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“We Tried to Make a Hopeful and Heartwarming Story”: ‘THR Presents’ Q&A With the Filmmaker and Star of ‘Narcosis’

Martijn de Jong’s feature directorial debut, Narcosisis off to a dream start as the Netherlands recently selected the Dutch drama to compete on its behalf for a nomination for Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards.

Narcosis, which de Jong co-wrote with his partner Laura van Dijk, chronicles a young family that has become rudderless after losing their patriarch (John de Fedja van Huêt) a year earlier during a deep-sea diving expedition. While not an autobiographical story, de Jong and van Dijk infused the story with many personal details from their own lives. Perhaps the most notable example is that the matriarch of the family, Merel, played by Dutch actress Thekla Reuten, is a medium, who turns out to be de Jong’s own mother. Ultimately, de Jong was relieved when Reuten embraced this particular character detail, since the Dutch often stigmatize clairvoyance. “In the Netherlands we have a very pragmatic culture, so it’s almost dangerous to make this film and give [Merel] this ability,” de Jong said during a recent THR Presents panel, powered by Vision Media.

Reuten added: “I myself have been a client of people who are clairvoyant, and I felt very helped by that. So I was very open to it and very happy that she played such a beautiful and metaphorical role in this movie.”

Merel, like her two children, Boris (Sepp Ritsema) and Ronya (Lola van Zoggel), grieves in her own unique way, and instead of using her psychic gift to find out what exactly happened to her husband during his exploration of an underwater cave, she chooses not only to turn off her ability, but also to shut down her home business that brought comfort to many other grieving people. According to de Jong, her character is simply not ready to face her profound loss. “There is no body, and if she sees it with this ability, she will know for sure that she is gone,” says de Jong.

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Reuten added: “Since the duel investigation, [I learned] how often one basically gets stuck in the first stage of grief, which is denial. Of course, it is not rational because she knows that he is at the bottom of the deepest place on earth. But the completely irrational idea that he might still be alive, she clings to that with the life of her.”

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As much as the film is about life’s most unavoidable and unknowable certainty, grief and loss routinely give way to the simple pleasures that make life so rewarding, whether it’s eating a delicious candy or playing a musical instrument. “As human beings, we have a tendency to look away from death, even though it’s the only thing we know for sure in life,” says Reuten. “And by confronting it, you end up so happy to be alive and so grateful to be alive.”

De Jong added: “It’s easy to overlook the best things in life, the everyday things. One of the best reactions we got after a screening was someone saying, ‘All I want to do right now is go home and hug my kids.’ We tried to make a hopeful and moving story that makes you embrace the little things in life.”

The multilingual Reuten is perhaps best known to American audiences for its role in Martin McDonagh’s film. in witches and his memorable duel with Naveen Andrews on Lostbut while following the best material he can find around the world, he admits that Narcosis it is all the more satisfying because it originates from its native country. “I have never lost sight of my own country because acting in your own language is something that cannot be replaced, as good as you are in other languages,” shares Reuten.

this edition of THR Presents is presented by DADA Films.

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