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ARONOFSKY DARREN: PI


Interview conducted by ANDREW L. URBAN from UrbanCinefile.Com concerning Darren Aronofsky's "Pi".


Darren Aronofsky, 30 this year (1999), was a social theory major at college (read university) sharing a room with an animator. "My roommate would finish the year with a movie, and I’d finish with a bunch of Cs," he says ruefully from his Manhattan home. "I decided to switch, and found that film was the first thing that kept me awake at nights, solving problems and doing mental edits - and film was also the first thing in which I got an A." And he’s still getting As, at least from critics, for his latest work, Pi, the title of which may suggest it’s about maths, since it refers to the Greek letter that symbolizes 3.1415926535897323846…(on to infinity), the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

"The hardest math problem in the film is 41 plus 3, and we give you the answer within seconds," says Aronofsky with a laugh, emphasising that Pi is not a film about maths. "The core of the film is a thriller," he says, "but I wanted to merge genres. I grew up on Hollywood movies and was looking for something new. I was getting bored with a lot of the indie films, too, some of which were arthouse but repetitive. So that’s why we came up with new camera angles, new ways of shooting with high contrast black and white film - and new ideas. Pi melds elements of a psychological thriller with tinges of science fiction – but not as in effects driven, futuristic films like Star Wars, but returning more towards the Stanley Kubrick area…we don’t need to see things blow up anymore, we have seen everything blow up from plants to planets."

More interested in the psychological aspects of his creation, Aronofsky created a character, Max, who believes there is a cosmic pattern to be found in the numbers that pi represents. Half crazed with his quest and always apparently on the brink of a new lead – and perhaps the secret of the universe, no less – Max suffers hallucinations and dejection in turn. Actor Sean Gullette makes Max a fascinating character study and carries the film, rather like Geoffrey Rush carried Shine. (Gullette is evidently multi-skilled: he designed the film’s website: www.pithemovie.com ) The brilliantly matched electronic soundtrack spurs the film’s energies. "I had never been interested in electronic music before, but when I met Clint Mansell, I realised there are a lot of people like Max, trying to find the soul within the machine," says Aronofsky. "So it seemed appropriate . . ." The surprise ending (you’ll have to see the film to discover it) is and will be debated by all who see it. It was even debated during the shoot, as Aronofsky and Gullette took divergent views. "Sean and I debated it right up till the very last minute, whether it happened or not. The thing is, it works on either level. Sean feels it was a hallucination; I felt he really did it . . ."

Either way, Max has succumbed to his addiction. Aronofsky is thoughtful for a second, surprised by the word ‘addiction’. "That’s interesting," he says. "My next project, which we’ve just finished shooting, is about addiction . . . but I guess Pi does deal with obsession and there’s a fine between obsession and addiction."

His new film, Requiem for a Dream, stars Ellen Burstyn and Jared Leto, and he says the best one-liner he can come up with for it is: "A hyper-real free-fall into the deepest recesses of the human psyche. It’s not traditional material," he adds rather unnecessarily. It’s based on a book by Hubert Selby jnr, author of Last Exit to Brooklyn – the suburb of New York where Aronofsky was born into a conservative Jewish family. But while he has great respect for Jewish traditionnand culture and the history of the Jewish people, he says he finds spirituality in other things.

Raised near Brooklyn’s Coney Island and Luna Park, Aronofsky still loves the innocent thrills of the rides. "When I came to the Melbourne Film festival last year, the first thing I did was go to the Luna Park there," he says.

Pi was made for just US$60,000, but it attracted a US$1 million distribution deal with Artisan Entertainment (and a much smaller one for Australia from beyond Films). Aronofsky says he is hoping to work within and without the studio system – maybe he’s thinking of filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who live away from Hollywood and work outside it to their own rules, but link in for distribution as required. If Aronofsky’s talent continues to blossom as it does in Pi, he may well achieve that sort of status.

Asked whether he’d been approached bya major studio to re-make Pi for ten times the budget (rather like Robert Rodriguez with El Mariachi, first made for $7,000 and remade with Antonio Banderas with Columbia TriStar money for million), Aronofsky laughs. "I don’t think a movie about God and maths would make millions of dollars – even with Mel Gibson."