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Isaac Knott (Nick Stahl) is a Public Radio reporter in New York City. When he was eight, his mother and father died in an automobile accident that left him in a wheelchair. On air, Isaac recounts how he recently received an anonymous tip from someone identified only as "Ancient Chinese Girl." She tells him a perfectly able-bodied man walked into an emergency ward downtown and attempted to bribe a doctor into amputating his leg. As Isaac investigates the eerie tip, he encounters Fiona (Vera Farmiga) who, through her own quandary, leads Isaac to a netherworld of people afflicted with a perverse desire to be disabled. Like a contemporary noir detective film, this thriller follows Isaac as he embarks on a dream-like journey to pull back the layers of what makes people feel whole. Debut feature for writer/director Carlos Brooks.

Quid Pro Quo by writer/director Carlos Brooks

Yes, these people really do exist. That’s the answer to the question I am most often asked after a screening of my film, Quid Pro Quo, a new detective movie (actually a sub-genre known as the investigative journalism thriller)—and at least part of what makes it a mystery lies in the answer to that question: “Are there really able-bodied people out there who want to be disabled?”

To be honest, I almost didn’t write this one. I’m not interested in weirdness for its own sake. And I don’t get much of a hit off poking at cultural taboos. I also had to question the relevance of a story that concerned a group of disability “wannabes”—was there ever a subject matter related to a smaller group of people? I hope not.

But a satisfying detective story is hard to come by—and this, I felt pretty safe in assuming, was one nobody had ever done before. But the reason I made this film despite my misgivings is because while it dealt with a very specific pathology, I realized there was an element to it that was also universal. That is, haven’t we all—whether as individuals, groups, or even as a nation—at one time or another, found comfort in the idea of ourselves as victims?

It is as seductive an idea as it is unexamined, this impulse to claim injury. We imagine the victim’s status relieves us of responsibility, while still entitling us to compensation. It’s an impulse to be significant, to require the attention of others. The more I thought about it, I began to realize these impulses were the stuff of classic pulp fiction. Stories from magazines like Black Mask, whose editors labored to keep the attention of their readership—white sex slave debutantes one week were saved by crab-walking detectives the next—and here I had stumbled onto something even they had not conjured. And it was rooted in reality.

I don’t remember discussing the theme of “victimhood” during rehearsals—too laden. Instead, I said the film is about one idea: you are what you believe. I also told the actors to think of the entire story as taking place in that moment between deep sleep and wakefulness. By telling the story from that perspective, I think I hoped it would clarify our intention in examining these uncomfortable questions and feelings, which I felt should not be to provoke or disturb at all—but to awaken.