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Little Joe 2019

Little Joe

Little Joe

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About the Little Joe 💬

LITTLE JOE follows Alice Woodard (Emily Beecham), a single mother and dedicated senior plant breeder at a corporation engaged in developing new species. She has engineered a special crimson flower, remarkable not only for its beauty but also for its therapeutic value: if kept at the ideal temperature, fed properly and spoken to regularly, this plant makes its owner happy. Against company policy, Alice takes one home as a gift for her teenage son, Joe (Kit Connor). They christen it 'Little Joe.' But as their plant grows, so too does Alice's suspicion that her new creation may not be as harmless as its nickname suggests.

LITTLE JOE inspires from Frankenstein as it questions genetic engineering, scientific progress and our urge to keep secrets.



The idea behind the story is that every individual conceals a secret which cannot be completely appreciated by an outsider or even by that individual. Something strange inside us appears unexpectedly and makes the familiar seem uncanny. Somebody we know suddenly seems strange. Proximity is transformed into the distance. The desire for mutual understanding, empathy and symbiosis is unfulfilled.

In this sense, LITTLE JOE is a parable about what is strange within ourselves. This becomes tangible in the film by means of a plant which is apparently capable of changing people. As a result of this change, something unfamiliar emerges, and something believed to be secure is lost: the bond between two people.


When working on the script with Géraldine Bajard, our concern was to create an atmosphere within the scenes that allows the audience to question the integrity of the characters involved.

We wanted to offer different ways of interpreting what is happening: the so-called changes in people can either be explained by their psychological state of mind, or by the pollen they have inhaled. Or alternatively, those ''changes'' do not exist at all and are only imagined by Bella or Alice.

Geraldine and I found that the biggest challenge when writing the script was to create those moments that retain an ambiguity in order for the audience to always have the possibility of finding an answer.

We have worked on a similar dramaturgical challenge before. With LOURDES, the existence - or not - of a miracle needed to convince, and it convinced both the Vatican as well as the Union of Rationalist Atheists...


In fairy-tales and stories, and also in the present day, we perceive the mother as inseparably linked with her child in some invisible way. In the best scenario, this bond is a loving one, but in any case, it cannot be broken, and it forms the basis for the unquestionable responsibility of a mother for her child. Every working mother is familiar with being asked the question (which is often laden with accusation): ''So, who looks after your child when you go to work?'' LITTLE JOE is about a mother who is tormented by her bad conscience when she goes to work and 'neglects' her child. A mother whose feelings are ambivalent, because the plant is Alice's other child: her work, her creation, the product of her labor. And she doesn't want to neglect this child either or lose it. But which of her children will Alice choose in the end?


Both of the female main characters, Alice as well as Bella, seem to be psychologically unstable. Alice regularly attends psychotherapy, where her bad conscience towards her son, her being a workaholic and her secret fears are being discussed. We learn that what seems to be a threat upon Alice's career (her plant possibly changes the people who come in contact with it and thus alienates them from their loved ones) could as well be interpreted as Alice's most secret wish coming true: to free herself from the bond with her child. To be able to focus on her own desires and interests. To have a bit more time for herself. A wish that she shouldn't blame herself for. And when she finally achieves that freedom - the film comes to a happy end.


Alice has created two beings who gradually move away from her control: Joe and Little Joe. The plant appears to have a life of its own: it emits pollen according to its own criteria, though we don't know whether this is by chance or conscious intention. Is Little Joe attempting to overcome its infertility, which Alice engineered? Is it securing its survival by infecting people and robbing them of their feelings? So that those who have been infected will now serve Little Joe? That theory sounds fantastical, and initially, Alice laughs at it - but not for long.

Today, we are confronted with living beings which are products of genetic engineering and we cannot really know for certain what kind of danger they may conceal. Perhaps none at all... but we can't be sure. One body of opinion insists that to be on the safe side we should protect ourselves from this eventuality, while another claims that everything is under control. Without taking sides here, I'm interested in this aspect of our time, which is determined on the one hand by scientific developments and on the other by semi-truths that are spread on the internet. And by the uncanny realization that even scientists can only surmise, without knowing for certain. It is fertile soil for all manner of conspiracy theories.


