Jan 24, 2011

INTERVIEW: Darren Aronofsky

"Aronofsky is a handsome, big-boned man with a vulpine smile and a lingering impression of sternness which not even his man-of-the-hour high spirits can dispell. Maybe it’s the moustache, which manages to bypass the seventies altogether and burrow back to the 1930s and 1940s when directors like Josef von Sternberg, bullhorn in hand, bent the very light itself to their bidding. “There is, strangely enough, something very old fashioned about him,” says Vincent Cassel, who stars in Black Swan. “The moustache, the way he carries himself, his voice, which is very particular. Darren really likes actors, you can feel it, but at the same time he likes to trick you; he tells secrets to one that the others don’t know to get something different out of them.” It is often said of film directors that they are control freaks. Aronofsky goes one better: he’s a loss-of-control freak, his films are immaculately calibrated surrenders in which his heroes splinter and break upon the rocks of obsession. His debut, Pi, was a low-fi freak-out about a mathematician whose efforts to divine order to the universe literally drive him out of his mind: the film ends with him taking a power-drill to the side of his head. His second was an adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr’s Requiem for a Dream--“a manifesto on Addiction’s triumph over the human spirit” as Aronofsky called the book in a 2000 forward--and that pretty much describes the film, too. Strip away the viscera of his movies and you will often find a theorem, or diagram, whether it be the spirals that run through Pi, the circles that loop through The Fountain, or the neatly arranged doubles and doppelgangers of Black Swan. It is often said of movies that they divide audiences, as if a divided critical reception could happen to anyone. In truth, it tends to only befall films that are internally riven to begin with. Doubleness is, after all, both Black Swan’s subject and its object, its method, its madness, it's raison d'etre. There is the doubling of genre: both horror movie and ballet movie, Repulsion and Red Shoes, Polanski and Powell. There is the doubling of theme: white swan versus black swan, Portman vs her various doppelgangers. “I just want to be perfect," whispers Nina. "Perfection is not just about control,” replies Vincent Cassel. “It's also about letting go.” As temping as it might be to interrogate that exchange for clues as to Aronofsky’s relationship to his characters, or his actors, or women, the truth is more interesting: it more closely resembles a conversation Aronofsky has been having with himself his whole career." — from my profile of Aronofsky for New York Magazine

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