Steven Knight

Steven Knight - Serenity Unit StillsWriter/Director Steven Knight explains the twist of his latest film Serenity

Warning: This interview discusses spoilers for the film Serenity

by Joanna Orland

Known for creating such iconic modern British television as Peaky Blinders and Taboo, writer/director Steven Knight certainly takes a more daring approach for his film work. His previous film Locke, starring Tom Hardy, focused on only one character on screen for its duration. His latest film Serenity, is daring in an altogether different, bolder way.

Steven Knight first came up with the idea for his latest film Serenity a few years ago. “I went on a boat out of St. Lucia and the captain of the boat was great, very hospitable, he brings you beer and you’re paying him money. And then as soon as a fish bites he changes completely, he was totally obsessed with the fish – he takes the rod off you and you don’t exist,” he explains. “The experience led me towards creating an archetype of a character and at the same time, you know, I write a lot of conventional screenplays for the commissions….and it strikes me that making movies attracts rules like no other artform, with the three act structure and the character arc and….it’s got to be a particular genre so it can be marketed, and you can’t do this, you can’t do that. What I wanted to do was create a conventional story, make it heightened so that there are clues already that it’s not what you think it is, and make it about fiction, and then completely disrupt it. So it’s like getting a car on the road, getting it going, then smashing it into a tree and just one wheel goes on down the road, and seeing how that works.”

The film stars Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in a noir-inspired mysterious tale of a fishing boat captain named Baker Dill (McConaughey), who makes a living taking tourists aboard his boat ‘Serenity’. He could be making a decent living if it wasn’t for his obsession with catching a mythical blue fin tuna that repeatedly eludes his grasp. Dill can’t escape his past as his ex-wife Karen (Hathaway) appears with a proposition that Dill murder her current abusive husband Frank. She not only has upset in her own life because of Frank, but worries that her son with Dill, Patrick, has become withdrawn as he spends all of his time playing video games. Eventually, the film reveals that all is not what it seems, in an audacious twist.

It turns out that Baker Dill is really living inside a video game created by his son Patrick. A game that Patrick uses to escape his own harsh reality; the abuse of his stepfather Frank, and a way to reconnect to his father Baker who died in war. “I think it is jarring, but I think that’s the point. I actually wanted it to be a bump,” says Steven of the reveal. “To make sure that it’s not like neatly setup so that you’re sort of half expecting it anyway. Just make it so that you don’t know what’s coming, and just basically break those rules.”

At this point, the interview got quite existential, examining the nature of free will, escapism and reality. “What I wanted the final moments of the film to establish is that the reality that he creates must be respected as reality. It’s not his imagination, it’s not all a dream, and to use that as a way of asking the existentialist question – you and I sitting in this room now are creating this room as well. You know, of course we have to function that it’s completely external reality, but in many ways we’re creating it; it’s a product of our perceptions, and yet we proceed on the assumption that it’s real. And I think that with Patrick, he proceeds on the assumption that it’s real, so it is,” says Steven. “If you walk into a cafe or a bar, there’ll be 20 people with 20 different realities on the go. They’re all there with their screens,” he explains. “Constantly there is an alternative reality on offer, on the agenda for anyone, on a bus on a train, especially – very unlikely they will look out the window.”

It’s obvious that the writer/director has a bit of a cynical view on the nature of escapism, especially in today’s modern society. “There’s a French mathematician who said, if computer technology develops at the rate it has been in the last 50 years for the next 50 years, there’s no question there’ll be self-aware computer characters who believe themselves to be real. There’ll be billions of them. So mathematically if you take just the odds, chances are you are one of them, you’re not one of the creators.”

With such a diverse career to date, and his latest film Serenity causing quite a stir, the one word which Steven hopes summarizes his career is, “unexpected.”


SERENITY will be in UK and Irish cinemas and on Sky Cinema from 1 March


Listen to the audio above to hear the interview in its entirety.

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