Jason Filiatrault Talks Physics, Thomas Middleditch, and Entanglement
Consider the circumstances that led to this moment. You’re in front of a screen, reading the words I wrote. One difference in either of our lives could have prevented this moment from happening. We’ve hurdled along almost infinite combinations of pathways just to get here. Was it a conscious trip, or were we guided by quantum entanglement?
Quantum entanglement is the physical phenomenon that occurs when particles or groups of particles bond and remain interconnected wherever they travel. Jason Filiatrault explores this concept in his first feature-length film script, Entanglement (2018). He even made the case for quantum entanglement when discussing the forces that brought us together for an interview: “The number of events that had to happen for this conversation to occur are infinitesimal. The farther back you go, the more impossible this conversation becomes. And yet here we are.”
Filiatrault’s script is a self-conscious and irreverent look at existential crisis, but Entanglement avoids simplistic labels like being defined as a “dark comedy.” The film’s premise is autobiographical for its writer. “It’s very much an odd anecdote in my family’s history,” Jason says. “My parents nearly adopted a daughter and then changed their minds, which I thought was a weird and curious thing.”
Ben, played by Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley), discovers the same family secret while he’s recovering from a horrible breakup. He falls into a deep depression and is consumed by suicidal thoughts. He rationalizes that finding his almost-sister Chloe, played by Nicole LaPlaca, is the only way to find meaning in his life. Such a personal story could only be developed for the screen in a safe, supportive space.
Entanglement was filmed within a nurturing community in Canada, homeland of both Filiatrault and Middleditch. “The advantage [of shooting in Canada] is that I got to stay home,” Jason laughs. “I get to work with people I know and people I love. I get to work with exciting Canadian directors, the scenery we have, the cast and crews we have up here. For me, it’s all advantage.” That familiarity helped Filiatrault and director Jason James to coax immaculate performances out of the main cast.
Jess Weixler and Thomas Middleditch, Source: Dark Star Pictures
Diana Bang, Source: Dark Star Pictures
Jess Weixler (The Good Wife) as Hanna and Diana Bang (The Interview) as Tabby avoid becoming trite versions of their characters, keeping Entanglement interesting from beginning to end. Hanna appears to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type, but Weixler’s strength and commitment to the role illustrate a woman that’s far from helpless. Rather than Zooey Deschanel’s “Summer Finn” or Natalie Portman’s “Sam” in Garden State, Hanna is more capable of rescuing her male counterpart than the other way around. Similarly, Bang avoids playing Tabby as Ben’s helpless female best friend. She takes a stand and challenges his determination to unite with Chloe. Tabby puts herself first and supports Ben from afar, instead of submitting to her secret feelings for him. Weixler and Bang buttress Thomas Middleditch, enabling him to give the performance of his career.
Ben is paradoxical. He’s so constricted by his depression that he’s free to experience an enlightened state of being. That kind of transcendence, requiring both unwavering connectedness to the present and the ability to move between simultaneous levels of consciousness, can only be achieved by an improviser like Thomas Middleditch. If you’ve been lucky enough to see him perform in Asssscat at the UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Theatre or as part of The Improvised Shakespeare Company, you’ve seen the adept ways he can push any scene to its logical, and sometimes wonderfully illogical, limits. Combine that with the precise articulation of neurosis that is Silicon Valley’s Richard Hendricks, and you begin to see Ben.
The dramatic acting talents Middleditch began testing in 2016’s Joshy come to fruition in Entanglement. Filiatrault remembers that, as far back as when the script’s rough draft was finished, “Thomas was kinda the only name that ended up on that [casting] list. He just embodies that feeling that Ben has, that sort of manic, sad optimism that seems like such a weird combination. But it’s something I think we all have.”
Middleditch is the ultimate everyman. But his recognizability is not the ordinariness we see around us. Rather, he is the aspirational everyman with the potential for extraordinariness that we hunger to reach. Years from now, when Middleditch has cemented himself as one of our generation’s best all-around performers, we will identity this movie as the moment of revelation.
The honesty in Middleditch’s portrayal is thanks to consulting a psychiatrist about the authenticity of Ben’s experience battling mental illness. Filiatrault summarizes the importance of this approach: “You can write things that happen to people. But at some point those things are going to have to be felt and made into reality. They’re going to have to involve a real character.” He, Jason James, and Middleditch all agreed that Ben had to be sensitively grounded in an actual diagnosis. Only then would audiences be able to see their own struggles or the struggles of someone they knew in the character.
Thomas Middleditch, Source: Dark Star Pictures
Identifying with Ben leads to a larger conclusion. “These are very introspective, weird times,” Filiatrault says. “Entanglement is very much a movie about trying to disappear inside yourself, while being unwilling to face the problems of your past and of your present.” He followed that comment with a joke that the movie could be viewed as a cautionary tale against self absorption and the refusal to accept harsh realities. But his comment was more profound than he realized.
If we leave ourselves open to quantum entanglement, then our selfish decisions may have a major impact on the world around us. Just like the characters in Entanglement, many of us wonder about parallel universes in which our lives unfold much differently. “Humans will always try to find the emotional and the narrative ideas of physics we can cling to and how they can change our lives,” Filiatrault admits. If we are connected to forces bigger than ourselves, our every action causes a reaction. Therefore, every decision we make, every pathway we take, has meaning.
Jason Filiatrault gives us the opportunity to embrace the unknown with Entanglement. When you see it in theaters, On Demand or on Digital HD on February 9th, it won’t be by chance. Before the movie starts, consider the circumstances that led to that moment.