TIFF 2021: Justine Bateman, Olivia Munn tackle human doubts and fears in daring movie 'Violet'

Writer, director and producer Justine Bateman's daring feature debut Violet, part of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), starring Olivia Munn, takes you on a psychological journey to understand why the title character, and all of us watching, make fear-based decisions in our lives.

“Years ago I was making lots of fear-based decisions and not feeling quite myself,” Bateman revealed to Yahoo Canada. “I'd feel myself in moments, but then most of the other moments, not so much.”

“I would know people who seemed to be on track, seemed to be really themselves...I was wondering like, do you have to be born like that? Can you actually become like that?”

Violet Calder (Munn) is a 32-year-old film executive who is constantly being bombarded by thoughts from the “committee,” voiced by Justin Theroux, the voice in her head that leads all of her decision making.

“You look like a pig,” we hear the voice say near the beginning of the film as Violet takes a bite of a pink Snowball in the morning.

“People are going to think you’re a loser” and “why don’t you own your own place” are just some of the things that the “committee” tells Violet, ultimately restraining her professional, personal and romantic life, as she continues to live a life of self doubt.

It’s this poignant topic that draws you in and makes you reflect on your own fear-based decisions.

It was when Bateman was able to analyze and pinpoint the moments when she started to feel “insecure” or “off track,” that she she started to write this script.

“Partly, I just want to pass on what I found worked,” she explained. “I'm sure there are lots of ways for someone to really become their true selves, but here's one map that I know works.”

The whole film is really just about this human condition of doubt. It has a lot to do with our evolutionary survival, it’s kind of baked into us, we'll come up with what's the worst case scenario. We make these sort of irrational connections within split seconds because we're trying to preserve our existence.Justine Bateman, writer, director, producer of Violet

Olivia Munn in
Olivia Munn in "Violet." (Courtesy of TIFF) (1996-98 AccuSoft Inc., All rights reserved)

Violent imagery, on-screen statements

Bateman sought to make this an “immersive experience,” something she used a combination of visual elements to achieve.

A few times in the movie we see a series of flashing, “violent imagery,” as Bateman describes it, that almost shakes you as an audience member in a way that brings you closer to Violet’s frantic journey, and our own self-reflection on that journey.

“All the violent imagery is all those negative thoughts that maybe we brush off, we go like, ‘Oh I'm just hard on myself,’ [but] it's cutting you and if you've cut enough times to the same spot, you're going to create this gauge...and it's going to keep going that same route over and over again until you think that's part of your personality, and it's not,” Bateman said.

On the screen, throughout this movie, we also see Violet’s thoughts written on the screen. This includes statements and questions like, “Why can’t I be fine?” “Is there something wrong with me?” “I want to change.”

“The handwriting came later, because...I didn't feel like I had that immersive experience for the viewer yet, I felt like I was missing a component,” Bateman explained.

“I had the voice pressing down on Violet and then I had Olivia’s performance...but then when I added the writing, which is kind of like prisoner notes being shoved up a high window hoping somebody sees them, that really added the passionate desperation of getting out of this. And then it created this really interesting pressure cooker on Olivia's performance.”

"Violet" writer/director/producer Justine Bateman and actor Olivia Munn. (Steven Meiers Dominguez)
"Violet" writer/director/producer Justine Bateman and actor Olivia Munn. (Steven Meiers Dominguez) (Steven Meiers Domingue)

Munn’s emotional, cutting performance as Violet thrusts you into her head and her journey, even while Bateman is tackling a lofty concept.

I'm writing about this human condition of being, or not being, our true selves.Justine Bateman, writer, direct, producer of Violet

“My hope is that is that everyone who sees this can find ways...to really become their true selves, and sometimes that means breaking with habits they've had, ways of being, certain people they associate with. It means sometimes pissing people off because you're going to change the part you're playing in somebody else's life.”

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs until Sept. 18 with both in-person and digital screenings of films.