Interview: Neil Burger on directing his space-set thriller Voyagers

Neil Burger‘s 30-year career as a filmmaker has taken the director on a varied journey.  From his beginnings as a music video director and faux documentarian, Burger became a staple name in mainstream cinema thanks to such commercial and critical successes as The Illusionist, Limitless, and Divergent.

Now working off his first original script in over a decade, Voyagers sees him tackling the thematics of repopulation following the destruction of the Earth.  Ahead of the film’s release, Peter Gray spoke with Burger about what inspired him to write the script and how much more relevant his story is in today’s climate.

At the beginning of the film the narrative states that this new planet has been sought because of damage done to earth via pollution and disease.  Do you find that the conversation around the film has become more relevant because of what we are experiencing now?

I think it has.  From when I was writing it there was a relevancy to it, but I could never have expected we’d be in this lockdown.  The characters in the movie are all experiencing a similar feeling of confinement and claustrophobia…and at the beginning you see people in hazmat suits because they don’t want to transmit germs to the young people, and suddenly all of those images and ideas feel very of the moment.

Where did the inspiration for the film come from?

It was an original idea, something I came up with.  I’ve been interested in space flight and this seemed like a good idea to explore the themes of human nature.  Who are we when we strip away cultural influences, and I thought that space craft was a great venue for that.

Even though the film is large in its idea, it feels quite intimate because of the setting, was that the intention to keep things so contained, almost claustrophobic…

It was, yeah.  The reality of that flight you’re on is that it’s not a shopping mall in space.  We did a lot of research to find the bare minimum of a space ship, the bare minimum to support life.  And then there’s the confined space for the characters, you know, there’s no windows…there’s nothing to see in deep space, it’s just pure darkness.  It’s all very interior.  And then there’s the challenge of how do we make that dynamic, taking that intimate thematic of the human face and question of who we are as people.

Was it always the plan for the story to focus on these characters when they were younger? In their more formative years?

I think so, yeah.  To me, the movie is about raw human behaviour, and who better to explore that then young people who aren’t fully formed and can go either way when faced with a crisis or a choice.

Voyagers is screening in Australian theatres from April 8th 2021.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.