Things were so much simpler before Matthew McConaughey became a well-respected, critically lauded actor. The world was a brighter, shinier place. It was full of romantic comedies like Failure to Launch and The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, films where McConaughey was little more than a sparkling Southern drawl stuffed into a sport coat.

That old Matthew McConaughey is gone now, lost adrift a sea of accolades and acting ability and roles that are all very serious and very sad. The new McConaughey is a serious actor who takes on tougher, more complex roles and aces them, every single time. The new McConaughey is a man who will actually close his drapes before stripping nude, getting high and pounding on his conga drums like an insane person. It’s a whole new world out there.

And it’s a world that will continue into Sea of Trees, the latest role McConaughey will, presumably, be really really great in. The film, according to The Wrap, will be directed by Gus Van Sant and star McConaughey as a depressed man who ventures into Japan’s Aokigahara Forest with plans to commit suicide. There, he’ll meet Ken Watanabe, who entered the forest with similar motives but has since undergone a change of heart and wants to live. Together, the two of them will “begin a journey of reflection and survival.”

Whatever a “journey of reflection and survival” might entail, it sounds like perfect fodder for the new and improved McConaughey. First, you’ve got the Aokigahara, which is both extremely fascinating and extremely depressing, making for excellent movie material. Known also as the “Sea of Trees” and the “Suicide Forest,” it’s a fourteen square-mile forest at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, where the plant life is so thickly paced that both wind and animal life are blocked out. The result is a forest that’s incredibly, almost eerily silent.

To make matters creepier, it’s also the spot of almost 100 suicides every year. No one knows why; some blame a 1960 novel that romanticized a forest suicide, yet others note that Japanese citizens have been taking their own lives long before the novel was published. Intervention and signs urging those entering the forest to think of their families make little difference, and the authorities still sweep the forest for bodies on a regular basis. A short documentary about the Aokigahara was produced a few years ago, and those wishing to unnerve themselves further can find it over here.

So Sea of Trees has its unsettling, real-life source material. And it’s got a star who’s found massive success taking roles that are spookily close to death in some form or fashion. Now, combine that with a director like Van Sant, who spent the bulk of the last decade working on something called the “Death Trilogy” (made up of the films GerryElephant and Last Days), where two of the three films focused on the bond between two men and their relationship with death. As a cherry on top, throw in screenwriter Chris Sparling, writer of the 2010 film Buried, which featured Ryan Reynolds working closely with another man to prevent his own imminent demise. Now, all of these folks are working together on Sea of Trees, which will feature…two men who grow together as they struggle with suicide. This is familiar subject matter for every single creative name on board, so expectations should be very high for Sea of Trees.

According to The Wrap, production on Sea of Trees should begin shortly, so we won’t need to wait long for the next great McConaughey performance. And if you start to get antsy, nothing’s stopping you from popping in that well-worn copy of Failure to Launch. Or stripping down and breaking out the congas. Just be sure to close the drapes.


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