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Darren Aronofsky: H-wood's black sheep

An archive interview with the cult director who has always been a bit ‘out there’ for Hollywood

Since he was 13-years-old, the story of Noah and mankind's demise at the hands of God has obsessed cult director Darren Aronofsky, and we're celebrating his environmental epic with Aronofsky on Dazed – an in-depth look of his work as an auteur of our time.

Taken from the March 2007 issue of Dazed & Confused:

With The Fountain, his histrionic, psychedelic meditation on death and immortality, Darren Aronofsky is showing glimmers of change. The preoccupation with the great scheme of things – after Pi’s stock market esoterica and the framework of addiction in Requiem for a Dream – is still there, but Aronofsky’s style is less jittery, and more measured as The Fountain’s three timelines interlock: Hugh Jackman’s Dr Tom Creo attempts to cure his wife’s (Rachel Weisz) cancer; she writes a story about a conquistador searching for the fountain of youth; centuries in the future, Jackman’s astronaut drifts towards a far-off nebula in a spherical vessel. The spectacle wasn’t to everyone’s tastes – the long-anticipated film was hounded out of last year’s Venice film festival, but has been the subject of a critical resuscitation on the blogs ever since. Which is the kind of passion Aronofsky would appreciate: the film originated out of end-of-the-night conversations with his friend Ari Handel and, after Brad Pitt pulled out of its first big-budget incarnation, it required every inch of his motivation to return it to life; smaller, more intimate, a touch overblown, but still driven by that trademark hunger for something greater. 

Dazed Digital: What was the first image that came to you?

Darren Aronofsky: I think it was the conquistador being consumed by the flowers. It’s rare, when you’re making a film, that one of the earliest ideas ends up in the final product, as a film goes through lots of drafts and ideas change and shift.

DD: Have you ever read The Immortal by Jorge Luis Borges?

Darren Aronofsky: Not that one, but I have read some Borges. They’re a bit sophisticated and challenging for me. (Laughs) But Latin American literature was a big influence on the film. There’s a poet from Uruguay called Eduardo Galeano who wrote a history of the Americas from an indigenous point of view, and that was a big influence on the film. It was a trilogy called The Ring of Fire, and the third part was about the 20th century, there’s also a little short story in there about a man who was incarcerated in a town’s new prison, and a volcano went off and killed everyone in the town apart from him. So the idea of being stuck inside a prison by yourself, living forever, I think started the ideas.

DD: It seems like a much more Western/European idea to achieve a goal like living forever, rather than seeing life in a more cyclical, holistic way.

Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, I agree. Though the story of the fountain of youth and the search for immortality is a pan-cultural myth. It does exist in other cultures: when I was in Japan, they were talking about their interpretation of it. So I think everyone has a certain fear of it, but certain cultures have more of a holistic take on it.

DD: Do you think our preoccupation with youth and staying young is a bad thing?

Darren Aronofsky: It’s amazing that in the year 1900, people lived until the age of 40, and now people can live healthily in their 80s. I think that’s amazing, but there’s this amnesia about the end of life and this resistance to it. In America, you know, we try to keep people alive who are impossible to save, and, in some cases, do not want to be saved. It’s endless – plastic surgery is just an extension of the search for the fountain of youth.

DD: When was the first time you became aware of your own mortality?

Darren Aronofsky: A typical thing is when you’re a young kid and you learn about it, and you suddenly realise this trip is a finite journey. But I don’t remember that as a weird defining moment for me. I think when I turned 30 and I started this project... When you turn 30, it’s the first time a number is associated with yourself that you don’t like. It makes you realise that, one day, I’m going to be that number 50 and I’m gonna be that number 75, and that, yes, time will catch you as well. It set me off thinking.

DD: Has having a child moved your thinking on in these matters?

Darren Aronofsky: I’ve only been a parent for six months and it’s all new. I imagine it’s changing me on a daily basis, but I’m definitely not far enough away to register exactly what it means… But reproduction is a form of immortality.

“When I approach a project, I’m going to do it in the only way that I know how, which is what feels real to me. I think my take is skewed towards what people consider independent, for better or for worse. As far as what I want to do in the future, I’ve enjoyed working with Hollywood, but I also enjoy working independently”

DD: Do you think you’ve remained independent by accident or by design?

Darren Aronofsky: Well, I think when I approach a project, I’m going to do it in the only way that I know how, which is what feels real to me. I think my take is skewed towards what people consider independent, for better or for worse. As far as what I want to do in the future, I’ve enjoyed working with Hollywood, but I also enjoy working independently. It’s nice to be able to work between both worlds.

DD: But you got your fingers burnt with the first version of The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, definitely. But, look, every film has challenges and they’re endless. It’s been a very difficult, hard process for every film. Making Pi, a black and white film about God and maths, and making a drug movie – no one wanted to make those movies. Every time you try and do something out of the box and push the edge of what’s acceptable in cinema, they’re gonna bash ya! (Laughs)

DD: What’s the most exciting thing for you about modern filmmaking?

Darren Aronofsky:: A lot of things. I like how many different, unique voices are out there in the world of film, and how independent film has inspired people to make personal visions. But I also think that the new technology – the way that animation and film have reached a singularity where there’s really not a difference between the two – the type of things you can do, and making films like The Fountain and [forthcoming Frank Miller adaptation] 300... films can really start to have a very, very different type of look.

DD: What’s next?

Darren Aronofsky: I’m not quite talking about it yet – I’ve started writing something new and it’s a whole big world we’ve been doing a lot of research into. It keeps me curious, which I think keeps people alive. That’s my answer to mortality. It’s the healthy older people I know who are the curious ones.