When it comes to his latest movie, the award-winning director of the audacious Sundance hit Pi, pulls no punches. Darren Aronofsky is more than happy to admit that Requiem for a Dream, based on the cult classic seventies novel, is not for everybody, but it does have its place.
“When I grew up in New York, I would sneak into Manhattan to see Clockwork Orange, Eraserhead and Stop Making Sense. They were these great punk movies, and I think with Requiem for a Dream, we wanted to make, as the cliché goes, a rollercoaster ride, but not just a rollercoaster ride, one that smashes into a brick wall”, Aronofsky responds laughingly as we spoke at LA’s Four Seasons Hotel. “I believe that there is a hunger out there for something different, given the success of PI and other films like it, because they WANT to go on an adrenalin trip, and that’s what Requiem is.”
Aronofsky further insists that “the obvious audience for the film is my generation and those that basically grew up on 8 hours of TV, four of those hours being MTV, 5 hours of Internet per day, people who have just happened to have been bombarded by tons of images and sounds, need an intense ride like this.” In Requiem for a Dream, the central figure is Harry (Jared Leto), a young man who lives hand-to-mouth because nearly every cent he saves, earns, or steals goes towards buying something he can inject into his veins. His best friend and business partner is Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), who shares many of Harry’s aspirations. His girlfriend is Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who, like Harry and Tyrone, is an addict.
The fourth significant player is Harry’s widowed mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), who is as addicted to television as Harry is to drugs. When she learns that a marketing company may be able to offer her a spot in the studio audience of a live TV broadcast, she decides to lose weight. Following a visit to the doctor’s, she is on her way to dropping 30 pounds and becoming hooked on the uppers and downers that comprise her diet. for these characters, drugs gradually take the place of everything else – food, sex, aspirations, and even the day-to-day impulse to live. They become the sole sources of pain and pleasure. They form the core of relationships.
It was author Hubert Selby Jr’s “depth that Selby makes” drew Aronofsky to this, his second feature. “When I read the book, I was aware of the way he can bring you into the darkest corners of the human psyche, yet remained aware of how human these characters were. It was an amazing accomplishment by him that he made you identify with these people.” Including Aronofsky. “I did and anyone can. If you look at these characters, they’re trying to fall in love, trying to be happy, then they’re trying to make little decisions step-by-step.” Though Selby’s book was published in the late seventies, Aronofsky resisted making a time-specific piece. “I was trying to create a fable atmosphere, where I mixed times. I used the dialogue from Selby, which is 1970s slang, then I used modern, Sony technology and mixed it up, also setting it in Coney Island, which has a timeless feel. The reason for this, is because this is a film about addiction, and addiction is a struggle through time and cross cultures. I was simply trying to push those ideas forward”.
Requiem is an unsettling but painfully honest film, one that is being released in the US minus an MPAA rating, much the director’s bemusement. “I was actually excited and psyched. I think any controversy surrounding the film and its content, is going to scare away the ‘Bounce’ audience [referring to the new Gwyneth Paltrow drama] and the people who want those middle-of-the-road movies. If you want to see a film that’s straight down the middle, there are a lot of other movies.” Aronofsky begs those of you who fit that description to PLEASE not see Requiem for a Dream.” On the other hand, the director adds, “if you want t see a film that’s going to fuck you up, and that’s really going to be an intense trip, then come see the movie. That’s what the film is”.
Like Aronofsky’s Pi, Requiem is visually distinctive. The director defines himself as expressionistic. “We use expressionism, camera and sound to help express what’s happening subjectively within the characters’ heads, to HELP the performances and to push them to a different level.” Both Requiem and Pi are films that rely on super fast cutting to enhance mood. One wonders whether Aronofsky is permanently bound to the kind of visual tone that seems to define his work thus far. “I think that style comes out of the story. The great director Akira Kurasawa, who for me is the best director ever, was basically able to turn the theme of his movies into every gesture from his actors and for me, that’s the goal. You figure out what the theme of your movie is, and then you create a style that helps to push that forward.” Aronofsky’s punchy, in-your-face style is not for everybody, after all, some audiences during screenings at Toronto, fainted. But that’s just fine with the director. “That’s great, man; you want people to FEEL- that’s the goal. You want to rock people’s world. Requiem for a Dream is a punk movie where we are spitting on the audience and hopefully the audience is spitting back”.
Aronofsky’s audacious style convinced Warner Bros to hire him for one of two Batman films in development, Batman: Year One. But try and get the director to discuss it, and it is like pulling teeth. “I’ve only just been hired to do it, so I haven’t anything much to say.” Nothing at all in fact. Not even confirming the rumour of Paul Newman’s inclusion in the cast to play an ageing Bruce Wayne. “I have no idea”, comes the firm reply. Aronofsky is also a working on a sci-fi film which he hopes to turn around before Batman hits the screen. As for Mr Aronofsky, he is intent on pushing that envelope as far as possible. Even with that caped crusader.