TORONTO - There's no doubt that James Franco's "Child of God" is likely to shock and even disturb a good many viewers.
But the actor-turned-filmmaker never planned on making a crowd-pleaser anyway — he wanted his audience exposed to extremes.
"Some people make movies about social causes, some people make movies to make people laugh, to given them a little bit of a relief for a couple of hours, to entertain. They're all I think valuable reasons to make movies...but when I direct, I'm drawn to a particular kind of thing," Franco explains.
"I look for movies ... with extreme situations, but where I can still relate to the characters."
Franco's film, screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, a work he calls one of his favourites.
The movie follows the downward spiral of an ostracized man who is driven to violent acts and necrophilic relationships as he seeks an escape from his physical and social isolation.
Ballard, played by an unshaven, dirt-smeared Scott Haze, can evoke both sympathy and revulsion as the film tracks the character's descent into madness.
Disturbing as the lead character's actions are however, Franco argues that the film allow viewers to delve into bigger social issues.
"With this movie, it's a guy that has relationships with dead bodies, but that's to me on the surface. What that surface story allows us to do is examine a deeper more general thing about being human," he explained.
"At his core, what his character really wants is to love another and be loved. To have a relationship. That's what we all want, as humans that's how we are. This is a way of looking at someone who is deprived of that."
Franco points out that he doesn't in any way condone the violence displayed by the movie's lead character, but adds that film as a medium allows for the exploration of extremes.
"In a movie you don't need to think along the lines of the law. You can look at him and sympathize with his feelings — not his acts, but his feelings."
By Franco's own admission, Ballard certainly makes for an atypical protagonist, but the director wanted the film to be different.
"As the audience member you're thinking ... how am I supposed to be feeling about this? But really what you're seeing is somebody in his private moments," he said. "Because it's presented in that way, hopefully you can see another side."
The Toronto International Film Festival runs through Sept. 15.
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