About The Production
Oplev worked closely with director of photography Eric Kress, production
designer Niels Sejer (both of whom he had collaborated with previously on
numerous projects including The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and costume
designer Jenny Gering to come up with an overall look for the film. In designing
the sets and selecting the locations, it was important to the filmmakers to
establish a backdrop for the film that reflected the marriage of traditional
medicine with the new research-driven medicine that compels the five students to
experiment with their own mortality.
To create the fictional Trinity Emmanuel Medical Center, Sejer sought to create
an atmosphere that would underscore the students' motivation to flatline - that
this would be their chance to make a name in a highly competitive world.
"We wanted to create a top medical universe - an icon for aspiration in
America," explains Sejer. "I kept circling around three words - innovation,
privilege, and tradition. These words, these ideas ended up being reflected in
the sets and locations and even in the way we searched for architecture and
design. We were scouting skybridges and I was looking around with those three
words in my mind when we saw a beautiful glass skybridge. We looked at it from a
number of angles and realized that it was connecting an older 70s medical
facility to a very modern structure, all glass and steel architecture. The
skybridge was like a passage in time; it reflected all the things that inform
our movie. I took a picture of it and the buildings on either side, put them up
on my wall and they became the key for a lot of the design elements and the
theme of old and new, traditional and modern."
One of the biggest challenges for Sejer and his design team was the secret
bunker complex hidden deep in the basement of Trinity Emmanuel Medical Center
where the flatlining experiments take place. In this isolated, forgotten bunker,
Oplev could create a set that creatively satisfied the environment he sought for
the flatlining sequences. "I wanted to pick and choose exactly what I wanted to
create the best drama, but it still had to be real."
For example, there was a long discussion about whether to use paddles to shock
the hearts. "Paddles are actually something you'd have used 15 years ago; now,
they use pads that they glue right onto the body," Oplev notes. "But paddles are
much more personal - especially when they'd use a paddle to stop the heart and
initiate a flatline."
The solution was to create the bunker. "The idea was that they are flatlining in
a section of the hospital that is only used in emergencies, and because of that,
it contains a mixture of old and new equipment," says Oplev. "Upstairs, in the
very modern room, they have pads; downstairs, in the bunker, they still have
The bunker would still need some new equipment, notes Sejer. "Niels wanted the
set to seem as though it was left alone and lonely, isolated from the rest of
the hospital but at the same time be filled with equipment that would be
technically advanced enough to create the brain imaging data that the students
collected during the flatlining sequences," he says.
As a centerpiece of the bunker set, Sejer designed a futuristic-looking MRI
scanner that, while adding to the heightened reality the director desired for
the set, would also accommodate filming the complicated flatlining scenes. "We
really wanted it to look like the next step in MRI machines," says the designer.
"I met with a neurosurgeon to discuss what you would need to read brain activity
the way we were doing in the movie and then came up with the concept for our MRI
machine. I showed the concept to him, and he said, 'I want it, where can I get
one!' That was good enough for me."
Costume designer Jenny Gering took a similar approach to the wardrobe for the
film, keeping the costumes as realistic as possible. "We did a ton of research
because there's nothing worse than getting it wrong," states Gering. "We spoke
with residents and medical students and doctors. There's such a subculture in
this world in terms of who wears a lab coat, who doesn't wear a lab coat, at
what year in their studies do they wear it, whose coat is embroidered and so on
. . . there are reasons for each level."
Gering created a wide-range of designs for the film. From Marlo's studied and
professional suits to Jamie's preppy, Ivy-league sweaters, the wardrobe
reflected each character's personality. "Clothing is a great tool to help
develop and define a character," explains Gering. "For instance, Ray is very
neutral, so he wears a lot of grays and blacks; he's not trying to stand out, he
just wants to do his thing and be himself. Jamie, on the other hand, is a
peacock, so his colors are a lot stronger."
"Marlo wears a lot of jewel tones, she's very crisp and tailored, there's real
richness to her wardrobe and her character," Gering continues. "For Sophia, who
has such a lovely innocence and openness to her, we decided her wardrobe should
be a little brighter, her look a little younger, so she wears clothes that have
a little more fun and pop to them."
Ellen Page's character gave the designer an opportunity to try something a
little different: "Courtney was so much fun for me because she was a way to
explore a sexiness and strength that I don't often get to do with actresses,"
says Gering. "Courtney reminded me of an iconic seventies woman - a Charlotte
Rampling or a Faye Dunaway, that kind of vibe. She's very professional and very
serious, but she's also aware of the fact that she's beautiful and knows when to
use that, and I think that comes across in the strength and power of her
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