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An Interview with Darren Aronofsky

Interview conducted by Ruby Rich from Inview.Kqed.Org concerning Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream" and "Pi".

B. Ruby Rich (Ruby): I think you really put people into the space of, well, of somebody with a migraine headache. You know, how do you get there? Do you get migraines?

Darren Aronofsky (DA): No, a friend of mine who was a really talented actress, her career was basically devastated by her migraines, and I never realized they were so debilitating and I started talking to her and she, I started seeing artwork that came from, that migraine sufferers drew of their migraine attacks and it was exactly the type of things we were talking about, like the hand of god reaching down and pulling out a chunk of brain.

DA: What I really like about subjective filmmaking, and "Pi", and why I was attracted to this is when you're walking down the street, you're not just walking down the street. You're thinking about the conversation you had with your mom two hours ago or you're thinking about the vacation you're going to go on in two weeks with your friends. Your mind is all over the place and I love -- the great thing about filmmaking is that as filmmakers, we can show where a person's mind goes, as opposed to theater, which is more to sit back and watch it.

Ruby: You know, a lot of filmmakers seem to be either very literary-based or else very movie-based who just watch movies. You seem to really be developing this new visual style that suits each story. You know, how did you find this third road?

DA: It's probably because I'm Godless. And so I've had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking, which is -- ultimately what my God becomes, which is what my mantra becomes, is the theme.

Ruby: So it didn't just come from growing up on Coney island?

DA: If anything, it came from eight hours of TV a day. I was a TV junkie as a kid. I am the Sesame Street generation. 1969, I was born the year Sesame Street was launched and that was the year my mom plopped me in front of the TV and said, don't cry anymore. And I think 17, 18 years later, after eight hours of TV a day, I think that's the culture I come from.

Ruby: I know that you studied animation early on and I was really struck with how the character's inner thoughts and feelings really changed their physical surroundings in a very material way.

DA: You know, it's subjective filmmaking. It's coming out of subjectivity, but definitely animation was a big influence. I mean, my business partner right now and also my college roommate, Dan Shreker who got me into filmmaking, is an amazing animator and they have to live life 24 times as long as we do because, you know, they basically have to -- every 24 frames of a second. They're basically painting or drawing and being meticulous.

Ruby: You've pioneered a lot of ingenious special effects, some of them low-budget, different kinds of camera work, way beyond a steady cam. What's a vibra cam? What's a snorry cam?

DA: Those are just, you know, marketing teams trying to add a little, you know, terms to our stuff. But vibra cam was a camera, you know, it was just a technique, a film technique we started in "Pi," which is whenever Max Coen had his headaches, the frame would shake. And how we did it back then, we just literally put the camera on a long lens and just shook it, because that was about what we could afford. And in "Requiem" we got to sort of master it. Snorry cam is basically a rig that attaches the camera to the actor's body. I call it the utmost in subjective filmmaking because the character is frozen in the sense of the frame while the background is moving.

Ruby: You rely a lot on special effects in your films. And yet I think what saves the films from being a sort of MTV razzle dazzle experience are these moments of quiet intensity, of emotional connection between the characters.

DA: Well, whenever there's not intensity, emotional intensity, I just light up the fireworks. You know, because I think that's what it's about. I think the biggest crime is to bore an audience. Really, I can't stand being bored. If anyone sleeps in my film, I'll kill ya because I just don't -- I just want to get people their money's worth.

Ruby: To what extent do you anticipate audience's reactions from the material?

DA: It's hard to really know where an audience is at. You just -- you know, it's one of those gut things; when you're watching it happen, you're hoping it's working. And then, if it's not working, you hope you can save it in editing.

And if you can't save it in editing, you hope that Ellen Burstyn is in the scene, and it will be okay, because whenever Ellen's on the screen, it works.

Ruby: Ellen Burstyn is brilliant in this film.

DA: Thank you, well, actually I shouldn't be thanking you because I had nothing to do with it. It was purely was Ellen. Here's a 67-year-old actress that lets the camera one millimeter from her face.

I've dealt with 19-year-old actors, male actors, like, well, -- she was wearing makeup, no makeup and sometimes makeup that made her worse -- you know, look worse. And, you know, just complete no vanity, complete surrender to the world, complete surrender to the material. And that's what it's about.

You know, I think it's a modern horror film. We always saw this as a monster movie except that the monster was invisible. The creature was invisible. It was addiction, living in the character's head and the only other difference is that the creature wins.