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On Nude Scenes From Requiem & On Batman

Interview conducted by Fred Topel from concerning Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream."

Daily Radar: If you were to direct a big-budget Hollywood film, say a certain superhero movie, would you do it with the same fast motion, split-screen style as Requiem?

Darren Aronofsky: I think every movie requires its own visual language, and so when you have the project, when you have a finished screenplay, you look at the finished screenplay and decide how you're going to tell the story. Then you hopefully create a visual language. Any film I do will look different than the film before it. I think there is a connection between Pi and Requiem because there was a very deep connection between the obsessive natures of both films, and I had a lot of visual ideas I wanted to bring to the next level.

DR: What are your plans for Year One?

Aronofsky: What's Year One?

DR: The next Batman!

Aronofsky: I haven't even begun to work on it, and I don't even really know what me and Frank are going to do. I will be working with Frank Miller if I do it... if it happens.

DR: If?

Aronofsky: Things look good, but you never know. These are big projects.

DR: Do you have any ideas that would require implementing high-tech computer graphics?

Aronofsky: Everything. I mean, there's [Lars Von Trier's minimalist] Dogma, and then there's the George Lucas school, and I'd say I'm probably right now working towards the George Lucas school. Filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and [Roman] Polanski are my heroes, where reality turns into fantasy. The nice thing about digital technology is that we're at a point right now where live action and animation are basically fusing, and you can pretty much do anything you want on a computer. Anything you can do on PhotoShop you can do to film pretty much now.

DR: Any specific things?

Aronofsky: You're gonna see some crazy wacked out sh*t in the next 20 years, not just from me but from a lot of people. Right now I'm focusing on this sci-fi thing that I've been working on for about 10 months with my college roommate. I call it post-Matrix metaphysical science-fiction film. It has a name, but I can't share the name because it tells you what the film's about, and I'm not sharing what it's about yet because it's not even a screenplay yet. But it's back towards the school of Pi filmmaking but on a much more ambitious scale.

DR: Speaking of crazy wacked out: Where did you get the sound effects in Requiem?

Aronofsky: I have a sound designer who's great, who did Pi as well. His name is Brian Emrich, and he's the bass player for a band called Fetus, and he's just awesome. It was funny -- when someone told me, "You should work with this guy," I went over to his apartment and he had this pulp paperback book collection. He has almost every pulp paperback book from the '50s, all those ridiculous paperbacks like Reefer Madness lined up perfectly, rows and rows. He told me he was trying to buy a 2,000-year old Mummy, and I was like, "Okay, you're hired." [He's] just a completely eccentric character who has great organizational skills and great sound design skills. The sounds are everything from farting cockroaches to a couple of sabers banging. He uses everything to create sounds.

DR: How about the pill popping specifically?

Aronofsky: The pill hitting her hand, hmmm. I don't know where he got that from, what the explosions were that he used, but he probably took gunshots and manipulated them digitally.

DR: For those who didn't hear the Pi DVD commentary, what is that camera mount that keeps perspective in front of the actor?

Aronofsky: It's a rig I started working with on Pi, and we called it the Snory-cam because I had two friends from New York who were photographers called the Snory brothers. They're both from Iceland, and their last name is Snory. It's just a rig that attaches to the camera body [from the actor], so that the actor is frozen in the center of the frame. So, the actor is completely steady, but the background is moving hectically. For me it's the ultimate in subjective camera work because you're fully with the character, and you're nowhere else.

Daily Radar: How did you choose what closeups to show in those split screens, like when Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly are lying in bed together?

Aronofsky: I just shot a lot of nudity and I chose the best shots. I spent about eight hours shooting naked body parts. It's great. Making a fully subjective movie was the goal. In Pi we tried to make a fully subjective movie from the point of view from Max Cohen's brain, where every single shot came from Max. So, you never cut away to the bad guys plotting to take over the world. You were always with Max and at his fingertips. Part of the reason I was attracted to Requiem for a Dream was because the book was very subjectively written, and I knew I could do it, but it suddenly had four subjective experiences. So, when I started working on the project, I said, "How do I capture two subjective experiences from my main two characters that have totally two different stories at the beginning of the film in the opening scene?" It was pretty obvious: "Oh, split screen." Then I tried to tie it into a language throughout the film, and on the DVD you'll see we actually do a triple split screen that didn't make the film. It was really, really cool, it just slowed down the film -- but hopefully that paid off the whole split-screen language.

