Director Mora Stephens on set.
Sam is vulnerable. He’s shaky with stress as his wife and coworkers push him toward running for political office. His foray into the sex industry comes across as surprisingly empathetic. Who knew that a husband cheating on his loving wife could be sympathetic? But, in Zipper, it is.
The booker baits the hook and the hooker reels him in. Alexandra Breckenridge as Sam’s first $1,000 per hour escort was a brilliant choice of casting. She works him like a pro while also remaining likable. One of the strengths of this film is how few judgments are made. Instead, it is a realistic portrayal of addiction and how a man with so much to lose, gets hooked on hookers.
Sam’s remorse over his indulgence in forbidden fruit is palpable yet it can’t quell his compulsions. What could’ve been a one-time thing morphs into a monkey on his back. It’s like watching the hijacked brain of a cokehead who knows he should stop but can’t.
The Fix caught up with writer/director Mora Stephens.
Have you studied the addict’s brain?
Yes, I’ve long been fascinated by this subject. I’m the daughter of two artists. My father is a writer and recovering alcoholic. He writes eloquently about it so I can talk about it. When I was 12, I went to classes at Smithers rehab with him. I was struck by how addiction changes the brain and how it affects your child’s brain. That was the origin of my approach to this story; looking at a politician like Sam and wondering where it all began and trying to put myself in his shoes.
Here’s this guy who has the potential for addiction; his mother was an alcoholic and he has this porn addiction bubbling under the surface. He’s been afraid of it and repressing it without getting any help for it.
At Sundance, I spoke on a panel called Addiction Fiction, which was sponsored by the Norlien Foundation. The panel was myself with another filmmaker, Jen Newsom, and neuroscientists, psychologists and anthropologists all studying addiction and how it is portrayed in movies. It gave me a whole new perspective looking at the movie from the science of addiction and learning that ritual is very important. I learned even more hearing the scientists talk about how repeating a behavior strengthens connections and circuitry in the brain.
Watch the trailer: