In Imaginary Order, writer/director Debra Eisenstadt examines the slow unraveling of a suburban mother named Cathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) as she navigates estrangement from her husband and daughter and a burgeoning obsession from a teenaged boy she meets while housesitting (see the full review in our movies section). The film screens during the 11th Annual Santa Fe Independent Film Festival (Noon Friday Oct. 18 and 10 am Saturday Oct. 19. $14. Center for Contemporary Arts, 1050 Old Pecos Trail, 982-1338) and Eisenstadt kindly agreed to a chat beforehand.
How much of yourself made it into the movie? Or maybe it's an amalgamation of your fears?
'My fears' is right. I wrote this basically to purge fear. There were a lot of different things that happened that got me to the script, one of which was joining a parenting group when I first had a kid. Over time the kids grew up but the group stayed together as an unofficial therapy group, and I witnessed a percentage of these marriages dissolve in horrific ways. Or when I moved from New York to LA, I had a phobia of moving to suburbia and all the trappings. And I heard someone say it's a really good idea to write from your fear. But also, there was an element of motherhood that I wasn't seeing in movies and in television. I wanted to capture this experience of being a mother that was really frightening and full of anxiety, especially when you're in a longterm relationship; you become estranged at times, and I wanted to capture a moment in time that is the ground for something crazy happening—a way to speak to the stoicism of motherhood.
Was that hard or scary to tap into?
I think it was more cathartic to get it out and to try to articulate something that is both specific and universal. You have a feeling you want to articulate, there's no words for it, so it's almost … the film for me is like an experience, it's supposed to feel like an experience to the audience: A woman who feels invisible. There's something about motherhood that society doesn't take seriously enough. There's something about it that always bothers me, that I was ashamed to put my kids first. There's this weird unspoken competition between working mothers and stay-at-home moms, this feeling of being useless … [Cathy] just wants to be of use. You're so needed with a baby, but if you've done your job well, your kid is going to push you away. Where does that leave her? It's really hard to strike a balance for most mothers.
The film has a sort of open ending. Is there something you hope to get across to audiences? A moral? Is one needed?
I think the title speaks to that—no matter how hard you try to keep things together or make things look together, there's no order, especially with a family. People try to communicate their families on social media and in photos as being so perfect and together, but as everyone knows, it's an avatar. Everyone is fucked up. At the same time, you can read into it like, you should be careful what choices you make. One little choice can fuck you up for life.