Rotting in the Sun Silva Jordan Firstman interview

Rotting in the Sun is one of the year’s most subversive films

An interview with social media icon Jordan Firstman, who plays a version of himself in the new film by Chilean director Sebastián Silva.

Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva has a talent for the absurd. His best-known films, The Maid (2009), Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (2013) and Nasty Baby (2015), share a common irreverence and undercurrent violence. He challenges the line between fiction and nonfiction in films that blur the lines of reality through myth, fantasy and drug use. His latest film, Rotting in the Sun, takes that absurdity to new heights as he takes inspiration from events in his own life. Silva plays a version of himself in the film, a filmmaker and artist trying to work on his painting. He meets social media influencer Jordan Firstman on a gay beach and disappears shortly after. Firstman, eager to collaborate with Silva, tries to solve the mystery of his new friend’s disappearance. 

Silva’s chance meeting with social media icon Jordan Firstman inspired Rotting in the Sun. Jordan Firstman and Silva had met previously in New York but were staying in Mexico City at the same time. Firstman recounts the meeting, “I was in Mexico City and hooking up with a guy who had a pretty sinister personality. Randomly, Sebastian’s movie Crystal popped into my head, and I was like, Hey, I think you’d like this guy’s work and we should watch this movie. I hadn’t thought about Sebastián in years. I had met him one time in New York, like six years prior, but hadn’t thought about him, didn’t know where he lived or anything like that. I show my hook-up Crystal Fairy and the next morning he goes to Plaza Rio de Janeiro, where the movie is shot, to walk his dog. And I meet him there, and he’s there flirting with Sebastián Silva.”

Firstman says he started to freak out, “Oh my God, this is so embarrassing. I’m going to seem like a fan girl, but I played it cool.” They ended up hanging out more in Mexico City, and that was it — until Silva called Firstman about a month later. Firstman remembers him saying, “Hey, I have this movie. I looked at your Instagram, and it’s really cringey, and I really want to make fun of you. I was like, ‘That sounds fantastic!’”

At the time of writing this article, Jordan Firstman has just over 800K followers on Instagram. His profile image features him grinning, his teeth blood stained — he has a black eye. His content is unabashedly sexy, stupid and incendiary. There are images of him nearly naked and others posing with Pedro Almodovar. He also makes popular reels, hyper-specific “impressions” like “if Jesus came back on Easter weekend” and “a British girl who loses her voice every time she parties.” His humour is self-aware, irreverent and the perfect level of dumb.

In Rotting in the Sun, Firstman plays a version of himself. “Sebastian is a perceptive motherfucker,” Firstman laughs. “For better or for worse,” he continues, “(Silva) could be around someone for such a short amount of time and really know how to exploit their weaknesses and insecurities almost immediately.” Firstman worked with Silva on part of the script, injecting his own voice and dialogue, even some jokes. Yet, he credits Silva for really capturing his essence. “He manages to capture my naive positivity. He was able to skewer and satirize me but see me at the same time.”

Firstman wasn’t offended that Silva described his work as cringe. “Sebastian proved to me that my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me,” says Firstman. “Some people do actually think the worst things about me. It’s like going through an ayahuasca trip where you just have to go through the darkest parts of all of it to get through it. Gay guys are so mean to me on the internet. I see bad shit about myself all the time. Something about how I suck, or I’m annoying, or fat, or ugly. A normal person getting these comments will ruin them for a week. But if you’re on the Internet, you have to completely desensitize yourself because you get them all the time. The bad stuff really cuts through a lot more. But you know, you get tougher, that’s a good thing to have in life as well.”

Working on the film, Firstman was willing to jump head-first into the role. “It was really exciting and dangerous,” he says. The film features unsimulated sex and drug use. “The police would shut us down probably, like, three out of every five days and we’d have to bribe them. I’d be in the middle of an emotional scene, and we’re bribing the police,” he says. “I think so few movies now are genuinely really subversive and transgressive and really push you,” he says. 

Part of Rotting in the Sun examines the nature of artistic creation in a click-based economy. Some of the tension undercutting the relationship between Firstman and Silva (as characters) is tied to Firstman’s easy popularity and carelessness. What value does art have in an era of hyper-consumerism? 

Firstman is careful to point out that the version of himself in the film is true to life, but more closely resembles who he was back in 2020. “It was the pandemic, and everyone was home. I created this new format to create comedy on the internet. It was really exciting and innovative. I have a lot of mixed feelings. I hope I don’t have to make these videos forever, but I know, in the world we live in, we have to accept that social media is a part of it.”

How have things changed since 2020? “Now, I’m trying to goddamn survive!” Firstman exclaims. “I think everyone feels this way on social media right now. No one has the fire to like, do anything. We’re just trying to keep this hamster wheel moving for some reason in the hopes that it will make us feel better about ourselves, make us feel something or give us money.”

Firstman hopes that Rotting in the Sun challenges audiences but worries that, increasingly, fewer people are able to engage with complex or challenging works of art. “I think people don’t know how to communicate with challenging cinema anymore. A whole generation has been exposed to really, really safe, safe things. I blame Netflix a lot for that. The second they started sanitizing TV, a whole generation got used to seeing a certain type of media. Anything that diverges from that, even stylistically, is like another language to them. I’m hoping that culture can kind of shift back and this younger generation could start to appreciate different styles of consuming media again and start to be able to digest more challenging ideas that make them not have a clear-cut view of the world.” ■

Rotting in the Sun, directed by Sebastián Silva

Rotting in the Sun is streaming exclusively on MUBI.

This article was originally published in the Sept. 2023 issue of Cult MTL.

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