“Darren Aronofsky’s Dreams and Nightmares” at Lincoln Center
On January 4 and 5, the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented “Darren Aronofsky’s Dreams and Nightmares” a two-day retrospective of the films of the “Black Swan” director. The event climaxed with an appearance by Aronofsky on January 5, following a screening Aronfosky’s 2008 film “The Wrestler.” The director was interviewed by Scott Foundas, Associate Program Director for The Film Society of Lincoln Center.
The conversation began with a discussion about the similarities and differences between Aronofsky’s current film, “Black Swan,” and his prior film, “The Wrestler.” Aronofsky pointed out that a story about a 50-year-old dying wrestler and a 20-year- old ballerina were actually very closely linked thematically. The director said he was fixated by the ritualistic nature of rehearsal and ritual. “What is interesting is if I can make them both characters with whom audiences can connect. Make them human.” He elaborated by explaining that one of the great things about filmmaking is that he gets to “go behind the curtain” and see what is going on the worlds he chooses to explore. He likened it to receiving a Phd.
The characters in both films put their bodies through a great deal of self-inflicted abuse. “I’ve always had an attraction for the extreme. You have to be memorable for people to be thinking about it. I like to take things to the edge of acceptable, kind of like a fever pitch melodrama,” Aronofsky explained, adding “It’s great that people react with crying and horror. As long as they’re reacting.”
In terms of directing Aronofsky explained that being a director is 90% administrative and that when he finally gets to work with actors he tries to get to that zone where all other considerations are pushed aside and “everything is clicking.” “The actors I work with are up to the challenge,” Aronofsky explained. He said that in the case of “Black Swan,” which did not have a large budget, there were no trailers for the actors, the food was “crappy” and that all the money was up on the screen. He said he could not get any more money for an art film than he already had and that the actors just had to go for it. “Trust is really the bottom line,” Aronofsky explained, “Just let them (the actors) know I’m going to burn with them.”
In terms of his hand held improvisational camera work, featured in both “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan,” Aronofsky explained that his training was in documentaries and that the looser style evolved out of concern that Mickey Rourke was not going to hit his mark or remember his lines. He added that at first he did not know if the looser hand held style would work in a ballet film. Ultimately, he explained, he decided to risk it because that type of camera felt objective.
The final question of the evening came from an elderly audience member who commented on what she termed the grotesqueness in “Black Swan.” Aronofsky explained that “Grotesqueness is a very hard line to know when it is too much, but I’m usually on the wrong side of it.” He added that the physicality of “Black Swan” is such an important part of the film and that many dancers have thanked him for showing the pain and how difficult it is to create beauty. Aronofsky ended the evening on a perfect note by saying to the audience member, “Sorry if I upset and offended you, but beware of my films.”