Neil Jordan knows all there is to know about the lying game. In his new film Greta, Isabelle Huppert plays the titular character, a woman in her sixties increasingly isolated from society. That changes when young waitress Frances, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, returns a handbag Greta left on a train and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship.
But all is not as it appears. Greta develops an unhealthy interest Frances, which escalates to frenzied obsession, marked by stalking on the subway, kidnapping and an innovative but nasty use of a cookie cutter. It turns out you can’t always depend on the kindness of strangers.
“In stalker movies, the monster’s a man with a warped sexual need to get close to his desired object,” says Jordan. “In this case it’s a woman and once you remove the sexual element, all sorts of other things come to the surface.”
As Greta tries to recreate her lost daughter in Frances, Jordan says he was fascinated to explore “the idea of motherhood as a pathology rather than a nurturing force.”
Unconventional relationships have been the beating heart of many of his films including Mona Lisa, The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. Greta is set in a shifting period in history where social media profiles mean that it’s the default position for people to pretend they are something they’re not.
“You’re right,” agrees Jordan. “Nobody is what they seem. Everybody adopts pseudonyms and personas. I think we live in a weird world, a very strange world.
Is it getting stranger?
“I think so. Social media has allowed people to comment on things without revealing who they are. You can find out anything about anybody now with a bit of snooping. In ten minutes you’ll find out where they’re from, where they went to school, who their friends are.”
The balance between carnage and rationality is very thin,
In the film, Greta deep dives into Frances’ Facebook profile to find out more about her. But this feels less like the behaviour of a psychopath and more a modern-day habit many people indulge in. Has social media turned us all into creepy voyeurs?
“The character of Greta is isolated but surrounded everywhere by people on their mobile phones, addressing other people and never making eye contact. That’s the world that we live in. I don’t want to seem pessimistic, this movie’s not a searing indictment of modern life, just a bit of fun.”
But the film does show how aspects of modern life can result in unintended, unexpected consequences. Greta and Frances could have maintained a normal relationship had Frances not been put off by a sense of stranger danger and Jordan believes we all have the capacity to be players in events that spiral out of control.
Behind an apparently placid surface there are all sorts of monsters being held in check
“Things can go insane without you knowing how they’ve gone insane,” Jordan says. “I mean, look at Brexit. It’s driven the whole country insane and nobody knows why.
“I’m not relating this movie to that at all, but the balance between carnage and rationality is very thin. That’s what psychological thrillers are about. Behind an apparently placid surface there are all sorts of monsters being held in check, waiting to emerge.”
So what about Brexit? The Troubles have never been a subject Jordan has shied away from, and politics on the island of Ireland is as topical as it has ever been.
“I don’t understand Brexit. I don’t even understand the word. It seems to have baffled the entire British parliamentary system,” he says.
“If there is a hard border it will allow all sorts of noxious elements to re-enter Irish political life. That’s my feeling. The Good Friday Agreement managed, through a series of fudges, to put a lid on political violence in Ireland and if there is a hard border it would give an excuse to all sorts of elements to blow that lid apart again. But everybody understands that, don’t they?”
It would be reassuring to think that everybody did look beyond their own personal agendas, but are there enough rational people in positions of power?
“I’m sure there are. It seems the EEC want to extend the fishing line as long as possible for the British political system to work itself out. I hope it works out anyway.”
Greta is out in cinemas from 19 April