It seems to me that the film's aesthetic is even more abstract or artificial in LITTLE JOE than in my earlier films. AMOUR FOU was perhaps a steppingstone because, with a historical setting, you are already entering a fantasy world. None of us were there, we only have pictures to refer to, which are already another artist's impression. It's already a kind of invented world that you are designing. With LITTLE JOE I had the feeling that this would go even further. Obviously, we were inspired by greenhouses, laboratories, real places, but in the end, we were trying to create a kind of artificial world. We wanted to reflect the fairy-tale nature of the story. For example, with the colors, there is the mint green and white, and then the red of the flower. We chose these almost childish colors to give the film the characteristics of a fairy-tale or fable. Also, Alice's red hair, for example, that is a very important point, almost iconographical - this bright red mushroom hairstyle that she has.


With LITTLE JOE, it's my first time working with music that works like film music. The music was written by Japanese composer, Teiji Ito. He wrote music for Maya Deren's experimental films in the 1940s and I find her films so inspiring. I think that throughout film history, she's the director that has inspired me the most. The style of the editing, the staging, and also the music fascinates me. It is exciting, it creates emotions, it is even scary, but it is also abstract; it draws you in and pushes you back at the same time.

When I heard those three songs on Teiji Ito's album Watermill, I immediately had the feeling that it was composed for our film. I had the music in my head when I was storyboarding - I already knew which camera movement would fit which piece of music. And because of that, I think the rhythm of the film or the narrative already connected with this music during the shoot. This being said, it is due to the very unique character of this music, that it remains a character in itself.


This is my first English-language film and it is surprising to me how wonderful it felt to work in English. I feel that certain things can be expressed unsentimentally in English, which in German might sound complicated or ridiculous. I enjoy shooting in a language other than my native one, because it really allows me to focus. When directing, I think it's crucial not to get too comfortable and not to get caught up in any detail. You need to have an unimpaired view of a scene to judge if it's working or not. The foreign language helps me to keep that distance.


What was really exciting was the research on plant breeding. Which plants are bred artificially, why, and the market for this science? Finding out what people look for in plants and what sells well. What are the trends, or directions in research? What is benefiting science and what is benefiting the economy? And with what intention?

Of course, with food crops, the overriding theme is developing the durability and resilience of plants. But with ornamental plants, I found it interesting that something as subjective as the scent of a plant should be the focus of so much research. Because, in fact, this utopia exists: the scent of a plant can make a person happy. You smell a flower and you can almost see the smile on the faces - that's the idea of a flower. It is beautiful and it smells good. And then in the course of the research it turns out that we don't really know what that means, ''it smells good''; everyone likes a different smell. That gave me the idea of a fragrance that makes everyone happy, be it by pheromones or other hormonal substances that are emitted by the flowers. It's alchemical: scientists who are creating spells...

To create the doom of the story, we needed a maleficent threat that develops out of the beautiful scent. I contacted several scientists who are involved in plant genetics and human genetics, and brain specialists. That was the complicated part - finding a connection, determining if and how a plant could ever infect a human. They developed a theory that it could be a virus because a virus is flexible enough and can mutate in a way that could adapt from a plant virus into a human virus. This is very unlikely, but conceivable in certain circumstances. And that was, so to speak, the foundation upon which we spin the whole story. Then I talked to James Fallon, who is a brain researcher, and he developed a theory that you could inhale psychotropic drugs through your nose. And that, so to speak, backs up our idea.

For the greenhouses, we were mainly in Holland, quite classic. Holland is still the market leader in floriculture. I find that somehow interesting, because it is such a small country, but they are so specialized in it, and they have the leading technology. Royal Flora Holland is a huge operation, it's unbelievable. You feel like you're in Brave New World, endless number of computerized flower cars driving around.


Science tries things, and nobody can ever predict the consequences. And yet it is done. And sometimes there are positive effects. This is similar to the theme of my film, LOURDES, where the miracle is good and bad at the same time. In this story, the invention is good, because the people who inhale the fragrance of the plant are happy. It works. But the downside... well. I think that's what interests me most, these contradictory and conflicting situations, these Gordian Knots that are virtually impossible to undo.

Little Joe Movie Details 🎥

Directed by

Jessica Hausner

Writing Credits

Jessica Hausner

Géraldine Bajard


Emily Beecham

Ben Whishaw

Kerry Fox

Sebastian Hülk

Kit Connor

Jessie Mae Alonzo

Phoebe Austen

David Wilmot

Phénix Brossard

Cinematography by

Martin Gschlacht

Genres: Drama, Sci-Fi (Science Fiction), Thriller

Countries: United Kingdom, Austria, Germany

Little Joe Official Trailer

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