david j. moore chats with John Bergin, director of From Inside…
It is a seldom occasion when an artist or filmmaker has the audacity to render the end of the world in animation with poetic, yet horrifying images. John Bergin, who wrote a graphic novel called From Inside in 1993, has built a name for himself with his indelible illustrations and work on various graphic novels over the years, and with his feature film adaptation of From Inside, he has announced himself as a visionary filmmaker. With a pulsing synth rock score by Gary Numan, the movie leaves a distinct, unique impression. The film – a faithful adaptation of his graphic novel – is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth with a hellish landscape sprawling into infinity. One pregnant young woman named Cee is a passenger on a speeding train headed to nowhere, and her journey across the infernal landscape is plagued with terrors and despair as the train presses onward …
david j. moore: From Inside looks a graphic novel come to life. What made you decide to make a feature film out of your graphic novel?
John Bergin: The footage from the film is made from the original art that is the graphic novel. It’s a 360-page graphic novel that was published around the mid-1990’s, around 94 or 95, by Tundra Publishing. I took the original artwork and scanned and mapped it into different ways and used different 3D models. It was a full-color, fully painted graphic novel. It was expensive to keep in print, the book itself. I’d always wanted to find a way to keep the story out there. Keeping it in print was kind of difficult to do. Around the late 90’s I looked at doing the book as a CD-ROM – I don’t know if you remember those days. Kind of like a multimedia CD-ROM. I was thinking of motion comics. It was too much work to put something like that out in the late 90’s. It was just beyond my technical abilities. I shelved that idea, but then I got into animation and taught myself how to do that and I thought that I could make a movie of this myself.
djm: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen just about every post-apocalyptic movie ever made that’s out there, and I’ve seen a handful of animated films that came to mind while I was watching From Inside. When the Wind Blows and this little Japanese anime called Angel’s Egg were the obvious ones. Have you seen those films?
JB: Yeah! Well done! (Laughing.) Angel’s Egg is, uh … I love that film. Yeah, there’re little callbacks all throughout From Inside to Angel’s Egg, When the Wind Blows, Grave of the Fireflies, Nausicaa…
djm: Angel’s Egg is a very obscure little movie. There was another movie called In the Aftermath: Angels Never Sleep, which incorporated Angel’s Egg with some new live action footage. Ever heard of that one?
JB: Weird. I’ve never heard of it.
djm: It’s pretty rare to find something as poetically and brutally honest about the end of the world as your movie From Inside is. Especially when it’s been rendered in animation.
JB: Of all the post-apocalypse films, those are the ones that I like the most – the ones that are brutal and poetic. I like the goofy action ones, but I like the other ones better. I’ve always been into moping. I don’t know … that said, my favorite post-apocalypse film is The Road Warrior. It’s hands-down the most brilliant film ever made.
djm: I’m sure you’ve seen trailers for the new one, right?
JB: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Full-screen, HD, at full volume, on repeat. A lot of people have read The Road Warrior as a goofy, cartoony film, but then look at all the imitation films that have spawned. Beneath all that, it was just a very simple, dark story about … it’s bleak and nihilistic, but it’s also hopeful.
djm: Would you say that From Inside is hopeful?
JB: I tell people it’s the most depressing movie ever made. It’s also the most hopeful movie ever made. What is the last shot? Do you recall? It’s the baby’s hand holding the mother’s hand. The film is a realization of … maybe this will answer your question about why I gravitate toward more poetic apocalypse stuff … every single one of us is going to have a day when the world ends. Post-apocalypse will come to every single one of us. No one gets out alive. Every one of us has a day when it’s all over. The message that From Inside has is that that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you can make peace with that realization, then you don’t have to experience the horror of it.
djm: You’ve got to talk a little bit about the music by Gary Numan, who composed the score for your film. Why did you choose him to be a part of your film?
JB: I’ve always been a really huge fan of his music. I told him – and I’ll repeat it for you – that I can still remember what I was doing and where I was when I first heard his music. I was 12 years old – in Maine – crossing or walking across a hayfield in the middle of nowhere, and back then the only way you could bring your music with you was to carry this giant box on your shoulder with a ton of batteries in it. Imagine this 12-year old kid walking across this field in the middle of nowhere listening to Scorpions or Judas Priest, or someone like that because that was about as edgy as it got in Maine in the early 80’s. I remember hearing that first note from “Cars.” That first sound. I just stopped in my tracks. “What. Is. This?” It sounded like guitars, but it wasn’t. I didn’t really know about keyboards and electronic music and stuff like that. It was a long time of me looking into that music and tracking down other artists – it was my first moment of stepping into stranger, electronic music. He’s still like that these days. His music has that element of strangeness to it where it’s accessible and you can enjoy it, but there’s always something dark about it.
djm: Talk about the train in the film. I’m sure you’re aware of Snowpiercer, which was also based on a comic book. The whole film takes place on a train like yours does.
JB: Yeah. If I’m not mistaken, my graphic novel predated Snowpiercer by about 10 years, I think. The train I used is a J3 Hudson from the 1940’s. I considered a bunch of different engines and train designs when I was first designing the book. Of all the trains, of all the steam engines out there, that one is the most phallic. It is a metaphor for life. If you’re on a train, it’s always moving forward. You’re on tracks, so you can’t necessarily decide where your destination may be. It’s predetermined. You’re not in control where you’re going. I think it’s pretty obvious in some scenes in the film that the metaphor … where there’s the tunnel, you get sort of stuck in the tunnel. It has to break through. I liked Snowpiercer, but I don’t remember reading the comic. I thought the movie was pretty good. The production design was really cool. I don’t think the movie used the train as such a heavy symbolic element like I did. With From Inside, the train is one of the main characters. It does more than just move the story from point to point.
djm: Talk about the engineers on the train. They’re very sinister, almost demonic, especially the first time we see them.
JB: It just goes back to the train being a metaphor for life. You have to wonder if it’s all predetermined, the people driving it and where it’s going. If you’re a passenger … and just the word “passenger” implies that you don’t have much control of where you’re going as you think.
djm: How will people find and discover From Inside? It was just a happy accident that I stumbled across it.
JB: It’s been playing in festivals since 2008. Maybe 40 different festivals. It’s won a ton of awards. It’s on DVD now, which can be found anywhere. It will be on iTunes shortly.
djm: Who is this movie for?
JB: The story grew out of my wife and I thinking about having children. Should we have kids? The world is so fucked up – should we bring in new life into it? Should we subject new life to the horrors of this lousy world that we live in? We decided no. That was when I started writing the story. About halfway through the story, we completely changed our minds. “Oh my God – what a selfish, self-centered way of thinking!” If there’s any hope for things to be better, it’s to allow innocence into the world. Every child – with exception – is born with a switch set to good and innocence. It’s the course of life that makes someone turn into a better or a worse person. Generally speaking, we’re all designed to be angels, so to speak. That doesn’t really answer your question … It’s a good question. From Inside is for people who like to think about their place in the world.
djm: John, if the world were to end as it does in your movie and you found yourself a survivor in that world – let’s say you found yourself on that train – do you think you’d make it as a survivor in that world?
JB: Of course! I’d probably be driving that train, and you’d all be coming along for a ride.
From Inside is now out on DVD. Visit http://frominsidemovie.com.
Thank you to John Bergin for taking the time for this interview.
david j. moore is a contributing writer to Fangoria, FilmFax, Lunchmeat and VideoScope Magazines. His book WORLD GONE WILD: A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE TO POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIES was published this year.