Director Posin eyes teenage condition

Teenagers are sliced from the world of their parents in director Arie Posin’s vision of sprawling suburban America

by Erin Adler

Director Arie Posin’s parents refused to purchase a television until their son was 16 years old.

Despite this fact, or perhaps because of it, Posin grew up understanding that images were powerful – so powerful, in fact, that their consumption had to be limited.

He took these ideas to heart in directing his first feature-length film, “The Chumscrubber.”

Posin grew up in Irvine, Calif., the child of Russian-immigrant parents. In Russia, Posin’s father directed films; in the United States, the family watched them. Every Sunday, the Posins attended movies together – everything from Star Wars to the work of Russian and Italian masters – and discussed them during the dinner that followed.

“From my father and from (these discussions) I learned that everything matters in a movie, all of the details, down to what would happen if you held the camera a foot higher,” he said.

“A lot of that made it into ‘The Chumscrubber,’ ” he said.

“The Chumscrubber,” opening in Minneapolis (and eight other smaller cities) Aug. 5, is a dark gaze into the isolation and absurdity of suburban life, viewed from the perspective of teenagers.

The film has gained recognition for, among other things, its all-star cast. Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Allison Janney, Carrie-Anne Moss and Rita Wilson star as the self-absorbed adults in the film, while Jamie Bell (of “Billy Elliot” fame) plays the protagonist role of Dean Stiffle, a teenager struggling with the recent suicide of his best and only friend, Troy (Josh Janowicz).

Troy was also the high school’s pre-eminent source of drugs, a situation that leaves teens Crystal (Camilla Belle), Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Billy (Justin Chatwin) in need of a fix. The three attempt to blackmail Dean into nabbing Troy’s drugs from his old room by kidnapping Dean’s little brother. When they take the wrong child, though, Dean must decide whether to take action and find out just how serious his classmates are about revenge. Meanwhile, every adult in the film is completely oblivious to the kidnapping, focusing instead on their own lives.

The film critiques suburbia, specifically focusing on the adults’ lack of communication skills and failure to relate to their children. In fact, Posin said, the adults and teens in the movie exist in almost entirely separate worlds.

The break between the two worlds is more than deliberate, he said. One of his main goals in making the film was to tell the story from a teenager’s unique point of view.

“The kids are the center of gravity – the movie is about them,” he said. “They drive the plotline along.”

Posin knows about growing up in the manicured world of upper-middle-class suburbia, having resided as a teen in the United States’ first “master-planned” community. His parents thought the place, with its uniform-width roads and strategically placed schools, was “literally paradise.”

To a teenager, though, it “felt like the opposite,” he said, recalling walking into a friend’s house with the exact same floor plan as his own.

Posin also commented on the power of pop culture in the film. He and writer Zac Stanford created a nonsense word – “chumscrubber” – and turned it into the sole representation of popular culture in the movie. Designed to represent the name of a fictional video game in which the main character is the sole, headless survivor of the apocalypse, the “Chumscrubber” character becomes the video game played by Dean’s brother, the poster on a locker and the T-shirt worn by a high school student. Observant viewers will also see the “Chumscrubber” appear in other less noticeable places in the film.

Subtle placements show the level of detail Posin likes to see in a film, whether he’s directing it or simply watching it.

“I love it when I see movies a second or third time and start to see more things, things I didn’t notice before,” he said. “Something clicks, and you get the sense there’s more going on than it initially appears,” he said.