I recently had the chance to take part in a small group conversation with Diane writer/director Kent Jones and the film’s lead, Mary Kay Place. This represents some of the topic we discussed.
I noted that one of my favorite lines in the film was when the character Tom, one of the people Diane served at a church feeding of the homeless, says to her, “When you serve me, Diane, I feel sanctified.”
Kent Jones: We talked a lot about that word. It was very important to me that that word was used because I felt like I wanted to find language from someone else to her that would cut through the miasma.
Mary Kay Place: I love that word anyway. It used to be used a lot years ago, but you rarely ever hear it. Maybe in your community you hear it, but I don’t hear it in the general culture. And I said, “Oh, that’s the best word to use.” It jumps out because we’re not used to hearing it, where in the 30s and 40s people said “sanctify” as part of the common language. It was more common I think.
Kent Jones: It’s also very moving because the actor Charles [Weldon] actually passed away in December. That was the last scene that was shot. He was a great actor. He ran the Negro Ensemble Company for the last few years of his life. And he’d been through it with his own son who passed away from a heroin overdose, I think. He was really very connected to the script, and he was very nervous on the last night that we took our time and we got it ready to play. That was a great experience.
Mary Kay Place: Yeah. He was a very soulful man.
Kent Jones: Yes.
Mary Kay Place: And had been through a lot, and I think had been addicted himself.
Kent Jones: Yes, he had.
Mary Kay Place: So he was at a point in his life. I don’t know if he knew that he had cancer at this point.
Kent Jones: I don’t think he did.
Mary Kay Place: But he was open and vulnerable as a human being. I get emotional just thinking about him. It was such a beautiful experience to get to meet him and work with him.
I mentioned that religion permeates the movie, but then it brings in some more extreme religion with charismatic Christianity.
Kent Jones: My mom was a lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal church. We shot it in an Episcopal church. That kind of relationship to the church was very important to the film, between the character Diane and her church. My friend who went through addiction—the character of Brian was based on the experience that he had—did not become born again, but certainly the addiction carried on from drugs to other things. I will say that in the script, as I wrote it and as we were planning on doing it when we shot that scene, Diane’s character was going to be disdainful of what she was seeing—the slain in the spirit stuff. Then a lot of the people in the scene were charismatics. Mary Kay and I took a moment and she said to me, “I have to say I’m very moved by these people.” And I said, “So am I, so we’re changing the emotional dynamic of the scene.”
Mary Kay Place: I didn’t want her to go into this church and be disdainful of people. She was a guest and they were worshiping God in the way they wanted to. I wanted her to have enough decency to let everybody do what they need to do in worshiping God, and not to come in and be judgmental.
Kent Jones: They were very moving. And the woman in the front row, she’s a minister. She said the music we were playing for people to get in the right frame of mind, she said this is not what we would be listening to.. And you know, you can tell the difference when someone is faking it. But in terms of the question of the whole film where spirituality fits in the film…At the end of the movie she’s grasping for something. “What did I forget? What did I forget?” I think that’s kind of where the spiritual hub of the movie sits, in the sense that you’re always looking for what is the final answer, how do I put it all together, but then it’s always “there”.
The question was raised over whether Diane’s cousin actually forgave her for what she had done years before.
Kent Jones: It’s one of those things where someone says…
Mary Kay Place: “I forgave you, but I didn’t forget.” But you know what? In my imagination the minute I left the room and she felt bad about saying that. I think she did forgive me before she died. That’s just me, but I do think she did, because we were so close, and we constantly fought anyway. We were always picking at each other. But she says in other scenes, “You’re not alone.” We told each other the truth about what we thought, which makes people really close, if you’re able to really say, “You’re wrong about this.” “Well, I hear you saying that, but I don’t think so and so.” I think those are the closest relationships people can have when they can each tell their own truth. And I believe that we were at peace with each other when she died. Even though I felt guilt about that. She died and I had a big argument. We had a deep relationship in spite of these little spats that I think transcended petty “Yes, you did. No, you didn’t” She was dying and I was upset about my son. We were both just an emotional place where we were projecting and lashing out. But we were used to that and forgave each other each and every time.