DR: What are your plans for the DVD?

Aronofsky: There's going to be some missing scenes. There's some really cool effects that we cut just because we wanted the film to always be moving forward and rushing forward. I don't know. We haven't really gotten into that yet, but it should be pretty cool.

DR: How did you discover this book?

Aronofsky: The true story is I was an undergrad in college and out of the corner of my eye I saw the word Brooklyn in the library and I pulled [Selby's] Last Exit to Brooklyn from the shelf before the movie [was made of that book]. It just blew my mind and I was like, "Yes," and I wanted to make it. Then the movie came out. Then, when I went to film school, we had to do three short films, so I started reading the short stories of my favorite authors -- and the first film I did at AFI was called Fortune Cookie, which is based on one of his short stories. That's when I met [Selby]. Then, when I graduated film school I started reading novels of my favorite authors. I picked up Requiem, read about half of it and I couldn't finish it because it was too much like stuff I was working on, and it was a bit too disturbing for me. My producer, years later while we were cutting Pi, was going on a vacation with his girlfriend and his family and he asked to borrow the book. I said, "Sure, borrow the book." He came back and he said it ruined his vacation, but we have to make it. So, I finished reading it, and I was like, "You know what? You're right," we optioned it and were off to the races.

DR: Funny you mention film school, because most film students fill their movies with weird camera moves and fast-motion time manipulation. How did you manage to employ those techniques but not make it feel like a film-school movie?

Aronofsky: Um, Ellen Burstyn. Next question.

DR: What did she bring to the project?

Aronofsky: Ellen was just a blessing. It's so hard to explain. When I wrapped her, I said in front of the crew, "Few people get to play with Michael Jordan every day." And that's really, really how it felt. Have any of you seen that picture of Michael Jordan soaring through the air about to put the ball in the hoop and all of Chicago is standing, staring at him and all eyes are on him? It's an amazing shot, and you can see all in the stands, 70,000 people just looking at him. And this goes back to Selby, because Selby was talking about how, when you create, you surrender your ego, and there's death to the ego, and you become your art. To me that's the great irony of that photograph, because he is soaring through the air and everyone is staring at him, Michael Jordan, yet he is completely egoless. He's at the prime of his sport. He is not thinking. He is the ball going through the hoop, and the reason they're all staring at him, and the reason Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan is because he had the ability to be such the great artist at what he does. For me, Ellen Burstyn was completely that way, and every day she came to the set and opened up her heart and flooded my lens with love, every day. It just blew our minds, just incredible stuff. Sixty-seven years old, [she] allows me to put the camera a millimeter from her face. I've dealt with 19-year-old actors who won't let me put the camera that close to them.

DR: Who?

Aronofsky: No comment, but the thing is she just had no vanity. [It was] pure surrendering to the craft, to the art and for the material. I hope people get to see her performance in the film. She has such control of her body -- the instrument -- that she can play any sort of perfect melody and any sort of horrible cacophony, and every single note in between she can hit. It's just like a master musician.

DR: The film is now unrated. For what scenes did the MPAA want to give you an NC-17?

Aronofsky: I think that the problem was the three-minute climax of the film, the psychological intensity of that coupled with some of the sexual imagery. Even though there isn't any penetration, I think any time you have a double-headed dildo with condoms going on it and KY Jelly may be a little too much for the MPAA, even though that's really not that messed up, I don't think. The sexuality coupled with the violence, coupled with the pain, with the racism, with all the intense spiraling of all that stuff out of control was a little bit overwhelming to the MPAA.

DR: What do you hope audiences will take from Requiem for a Dream?

Aronofsky: I really, really want audiences to know that they're going to see something really messed up when they go to see Requiem, that this isn't your ordinary film. If you want to go see a movie where you walk out and you go, "Oh, that was good" or "Oh, that wasn't so good," please don't come to see Requiem for a Dream. I think audiences are either going to really dig it or they're going to really hate it, and that was always the intention. The intention was to build a rollercoaster ride like the cliche says, but not just a normal rollercoaster ride, but a roller-coaster ride that smashes into a brick wall. People are going for a trip into hell. If they're not, please go see Bounce.