling into the real world. But the most important part for me in the film is when Chad’s son asks him, ‘Dad is the world really flat?’, which is something which his grandfather’s told him. And then Chad pauses and says, ‘I don’t know son. You’ll have to find that out for yourself’. And even saying that kind of moves me when thinking about it. It’s colossal. He’s actually saying, I’m gonna father in a different way than I’ve been fathered and I want you to have your own choices. That’s massive.
“As the film was being made (...) I realised that some of it was actually about the insanity of the macho male – how mad it is” – Adam Smith
But at the same time, I kind of empathize with Colby, despite the fact that what he’s doing is not great for a lot of people especially his son and grandson. Yet I understand where that’s coming from because – it’s not in the film – but there’s a backstory to Colby. The reason he does know how to read and write unlike his son, is that he was institutionalised when he was a kid, taken away from his parents. He was in state schools and foster care and in those institutions, he was abused and badly treated. So what he’s trying to do for Chad and Tyson, is protect them from what he sees as that other world, that authority stuff which will harm them and ultimately those people will never allow him into that life. So his motives aren’t vindictive and kind of malicious or cruel in any way, they actually come from a place of love – it’s just misguided.
There are so many different layers to the characters. Chad, for me, seems to want to be able to detach himself from his father in a big way, but then his efforts are completely thwarted.
Adam Smith: He still hasn’t moved out of home.
He sort of still has this energy of already having escaped, in a way, in the way that he conducts himself. He already has a way of escaping his dad, it’s just not fully seen into fruition in a physical, living sense and there’s this connection to The Chemical Brothers and your more visual work and the escapist feel of it all.
Adam Smith: It’s interesting because Chad doesn’t drink or take drugs in the film. In a way his high and his escapism is the adrenaline-packed, thrilling chases, and that’s his buzz. But, yeah, the film is also, for me, about (with a mother or a father) dominating and domineering parenting – and how difficult it is to break away from that, even if you have moved out. But that’s a hard thing to break away from because it’s so much a part of you. You’re conditioned to be like that. And for me, that’s (what) the real personal connection to the film is. I mean, the reason I chose Tom from The Chemical Brothers to do the score was that the script had this energy and this kind of chaos and anarchy, but also this really heartfelt emotion, yet also darkness and all those things are in The Chemical Brother’s music – for me anyway.
When you read the script did you see the characters and themes of escapism forming? Did it leap out to you as something you could work with The Chemical Brothers on in the same audio-visual way you did when they are live?
Adam Smith: Not really consciously no. The spirit of the script felt like the spirit of The Chemical Brothers’ music. Not everyone will get that, but that’s my truth.
Trespass Against Us was screened at Toronto International Film Festival last year and was released in UK cinemas on the 3rd of March.