Ike Barinholtz, known from the recent movie “Blockers” as well as the TV show “The Mindy Project,” has released his first feature film, which he wrote, directed and also stars in. The movie is about a family with different political views, who all clash over a Thanksgiving dinner.
In the movie, the President of the United States (who is not named) introduces “The Oath” to his people: a document every US citizen is supposed to sign, stating their loyalty to the President. The signature is voluntary, however, people who refuse to sign it face social and economical backlash. This oath divides the already heated society even further. When hardcore-liberal Chris (Barinholtz) has his family over for Thanksgiving, there is only one topic to talk about, and a heated discussion ensues. When two officers of the newly founded “Citizen Protection Unit” stop by to question Chris about his political views, things escalate quickly.
Ike Barinholtz sat down with Cooglife to answer some questions about his new film.
Cooglife: Obviously this dark comedy plays in a dystopian future, but it is also clear that the inspiration comes directly from the recent events since Donald Trump was elected President. What was your main inspiration for the ominous oath in the movie?
Ike Barinholtz: I wouldn’t have written that movie if Donald Trump hadn’t won because he changed everything. I never thought much about Donald Trump, I thought he was a goofy guy you see on TV, but then, as he started entering the political arena more and more, I read a lot about him and I read that he seems to have an obsession with loyalty. … So I started thinking about that word, loyalty. I knew once I had that concept of loyalty and some kind of loyalty oath. I could start layering that in. The crazy thing was as I was writing it, things would happen in the news. Earlier in this administration, he was at a cabinet meeting and all went around one by one and said “I will work for you…” and so that happened. And a month later he pinned down Jim Comey and said “Can you be loyal?” and all these things started happening. So I knew it was something palatable enough and kind of simple enough. I didn’t want it to be a complex thing people couldn’t wrap their heads around.
CL: Was it important to you to make a politically relevant film?
IB: It’s a little crazy when I see something that has zero correlation to what’s going on right now, like, what are we doing here? We live in the most absurd time period in American history, at least in my lifetime, so why aren’t we telling stories about that? … There’s no studio right now that would make this movie, we always knew it was going to be an indie film which is good, because it enabled me to for sure direct it and control it, and cast who I wanted. We didn’t even bring it to studios, simply because they are corporations, they have shareholders, and having a movie like this might bum them out.
CL: What do you tell critics that say you take advantage of this political divide for entertainment?
IB: To me the trick is this: I don’t consider it a political film per se, I really think of it as a family film, an American family film, because it’s all about them reacting to the politics. … And even the conservative folk I’ve talked to in Texas that have seen it – God bless ‘em – they understand that I have not made a partisan film. The bad version of … my character is the noble hero whom no one understands and who always reacts perfectly and who is very handsome. (laughs) NO! I am the most liberal character and I am the most annoying obnoxious dick, you know, I’m so rude and I’m just awful!
CL: What can you tell us about working behind the camera?
IB: I still like to think of myself as a move viewer first so I think about what would I want to watch and would I want to see. … If you’re directing something you’re not acting in you can go and set up the shot, and maybe sit down for a second, and talk about the next day or something and relax, but when you’re acting as well, if you’re not doing immediate director duties, when you’re not talking to camera crew, or producers about something you have to go hang out with the cast, because you have to bond, especially when you’re playing a family at dinner. I directed before the “Mindy Project,” and it’s significantly easier to direct a TV show because by the time I directed it was already season four and it was a well-oiled machine, that made it much easier –not easy– but easier. But the challenges of shooting a movie in 19 days are already very hard. The thing is, there wasn’t any discussion, I knew I was going to play the part, and no one told me I couldn’t, and I was just going do it. What really struck me was the amount you have to keep moving.
CL: But all the stress was worth it, “The Oath” is a well-crafted film that is unique and a nice observation of recent events. It’s relevant, highly entertaining, and speaks to the adience on many levels. You deliver such a promising debut, what are you most proud of?
IB: I’m the most proud of that I made a movie that I’ve never seen before… making something different and weird that’s a little off-center, I think that’s what I’m proud of. … The feedback I got here in Texas put a big smile on my face. … It was definitely challenging but it was so exhilarating and fun and if they let me I would for sure do it again!
CL: We hope you will! Thank you Ike for this conversation and good luck for your movie!