The recording of the interview at Sundance in January seems so normal -- as if it took place a lifetime ago. Tara Miele and the stars of her film "Wander Darkly," Sienna Miller and Diego Luna, chat animatedly with the director and prankster Kevin Smith, who asks them about the film, which had just been shown, and then other random questions, such as what were the best things they swiped from previous movie sets.
The mood of the discussion is carefree and irreverent. Now, in October, on the eve of its Hamptons International Film Festival screenings, the somber atmosphere more closely resembles the film and its title.
The movie portrays the crisis of a woman who isn't clear about her state of being or that of those around her after a car crash. It's an existential journey the audience takes with her, never really sure what is happening until late in the game. Falling under the spell of the expertly woven plot, viewers forget to ask themselves an important question, and it matters.
If the film's concept sounds like a dangerous gambit, it is. Yet it works as it exposes the complexities of modern relationships and their thorny realities as well.
The film feels genuine and true, because it is based on lived experience. Last week, the Long Island native, who moved to California as a tween, said by phone from Los Angeles that she had been in a bad car crash seven years ago.
"I saw headlights, then I blacked out, and when I came to, I couldn't see. I kept screaming, 'I can't see, I can't see!' And I got really mad at my husband, actually, because he wasn't answering me," she recalled.
The idea that something could have happened to him was impossible to her. "It was one thing for me to be hurt, or disembodied, or dead, but it just didn't even occur to me that something could have happened to him. He is the rock."
After they were taken to the hospital, it was determined that she had a concussion and he broke his wrist, but they were otherwise unharmed. "We were really fine."
For several weeks, they required a nanny to help with their daughters, a 6-month-old and a 4-year-old. "I just couldn't get off the couch in the beginning." There is a scene in the film where Ms. Miller calls to her baby and begins to panic and disassociate when she doesn't respond. "I did have that moment . . . I called to my baby and she was ignoring me, because she was a baby. But in my concussed state there was a brief moment when I thought I died, my parents will raise the kids, and we'll never move into the house we just bought."
Flash-forward to four weeks later. "It was Thanksgiving and we were at my folks' house," she said. "They were screaming about the turkey -- the good Italians they are -- the kids were crying, and it was just chaos. And yet, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of deep, deep gratitude for the fact that we were still there and for these messy, delicate little lives that we were so fortunate to be living."
Writing the film was a way to weave these revelations into an art form that might provide meaning to others. Even though loss occurs every day for different reasons, the resonance of life's fragility and all the other things we take for granted is particularly relevant and material to these times.
A widespread tragedy wasn't anything she envisioned when she wrote it. It was the smaller, everyday tragedies that were being channeled. "When I was casting and crewing up, people's reactions were often rooted in relating to me a deep loss." One person told her about losing a teenage son. Someone in the audience at Sundance had lost her father right before the festival, and told Ms. Miele she "walked around for a few hours in a daze and that the movie made her realize she wanted to live. There's been some incredibly powerful reactions from people who have experienced deep loss."
Mr. Luna, who plays Ms. Miller's partner in the film, helps her through her immediate crisis and retraces the life they made together. About to purchase their first house, they were experiencing growing pains of adulthood before the accident, taking on the responsibility of parenthood and the conflagrations it can ignite.
"For a long time, I wanted to write about a relationship that felt real and nuanced," she said. Having been with her husband for 20 years, "when we fight, my brain opens a million boxes. We could be fighting about the dishwasher and I want to fight about something that happened in 2004. Then, he is like, 'What is happening?' "
Even in shared experience, each person remembers things differently, she noted, and she wanted to give her husband his due. "The stories we tell are the lives we live. In rethinking your own narrative, there's just so much value in perspective. The perspective is everything."
"Wander Darkly" is available for streaming beginning tomorrow through Wednesday through the Hamptons Film website.