Unfortunately, Mia Goldman knows the topic of her debut film firsthand. Open Window-which premieres on Thursday, March 29, at the Metro 4 and will run on Showtime this summer-is the story of a rape. More poignantly, though, it’s the human story of its repercussions, drawn from experience.
“It’s taken from my life, but if you think about it, I don’t ever show the rape, per se,” said Goldman from her Los Angeles office last week. “I designed the film that way, so it can be used to understand how something like that is experienced. When something like this, when life hits you like a Mack truck, people usually go into shock, like in a terrible accident.” Then, she added, as a kind of flashback, the terror and humiliation follow.
The film stars Robin Tunney (Veronica Donovan on Prison Break) as Izzy, a photographer with a loving live-in fiance (Joel Edgerton), neurotic mother (Cybill Shepherd), and affable but slightly absent dad (Elliott Gould). Left alone on a working evening in her backyard studio, Izzy is raped after her boyfriend, Peter, leaves open a window in a moment of misplaced thoughtfulness-meaning only to air out the room, he allows an opportunity for random violence. Most of the film, however, chronicles Izzy and Peter’s shattered coexistence, remarkably without preaching. Goldman manages to convey sympathy for both, and even introduces touches of humor and hope, though it’s mostly (and justly) a portrait of depression and anger. The window and its complex reference to perspective, ideas of chance, and letting in the air becomes a complicated emblem of the compelling action of the film.
“I have answered the question before,” said Goldman, when asked about her motivation. “I was raped while working on a film on location by a man who was stalking me. All I can say is my experience is slightly worse than Izzy’s, all told.”
Goldman, who has worked as a film editor off and on since she was 17, was prone to depression and had been in therapy before the rape. She had already been seeing the psychoanalyst Abraham Gottesman, who lived during his waning years in Santa Ynez and once treated Marilyn Monroe. “Without what I learned in therapy,” she said, “I would probably have been killed by the rapist.” It helped her to make human contact with the assailant, and helped afterward, too.
Goldman began work on a short film, but kept returning to the rape as a feature-length subject. Against the advice of friends and colleagues, Goldman wrote a script (40 drafts!), got funding, and made the film. It made a splash at Sundance in 2006, but she decided the best possible way to ensure a wide audience was to sell it to the popular cable channel. “Of course I would’ve liked a theatrical release,” she said. “But I like Showtime very much.”
Goldman was born in New York in 1954 to a family steeped in the film business. Her father is screenwriter Bo Goldman, the industry icon who wrote the Academy Award-winning adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Melvin and Howard, among other gems. When Mia entered law school, her father did the very unfatherly deed of convincing her that following a passion was more important than making money. “He asked me if I thought I could ever be happy being a lawyer,” she laughed.
So she set out for Hollywood and became an editor-the least appreciated of film narrative artists-of Choose Me, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and The In-Laws, among others. “Believe it or not, I never showed the script to my father,” said Goldman, who didn’t want people to assume he was instrumental in putting together the film.
But even though she calls the film “a paean to psychoanalysis,” the filmmaking experience was not therapy. “It was not cathartic to make Open Window,” said Goldman. Nonetheless, she hopes the film, which she will introduce and discuss after the Thursday screening, might be helpful. “You never know what’s going to happen in life. I hope the movie gets down to the real center of what it is to be alive. We all have choices; that’s what defines us as people,” said Goldman, who sees the film as a Rorschach inkblot test, with something for everybody who has suffered trauma.
It reflects promise, which may or may not mean a happy ending. “Bad things happen and you might not ever get back what you had. You get back something different. And that different might be even better.”
Mia Goldman’s Open Window screens as the first in a thought-provoking series presented by the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) on Thursday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m., at the Metro 4 Theatre. Cosponsored by The Fund for Santa Barbara and the Rape Crisis Center, the screening will be followed by a Q&A with Goldman and producer Tom Barad. Call 563-0463 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.