Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman delve into the film's conclusion: "You leave with your head spinning."
Warning: This article contains spoilers for May December.
"You take this big gulp of air in — and then, it ends."
That's how Julianne Moore describes the sensation of watching the end of May December, her latest film with longtime collaborator, director Todd Haynes. Moore stars as Gracie Atherton-Yoo, whose sexual relationship with Joe when he was only 13 years old was once the stuff of tabloid fodder. When actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) comes to town to study Gracie and Joe's (Charles Melton) marriage in preparation for a film, things get weird.
Elizabeth gradually subsumes Gracie's identity, taking on her hairstyle, her lisp, even her sense of fashion and physical mannerisms as she studies her. She also throws the community into upheaval as she questions everyone from Gracie's ex-husband and their son, Georgie (Cory Michael Smith), to Joe and Gracie themselves.
But in the end, nothing is at it seems when Gracie suggests to Elizabeth that Georgie made up a story about Gracie's childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her brothers. Meanwhile, Joe begins to question his marriage as he prepares to become an empty nester.
"Elizabeth comes in with a lot of judgment and is pretending not to, in order to convince Gracie to open up to her," says Portman of her character's journey. "As it goes along, she relates to Gracie a lot more, partly because Elizabeth is getting into character. And she sees a reflection of herself in some way that can justify the moral behavior. Then, just as Elizabeth relates to Gracie and gets her, the rug's pulled out from under her feet."
Nothing is as it seems in May December; or maybe everything is exactly as it seems and nothing more. For Portman, it's about the battle between Gracie and Elizabeth and how we all define our own truths.
"It's such an amazing standoff between these two women insisting on their version of the truth," she adds. "Being so callous and dishonest in the way they go about claiming the truth, you don't really know anything at the end. Everything feels slippery. Identity feels slippery; truth feels slippery."
Haynes calls the film a "pleasurable inquisition" in the ways it raises questions without ever giving solid answers. It's something Moore revels in, not only in May December, but in all of the films they've made together. "That's the kind of movie that Todd makes," she says. "He's not making a movie where he is like, 'And then they lived happily ever after.' This is a movie that forces you to consider actions, appearances, storytelling, truth, identity, performative identity and gender identity and all of those things. What is truth? And who is somebody? You leave with your head spinning."
The final scene doesn't offer any resolution to Joe and Gracie's story. Instead, it shows Elizabeth reenacting Gracie's seduction of Joe at the pet store where they worked, as the actress makes the movie that she prepared for. Audiences are lead to believe that Elizabeth was preparing for something that could win her an Oscar. But the truth is something far more icky.
"They're shooting a tacky scene," says Portman. "You can tell that it's intentionally not the highest quality. It's like — all of this drama and interfering with someone's life for this movie? It puts a cap on the tragedy of it, of what people are willing to do for their alleged art and the tumult they can impose on someone else's life."
But Portman says she's less interested in what becomes of Elizabeth and her movie than in the state of the Atherton-Yoo marriage and where Joe goes from here. "What's more salient to me is to think about what happens to Joe," she says. "That's really the heart of it. These two callous, manipulative women try to convince him of their version of the truth — because whatever he subscribes to will be the one that is true. He has to decide what to do with his life after these two women stand off."
Still, if you ask Moore what she thinks happens in Gracie's marriage, she revels in not knowing. "People really want to know," she reflects. "We don't really give an answer. That's the thing about the end of this movie — there's no exhale. There's only an inhale."
May December is streaming now on Netflix.
Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.