Duncan Jones: Twitter love for Mute has recharged my heart

Mute director Duncan Jones on the criticism of his new Netflix film, his special relationship with Berlin and how the David Bowie book club is helping him feel even closer to his late father

“We got absolutely hounded by the critics on this film. I really, truly don’t believe it was due. And I hope a bit of time passes and maybe some of those critics have another look. Because I think they have missed something big.”

Critics have had a lot to say about Mute, the new film from writer-director Duncan Jones, which has just launched on Netflix. Very little of it has been positive.

Jones spent 16 years trying to get the film made, during which time he shot award-winning debut Moon, sci-fi thriller Source Code and fantasy Warcraft, before finally shooting Mute in 2016.

This is one case where Twitter came to the rescue

Having his passion project pummeled in the press has pained him.

“I haven’t read it. But I am aware of it. And it hurt, literally, for the first day and a half,” says Jones. “I know I spend too much time on it, but this is one case where Twitter came to the rescue.

“The love and support from people who were able to get in touch with me directly – especially people like [sci-fi writer] William Gibson, who I am a huge fan of – has completely recharged my heart.”

Duncan Jones directing Mute
Duncan-Jones-BTS
Duncan Jones directing Mute in Berlin

Mute is set in the near future in Berlin – a city Jones lived in as a child while his father, David Bowie, was writing and recording his finest albums.

The melancholy, unsettling film centres on mute Leo (Alexander Skarsgård), who lives an alienated, analogue life – playing records, carving wood, drawing in pencil – before reluctantly embarking on a quest through the neon-lit city’s criminal underbelly to find his missing girlfriend.

“Knowing someone is unable to communicate, for the empathetic amongst us, is absolutely heart-wrenching. You want to help them,” says Jones, on the draw of mute characters, whether played by Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, Samantha Morton in Sweet and Lowdown or the towering Skarsgård here.

Alexander Skarsgard in Mute
Alexander Skarsgård plays Leo in Mute

“You want to see them succeed, because communication is such a fundamental building block of what it means to be human.”

So how hard is it to make dystopian science-fiction without borrowing heavily from Blade Runner?

“Look,” Jones says. “I am guilty of planting the seeds that Mute is somewhat related to Blade Runner. But it is purely aesthetic. There is a way of depicting cities in the future, and Ridley Scott pretty much nailed the way real cities are starting to look. Most exteriors in Mute were actual locations in Berlin. We just added a few flying cars.”

Berlin feels like it is moving faster than the rest of the world

The city means a lot to Jones. “I have had this very unique history with Berlin,” he says. “I was there as a little kid in the 1970s but even at that age I got a sense of the strange energy. It was this tiny island of western civilisation in the Soviet bloc and you really felt it. I have revisited over the decades.

“It has had a troubled past and is a city that has decided that the best way to deal with that is to look towards the future and build a multicultural art-intensive, positive place.

“That is why it is such a great place to set a science-fiction movie. Berlin feels like it is moving faster than the rest of the world.”

How The David Bowie Bookclub is continuing his legacy

Mute is set in the same alternate future as Moon and features clips of Sam Rockwell as the astronaut. “The idea of a Moon movie universe felt a lot fresher back when Marvel wasn’t doing it yet,” laughs Jones, who remains keen to finish the trilogy.

“We are talking about the final part of the Moon anthology being a road movie, starring two sisters from Lancashire. You won’t be surprised to hear it has similar subtext to Moon and Mute. It depends if anyone gives me money to make another film. We will see.”

It has been really good fun to read some of the books that my dad was inspired by

Meanwhile, Jones is burying himself in books. Each month he is selecting one of his father’s favourites to read and inviting fans to join him. Kick-starting the Bowie Book Club with Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor caused an online scramble for the out-of-print gothic novel in January.

“Honestly, it was only ever initially intended as an exercise for myself that I was inviting anyone else in on if they wanted to. And it took off from there,” says Jones.

“I was thinking about my dad’s love of Peter Ackroyd and in particular his voluminous book London, which I intend to get around to reading at some point. But it is a bit intimidating. I thought, let me get started on some of the Ackroyd stuff I know dad loved. Hawksmoor was one of them.”

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He says the process has brought him even closer to his father, by showing more of what made him tick.

“It has been really good fun to see some of the places and read some of the books that my dad was inspired by,” he says. “The next one is going to be Spike Milligan’s Puckoon – so that is going to be a nice new flavour.”

It will make more enjoyable reading than the reviews of Mute, that’s for sure…

Mute is available to watch now on Netflix