Not long ago, Newton native Alex Karpovsky thought his filmmaking career was finished. His first film, The Hole Story, in which he plays a guy who thinks his career as a filmmaker is finished, was going nowhere. But then the Independent Film Festival of Boston invited him to screen it, and things turned around. This year, in addition to acting in a bunch of movies and appearing as Ray on the hit show Girls, he is releasing two of his own features, Red Flag and Rubberneck. The latter, screening this week at the Brattle Theatre, is a thriller shot in the Boston area about a laboratory technician, played by Karpovsky, who is pathologically obsessed with a coworker.
Let's get one dumb question out of the way. Why is it called Rubberneck? When I think of the word "rubberneck," I think of a gawker, a person who takes an unsavory or guilty pleasure in witnessing something unpleasant happening in slow motion. And that's what I feel is going on with the movie: this guy's gawking at something unpleasant that's happening, so that's how it ties in on one level. And then on another level, maybe it also resonates toward childhood, looking back on the issues that have haunted him and continue to paralyze him.
Is the viewer kind of a rubbernecker, too? Exactly. I wrote the movie with Garth Donovan, a Boston-based filmmaker. One movie that we like a lot and talked a lot about when we were writing it was Caché, a French film, and it felt like the audience is very woven into the contextual framework.
In addition to voyeurism, death also seems a preoccupation both in this film and in Red Flag. I do think about death a lot. A lot of my insecurities, my fears, my "issues," are actually reverberations of an underlying fear of death and sort of a negotiation of my own mortality. I feel like we all walk around with this immortality deception machine running automatically in the background, where we basically tell ourselves we're going to live forever and we deceive ourselves. It's a cognitive evolutionary adaptive strategy. I think if we didn't do this we would be paralyzed by anxiety.
You confront the issue very analytically. Like your character in Rubberneck, you once planned to be a scientist practicing "visual ethnography." What is that? It's basically a way to explore and document culture with a video camera. I didn't stay long enough in my PhD program to go into the field, but in theory, if I stayed, I would've ended up exploring ritual and myths in Amazonia, which was my concentration at the time.
Instead you are exploring ritual and myths in Girls. How do you account for its success? I could not have seen it coming. I thought maybe it would be too niche-y; it was just too narrow and specific. I thought maybe only girls in their mid-20s and people in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, would watch it. I had no idea it had cross-appeal to various demographics. But looking back on it, it kind of makes sense.