Several years ago, Tara Miele and her husband were struggling in every sense of the word. They’ve emerged from that period now, stronger and happier as a family, but as the parents of two children under six months, they once faced mounting financial pressures, a lack of work, and the stress that being working parents can put on a marriage. On top of all of that, a brutal car accident, which they fortunately both survived, coupled with the ensuing emotional fallout eventually found their way into her latest film Wander Darkly.
The film stars Sienna Miller and Diego Luna as a young couple struggling to recuperate from the devastating effects of a car accident. While reality and fiction share basic plot points, Miele used the incident to elaborate on broader themes that were not specific to her and her husband but spoke to the common struggles of young couples.
Writing Wander Darkly provided Miele a sense of catharsis that helped her recover from the effects of the accident.
“I think it’s so interesting how we can have one moment in our life happen, and we never let go of it. It lives every moment forever. You know, we’re just constantly revisiting it and taking in that wound,” Miele shared. “I think it’s quite cathartic as a filmmaker to dive into a movie that kind of heals you or teaches you. You come out the other side of it, for sure, a different person. Wander Darkly was really that for me, for sure.”
Wander Darkly features Miller and Luna navigating a dreamlike narrative that weaves their past, present, and potential future together. This complex narrative evolved from extensive planning by Miele. Rather than find the film in the editing room, she strategically worked through each scene, each character movement via carefully aligned Post-Its. In addition to personal experiences, she drew on other sources of art to create the remarkable visual and narrative palate of the film. Terry Gilliam’s 1991 acclaimed film The Fisher King proved one particularly valuable inspiration.
“It’s such a beautiful broad comedy in addition to heartfelt drama and the sort of psychological thriller/horror/fantasy element of the grief that’s haunting and consistently devastating Robin Williams’ character. I actually showed that some of that stuff to Deanna and Diego when we were in rehearsals.”
Rehearsal time helped ensure that Miller and Luna found their characters as quickly and as deeply as possible. Given the intimate on-screen story, chemistry between the two actors was of paramount importance. Through that rehearsal time, Miele and team openly discussed their own experiences with trauma, grief, and loss and their intersections with relationships.
Fortunately, Miller and Luna grew into the acting world together, boasting a long-standing friendship that definitely reflects in their on-screen chemistry.
“Sienna had to do quite a lot of work that left her emotionally sort of unmoored. That was the work, to be unhinged and not know which way was up. Diego in is such a lovely person, such a rock, that he really knew how to be her anchor on set,” Miele revealed, “to really be there for her to hold onto emotionally, that roller coaster that she was on.”
Wander Darkly originally premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival prior to the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked the film industry and played havoc with film release schedules. In the end, the film will be seen at home in more intimate settings than a traditional movie theater. While every director wants their films to be seen on big screens, Miele isn’t completely distraught by the idea of Wander Darkly streaming for audiences at home.
She hopes that it forces couples to look at their own relationships in a different way.
“I love theaters. I hope they come back. Don’t get me wrong, but there is definitely a new conversation happening, especially about independent film and distribution models. I think that’s a good thing,” Miele remarked. “I actually love the idea of people being able to watch this film with someone they love in their home and experience that private little thing together and, hopefully, love each other more on their way out. There’s something sort of affirming about loving the one you’re with. I think it’s lovely if people experience the film this way.”