DREAMLOVER: An Interview with Darren Arnofsky

Darren Aronofsky '91 was just hired to direct the next Batman movie. But before he goes mainstream, he has one last shocking surprise for Hollywood....

Requiem For a Dream, the latest film effort from Darren Aronofsky '91, might be most effective if it were screened at an ADDICTS anonymous meetings or shown to recovering alcoholics. It is a movie about addiction, but also about the despair that people spiral into by trying to pursue their DREAMS through escaping reality.

Requiem chronicles two stories of addiction. One centers on a lonely, elderly housewife, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) and her addiction to weight-loss pills. Goldfarb's addiction begins when she is informed that she might have the possibility of being on television, which for her represents the only ESCAPE from her loneliness. The other story revolves around Sara's son Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans in a surprisingly serious role). These two LOVERS and their best friend try to find the drug that will lift them out of the ugliness and pain of their existences, in order to give them the economic means to strive for their dreams. Needless to say, they cannot escape the internal suffering and emptiness that addiction creates.

The Harvard Crimson: What is your reaction to the Motion Picture Association of America giving Requiem an NC-17 rating?

Darren Aronofsky: I wanted to make an NC-17 film. I was like let's put a rated X on the poster. I mean there's no pornography in the film, there's no gratuitous violence, and it's just that I want people to know that they're getting involved with something intense. I want everyone to know that if you want to see a straight down the middle film, then go see Bounce. But if you want to see something that is a more punk, youthful, fucked up movie, come see Requiem. And if anything the controversy (over the rating) will help us. It will get our core audience out. And I don't want people who don't know what it's going to be, to walk out of the theaters with a bad experience- it's a pretty fucked up film. I think, am I wrong?

THC: The idea of blurring the lines between reality and television is in your Harvard film thesis, Supermarket Sweep. How has this idea and relationship evolved, particularly in Requiem?

DA: It's interesting because that film is about a TV junkie, and Sarah Goldfarb is a TV junkie in this film, and sort of an addict dealing with real sex and real violence. Stylistically I've always been interested in fusing, in the idea of filmmaking that when you're walking down the street, you're not really just walking down the street, you're thinking about the conversation you had three hours ago, or you're thinking about the vacation you're going to take with your best friend in two weeks, and your mind is drifting to some house or some island in the South Pacific, and that's really what our realities are like, not just what's happening, or what a film camera normally records.

THC: How did you get interested in filmmaking?

DA: I couldn't pass any other classes at Harvard besides filmmaking. No, I was a Social Studies major, and I worked my ass off. But I realized I wasn't meant to write papers, so I switched to Social Anthropology, which is an easy major, because I didn't have the balls to tell my parents I wanted to be an arts and crafts major. Because that's what they would call it, even though I think it's one of the best departments at Harvard, the VES department, at least it was when I was there. I applied to two classes, sculpture and filmmaking, and I didn't get into the sculpture class, but I got into filmmaking. And I really dug it, and it was the first class that kept me awake at night. It was really arbitrary, but it's all arbitrary, I think, what you choose in life.

THC: What is hip-hop montage?

DA: Hip-hop montage comes from growing up in the '80s in Brooklyn with hip-hop culture. There was hip-hop art, hip-hop music, rap, dance, break. And there were films about hip-hop, but there wasn't really hip-hop techniques used in filmmaking. I wanted to try and apply that to narrative filmmaking, to sample images with sounds, and with that you could advance the story very quickly. It really works well in Requiem, because it's detailing something that's obsessive, an addiction, and it's repetitive.

THC: Some people might try to label this a drug movie.

DA: I was never interested in making a drug movie. A lot of people were saying "Why are you making a drug movie?" and I say "It's not a drug movie." What makes this film interesting for me to tell was the Sara Goldfarb story, this counterpoint that says here is a traditional drug story of Harry, Tyrone, and Marion that we've seen before, but the Sara story we've never seen before. What it shows us is that anything can be a drug; it doesn't have to be heroin. It could be TV, it could be coffee, it could be alcohol, it could be hope. It could be love. Because, ultimately the film is about the lengths people go to escape their reality. And when you escape your reality, you create a hole in your present, and you'll use anything to feed that present. And as you keep feeding the hole, well for example the hole in Harry's arm gets larger and larger until it devours him.

THC: How would you describe your personal vision as a filmmaker?

DA: I want to make films that communicate to a lot of people. I grew up on Hollywood movies, and I love them. So I think there is a way to work on that scale and be true to yourself through your artistic vision. The biggest crime I think in movie making is when you bore an audience, and I really don't want to do that. I want to keep the thrills coming as much as possible. I really enjoy entertaining people, it's great thrill when you scare an audience, or you make them laugh or cry. The worst insult for example was when some people found parts of Pi boring and that hurt a lot. For Requiem the people that hate it, really hate it, and the people that love it, really love it. People are having panic attacks and shaking when they walk out. For me, that's what always excited me most about film. When I went to see movies that just fucking blew my mind.

THC: Are you working on the next Batman?

DA: Nothing is set, but I'm working on a screenplay, it looks like I'll be working on a screenplay with Frank Miller, who wrote the Dark Knight Returns, we'll see what happens. But we haven't started working on it, we haven't even started thinking about it, the deal's not done. Right now I'm also working on an original new science-fiction film. I've been working on it for ten months, it's untitled, and I'm going to push everything forward, and see what comes out first.