Ultimate redemption: What if someone from your past forced you to confront something that you had been hiding—even from yourself?
The Gift is a heart-stopping, thought-provoking psychological thriller from producers Jason Blum and Rebecca Yeldham and actor, writer, producer and first-time director Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, Warrior), that asks the question: What if someone you wronged long ago reemerged in your life through a chance encounter?
Recognized for his extensive career in front of the camera, Edgerton, in fact, began his career as a filmmaker in Australia, forming the Film Collective Blue Tongue Films in 1996 alongside other like-minded creatives.
Together the team (which includes directors David Michôd and Nash Edgerton) has written, directed, and produced a number of prestiges titles including Animal Kingdom, The Square, Wish You Were Here, Hesher, and The Rover. With the collaborative, Joel wrote and directed a few of the teams short films, as well as penning The Square, prior to writing the Matthew Saville directed feature film Felony, which he also starred in and produced.
The Gift not only marks Edgerton’s remarkable feature directorial debut, but he delivers an outstanding performance as the creepy Gordo who drastically uproots the lives of a happy couple.
With long time aspirations to direct, it was important for Edgerton to develop a project for his debut that was strongly character driven and attractive to a strong smart cast and rooted in meaty ideas and themes. A long-time fan of intelligent genre films, the intricate plot was also reminiscent of the great performance-based thrillers and suspense films that had been a staple of his adolescence.
”The Gift started for me with a simple premise: what would happen if a high-school bully ran into his victim fifteen or so years later? What would or could be the effects? How might the past come to bear on the present? How could the past, unaccounted and unresolved, rupture a present situation?” says Joel Edgerton.
People view their pasts through the prism of their own individual experiences.
What one person may remember as a harmless practical joke, another may internalize as a deeply wounding transgression.
In any case, most people move forward with their lives, past grievances ultimately buried beneath the many layers of experiences and lessons that life offers. But what if you did something to someone who was unable to move on? A person for whom your actions had become fossilized and hardened: Unacknowledged. Unrepented.
What if someone from your past forced you to confront something that you had been hiding—even from yourself?
There are those who are unable to let go, allowing a slight to gain momentum and reach critical velocity as resentment and anger seethe to a boiling point.
The Gift explores the impact of two people’s shared pasts colliding in the present, and the collateral damage that ensues.
“I was interested in the aftermath of that kind of hurt; is it a good or bad thing to go and rummage around in the past,” explains writer/director Joel Edgerton, “and that’s really the starting point for the story.” Edgerton was intrigued by the concept that leaving past grievances dormant and the possibility of a chance encounter might resurrect old bad blood. Particularly, this film offered an opportunity to explore how these questions play out through the lens of a psychological thriller.
In essence, the film is about consequences, culpability, and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. At its heart, The Gift is a cautionary tale about the aftereffects of not holding ourselves accountable.
“There is a married couple,” producer Jason Blum notes, “and things seem to be going along fine until Joel’s character, ‘Gordo,’ comes into their life. It turns out Gordo and Jason Bateman’s character, ‘Simon,’ went to school together a long time ago. Gordo seems relatively friendly, although a little odd … and as we move through the course of the story, it turns out none of what you think at the beginning is true.”
The Gift opens benignly enough, focusing on a couple ostensibly at the apex of professional and personal success as Simon effortlessly climbs the professional ladder, and he and Robyn move into their dream home.
The simple elegance of the story’s mounting terror is a tribute to Edgerton’s deftly-crafted screenplay. A seasoned writer and storyteller going back nearly two decades through his affiliation with the Australian creative collective, Blue Tongue Films, Edgerton has never shied away from complicated characters and compelling narratives. On the contrary, the Australian native embraces topics and ideas that don’t easily lend themselves to cut-and-dried resolutions, but rather examine the more uncomfortable and nebulous moral questions that all people face at certain junctures.
“There’s no easy way out,” says Rebecca Hall, who plays ‘Robyn,’ “There’s no easy sort of good guys, bad guys or victims.”
“Things really bend and go sideways in a very realistic way,” says Jason Bateman, who plays ‘Simon,’ “and you wind up questioning who is the villain and who is the victim, whether certain characters deserved what they got or not.”
