Inside Netflix’s ‘May December’: Todd Haynes Reveals His Twisted, Brilliant Vision
This shot marks the first moment we see Gracie and Elizabeth in a mirror together, as they gather for a day of graduation-dress shopping for Gracie’s daughter, Mary (Elizabeth Yu). The scene turns tense when Gracie casually humiliates her daughter by insulting her favorite selection—with Elizabeth closely attuned to every beat in the chilly back-and-forth.
Todd Haynes: Making the film was a process of thinking about the mirrors in scenes in the movie, and using the lens of the camera as the actual mirror that actors would look into for their own reflections of themselves. But this scene kept expanding and getting more complex.
Christopher Blauvelt: The challenge was how to hide the camera and which angles the mirrors were going to be; when you have any mirror on any set, it’s difficult because you’re hiding lights and stands and everything. I always stare at the little vanity over Natalie’s shoulder because that’s where the camera is hidden. Also, it’s great conceptually. When I watch the film and see how it works and integrates into our multiplicity of what’s happening within the story, it makes so much sense. Your eye can go in any direction. We play it mostly as a one-er, and so it relies a lot on their performances, which are just immaculate.
Haynes: This is the only mirror scene in the movie where we literally shot through a two-way mirror and hid the camera behind the mirror. All the other mirror scenes, there is no mirror; the actors are just looking at the lens and playing it as a mirror. This took the most preparation of anything because it was so complicated. Sam Lisenco, the production designer, was…like, “Wait a minute. What if we put a mirror here, and a mirror there, and then we see the walking from the dressing room?” And to be honest, Chris, at first I was like, Oh my God, this is just going to be maybe too much!
What you’re starting to watch is the two women watching themselves and each other in a relay. This scene is the most complex because it has Mary coming and going, and Natalie has just done her first interview in the course of this investigative part of the story, where she talked to Gracie’s first husband. But it’s so much about female bodies, the mirroring of these two women, how femininity gets passed on in corrupting ways from mother to daughter, and the spectacle and the humiliation of that being witnessed, again, in mirrors upon mirrors.