The last time Darren Aronofsky was in Tokyo in 1999, he was promoting his debut flick “Pi,” which went on to become quite a cult hit. He also did a bit of shopping, picking up photo books by Araki and Hiromix that ended up influencing the look of his new film, “Requiem for a Dream.”
While his budget was rather bigger on “Requiem,” and his career seems on the cusp of taking off (recent rumors have Aronofsky’s name floated in projects with Hollywood auteur Stephen Soderbergh), the young director remains down-to-earth. As he put it, he’s “a reformed slacker,” as eager to digress on electronic music and Jar Jar Binks as his own working methods.
So, how do you see this film as different from all the other junkie films out there?
Well, we’ve all seen the Harry, Tyrone and Marion story before in some sense. It may not be as intense or darkly told as “Requiem,” but we’ve seen it. But what was interesting to me was Sara’s story, this counterpoint, which hopefully lifts the film out of a drug movie and into a movie about addiction.
Has anyone decried it as “heroin chic”?
Even though the “Summer” segment makes the drugs seem all right, we were just trying to be truthful. Because, I think, drugs at the beginning, when they’re in moderation, there are some up sides and fun with them. It’s just when they get out of control. It’s not an antidrug movie, it’s an antiaddiction movie.
What’s your own worst addiction? Coffee?
Not really. Work is my worst addiction, but it’s a pretty bad one. You wake up at 5 a.m. and spend four hours writing notes, which is what I did all morning.
What inspired those recurring flurries of imagery for the scenes when they’re doing the drugs?
That was an old idea I had, it was in “Pi,” too, when he took the pills. I came up with this idea of using sounds and images and sampling them, creating almost musical phrases that push the story forward. I don’t think I’ll ever use it again because it was perfect for “Requiem.” It really captured how all the drugs are the same. It made connections between the coffee and the heroin and the TV, and even Sara looking in the mailbox each time [to see if her game-show invite had come]. The way the repetition worked, it was a way of showing the obsessive nature of addiction.
Those sequences must have required a lot of work in the editing room.
There’s like 3,000-plus cuts in the film. Most films have about 700 cuts. The negative cutter took an extra three months, because they had never cut something so complex. It was something purely possible through digital filmmaking.
How did you manage that amazing scene where Sara hallucinates the TV game-show characters in her own apartment and they all look like fuzzy TV reception?
Basically, we shot it normally, then we went in there and — frame-by-frame — outlined each character by hand. This is all done digitally; once you outline them, you just separate them, and then run that part of the image through a video box with static in it. Very time-consuming. We called it the “Static-o-matic,” very low-tech, just an interference box.
You seem to be really pushing the visual envelope at a time when a lot of people are retreating into primitivism, like the whole Dogma ’95 thing.
I think there’s something cool about limiting your tools, and trying to create a reality out of the simplest elements. But the strictness of it [Dogma] is wrong. For me, what I really like about filmmaking is its separation from theater, in that you can take the audience into a character’s head and into a subjective reality. When you’re walking down the street, you’re not just walking down the street — you’re thinking about the vacation you’re going to go on with your sweetheart in two weeks, you’re thinking about the argument you had with your boss three weeks ago. Your mind is all over the place, and so are your eyes, and that’s your reality, it’s not like a hand-held camera right in front of your face, that’s the furthest thing from reality.
A shaky hand-held camera.
Right. ‘Cause when you’re walking down the street, it’s not shaky at all, it’s totally smooth.
So you’re comfortable with stylization?
It’s expressionism — trying to turn the camera into a paintbrush and be more expressionistic with the visual language. Not just show the audience what’s going on, but to use all different techniques, in front of the lens or digitally, to help the audience share the subjective experience of the characters in the moment.
There’s a lot of humor and light in the first half of the film; did you ever worry that the change in tone to the bleak third act would lose people?
A lot of people do get lost. I think it has to do with pain tolerance. Some people can have dental surgery without anesthesia, and some people can’t floss without bleeding. [Laughs] It’s a really hard line to draw, but my outlook, always, was that this film isn’t for everyone, it’s for an audience that wants to go on a very, very intense trip. When you make a big mainstream film for a mass audience, you have to water down everything. Ultimately, this film is about the lengths people go to escape their reality, and to pull the punches would be to undermine the whole film, because it’s about going the distance.
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