“Everyone presents versions of themselves,” Hall continues, “that vary to degrees, that shift according to who they’re talking to or what they want to put across. The thing I find really interesting about Robyn is that she knows her husband has a secret, and she goes on a mission to find out what it is.”
“Joel is such a strong writer and storyteller. I loved the script; I felt compelled to get involved with the project,” says Yeldham.
What makes a thriller of this ilk resonate with audiences is the idea that there are extraordinary circumstances that are entirely within the realm of possibility. The fear springs from the relatability of the situation – it’s easy to envision Simon, Robyn and Gordo as people you know and encounter in everyday life—and even as people whose lives aren’t all that different from your own. This premise offers up fear with a more eerie, sophisticated subtlety than your standard fright flick.
“A nice couple opens the door a little bit to a stranger,” Edgerton explains, “who then wreaks havoc on their life. That’s how we start, but that’s definitely not where we end.
“It’s a very well-written script,” says cinematographer Eduard Grau, “all the characters kind of change and all the characters affect each other in a weird way that we all find kind of common and personal.”
“The story is so gripping,” Yeldham agrees, “You think you’re entering a world that’s very normal and familiar, and then piece by piece, the tension ratchets up – even on the page, you’re on the edge of your seat.”
“Joel put together a team of artists, creative keys who could deliver the kind of sophisticated, elegant thriller we wanted to make,” continues Yeldham, “Something that had scale and sweep and a real classicism to it.”
“He wanted to do a movie that captures that classic feel of a psychological thriller,” says Grau, “while still being contemporary.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of the story, and a major factor in the almost-palpable sense of tension that permeates the film, is the idea that, while we’re going about our lives, there could be a dark force in motion of which we are completely unaware. All of those years that Simon spent building his life and becoming an adult, Gordo was out there…
A Difference of Perspective
The line between teasing and bullying can be razor-thin, and fluctuate greatly depending on which side of the equation you’re on. What one person may chalk up to an act of harmless play, another person may internalize as deeply hurtful behavior.
“One of the things that’s interesting about bullying,” Blum opines, “is everyone’s version of the events of bullying are often very different.”
“Things do stick,” Yeldham says, “they have a ripple effect.”
“On the one hand,” Edgerton adds, “it could be just one of those things that you did when you’re a kid, but whether it’s that or a willful, deceptive act, it can snowball and have a massively damaging effect on another person’s life.”
Why some people are able to move on from youthful torment and others are profoundly scarred remains a mystery.
“I feel like almost everyone has been bullied in school,” Grau says, “as bad as it is, it’s human nature of the kids we all were at one time.”
“That stuff informs the way you behave as an adult,” Bateman adds, “all those marks and scars are established early on. It never truly leaves you.”
“So when I wrote this,” Edgerton explains, “I was interested in the question of where are those people that bullied us in the past? Or the ones that we bullied? I wanted to hold a mirror up through this story, about taking responsibility for our past and our actions but with a real sense of mystery and intrigue.”
So can bygones ever really bygones? Not surprisingly, there is no real consensus, even among the makers of the film.
“I don’t know if it’s possible,” Blum admits. “I think it’s something with which we all struggle.”
“It’s not always possible,” Grau agrees, “but we should try. The past affects how we live now and you can’t refuse it. It helps us to be who we are, but you can’t get stuck in it, either.”
“Forgive, but don’t forget,” Bateman proffers, “I think everybody’s kind of like that, unless you’re blissfully ignorant and you have the ability to forget. It doesn’t mean you need to carry resentment, but it’s helpful to redraw boundaries and expectations with people.”
“I think it’s possible to forgive and forget anything,” says Allison Tolman, who plays ‘Lucy,’ “if you put your mind to it.”
“We’re all changeable beings,” Hall concurs emphatically, “it has to be possible. I think we’re in real trouble if you can’t get over bad things that happen to you.”
What The Gift addresses is what happens when someone is faced with a person who can’t get over the past. At what point does a sense of civility fall away, and uneasiness over a bygone person’s sudden reappearance in your life give way to a building sense of terror?