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January 19, 2007

Aronofsky praises experiments, on film and otherwise

Be careful if you decide to remain on speaking terms with your first-year roommate. This was one of the morals to be gleaned from film director Darren Aronofsky’s conversation with a full audience at the Max Palevksy Cinema last Friday evening after a screening of The Fountain, the latest of his three films. Aronofsky, it seems, would never have ended up at one of Doc Films’ 75th anniversary events were it not for the persuasion of Richard Neer, a professor of art history at the U of C, who also roomed with Aronofsky at Harvard and moderated the event, along with the lucky coincidence that Aronofksy’s fiancée, the actress Rachel Weisz, just happened to be acting in a movie currently being shot in Chicago.

Aronofsky is arrogant, but he can be forgiven for this because it makes him more interesting. He claims, for example, that The Fountain, a movie many critics found to be incomprehensible and confusingly nonlinear, can be understood by all viewers willing to try hard enough. This is a director who seems almost entirely unaffected by the mixed reactions that have greeted all three of his films, including Pi (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000). He is content with The Fountain because it “completed a vision of what I wanted to do.” He later added, though, that “the filmmakers [of The Fountain] all knew what we were trying to do, but we were all conscious of leaving it open.” Perhaps that’s why The Fountain seemed so impossible to untangle.

However, while Aronofsky was witty and charming (Neer agreed with a front-row audience member that Aronofsky “is a punk snot”), he never covered more specific aspects of his filmmaking. Certainly, much of this was due to the question-and-answer format and time constraints of the event, but it was still a shame not to hear anything about the experience of directing his fiancée in one of his films.

Aronofsky, an admirer of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, did prove himself to be more interested in his characters’ motivations and interactions than one might have expected. Despite the change of stars that interrupted the shooting of The Fountain (Rachel Weisz and Hugh Jackman replaced Cate Blanchett and Brad Pitt), he was still proud of how well his actors suited one another. “I think that’s great when everyone’s jamming really hard,” he said, going on to explain that he thinks it’s the actors’ “emotions that’s the trip.”

Sometimes, though, he would answer audience members’ questions with such banal certainties as, “There’s a lot of symbolism and ideas in every shot of the film,” and “When you connect certain things in a movie, it’s sort of like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’” Way to cater to a college audience, Aronofsky. Try to be a little more detailed—or perhaps even riveting—next time.

Aronofsky’s best answers came on topics less related to his cinematic work. On a tangent from a question concerning the use of drugs as a way to cope with life in Requiem for a Dream, he professed to believe in “everything in moderation. This is probably too public a forum to talk about some things. We’re all on the planet for experimentation. You should probably try everything at least once.” Weisz, he told us, thinks that The Fountain is about appreciating the moment at hand, and this seems to be an idea that resonates with Aronofsky, too. He closed by warning the audience that our twenties will be depressing but claimed that his best work has come out of that darkness. Maybe that was supposed to be reassuring?