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The first question I really wanted to ask Darren was whether or not he was afraid to die. I didn’t but I wanted to.
After you sit and open yourself up to what THE FOUNTAIN has to offer your soul, and no, this is not hyperbole, there is a sense that you’ve been shown something that hasn’t ever really been rendered or expressed in film before.
Yes, those of us who have been steeped in films can point out a few cinematic touchstones where the idea of death and its emotional connection to our collective experience as humans has been adequately presented. The basic thing of it, though, is that I can’t point out one movie that has pushed me as a viewer to accept the one truth about being a living, breathing person on this planet: I will die.
THE FOUNTAIN pushes even harder on this premise and puts forth the notion of being faced with a loved one’s death while being terrified of accepting death’s inevitability yourself. This movie posits some heavy ideas but it never once feels, and this is key, like this was a movie based on someone’s high falutin obsession to make an inaccessible piece of art; rather, this is about as straight-forward as you could ever be when it comes to making a film that feels like it was written with real heart and passion. Love just drips from every pore and frame of this film that it makes you feel that Darren, Hugh, Rachel and everyone involved in this production believed this was a movie that needed to be made.
To say that the film succeeds in easily becoming one of the most distinguished pictures to come out this year would be giving the word “understatement” not enough weight. This movie shows you what Hugh Jackman is really made of, what Rachel Weisz can really do with her abilities as an actress and that the world needs more filmmakers like Darren. The man could have, no doubt, turned out flicks that could’ve paid for a few houses in the Hollywood Hills and lived like a pimp if he would’ve just capitulated to studio pressure to just give up. To be honest, I don’t know if I would’ve had it in me to just stay true to thine self by ruminating on ways to make this movie happen but he did.
I know I could write about how thrilling it was to sit across from one of the premier, again, not hyperbole, directors of the past decade but all you really need to know is that when people asked me what it was like to talk to him my only response was that it was like reading a novel and then being able to sit with the author the next day to ask whatever you like regarding whatever you wanted.
If you want to know how great it was to work with Hugh or how awesomely sucky it was that Brad Pitt wasn’t in it or what we can expect on the DVD or any other questions regarding the technical aspects of this movie’s production, go somewhere else. Honestly, the movie rattled my emotional core and even though I wish we had more time than we did, I’m hoping this wasn’t the last time we would ever talk, I was all about trying to make a connection with this film’s story and to find out whether Americans, in general, have a hard time accepting that we’re all going to die.
If you haven’t already figured it out I am hoping this short conversation piques your interest in seeing this movie next Wednesday. Darren not only hopes you tell a friend or two or three to see it but this is one film that, if you do suggest it and the individual(s) don’t dig it, I am thinking it’s grounds for you to dispatch a legal beating on their person with a loaf of stale sourdough. Seriously.
Much thanks to everyone involved with Darren’s publicity team who helped make this 15 minutes possible.
DARREN ARONOFSKY: You work for Kevin?
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Kinda. It’s for his website, actually. QuickStopEntertainment.com.
ARONOFSKY: He has people all over the place?
STIPP: Also, kinda. We’re like independent contractors who live all over the country and write on a multitude of things.
STIPP: I’ve been writing now for almost three years…
ARONOFSKY: Wasn’t it called View Askew or something like that?
STIPP: Poop Shoot. Movie Poop Shoot.
ARONOFSKY: Movie Poop Shoot. Right. Now it’s called Quick Stop Entertainment?
STIPP: Yup. Thankfully it was changed, just coming from my end of things, because it was really difficult…in fact, one story involves you.
I called, around November of last year, when you were making the rounds on CHUD, JoBlo, Ain’t It Cool, to try and be able and talk to you but after putting in the request and when they asked me what site I worked for, me saying “Movie Poop Shoot”, they essentially just laughed and said, “I don’t think so.” That was it until now.
And, speaking of which, I saw the movie last night…
ARONOFSKY: That was a fun screening.
STIPP: It was but I thought it was interesting that a movie like this, with the kind of heady subject matter, that you would target college kids.
ARONOFSKY: Well, I’ve always done college tours with my films, PI and REQUIEM, this the third time I’ve done one; I don’t know if Kevin does them but he’s done more movies than me so he’s probably bored of it.
I always get a good reaction at the colleges. To be honest…I didn’t know how it work either but it seems to really be working with the young crowds which is kind of cool and I think that’s because they’re more adventurous in their cinema.
STIPP: Very dense movie.
STIPP: It’s a word I also saw popping up in the early reviews, I cried a little but by the end…It affected me on a level I didn’t think a film could. I know the germ of this came about with your own parents’ situation with cancer and so I’m wondering if this movie has helped you wrap your arms around the notion of death?
ARONOFSKY: Not quite. I think it’s always a struggle and I think the film was kind…a beginning of an exploration by me to start thinking about these things or at least think about it in a more formal way.
STIPP: And has the storytelling aspect, when you went back and edited, thinking about your own life events in the past six years, changed how you wanted to tell this story?
ARONOFSKY: Yeah. Ultimately, the problem with film and why I’ve always liked the concept of being a musician, even though I am tone deaf, a musician when they’re creating an album, when they’re creating a bunch of songs, you can really write songs that are connected to an immediate moment in your life. Films, though, take so long that they really represent what you were thinking years ago. This film has been progressing and growing for all these years so it does represent a lot of my life for the last four or five years but I imagine all the new things that have sprouted up in my life will probably effect me on my next film.
STIPP: And, to touch on the concept of music, the score was really effective.
ARONOFSKY: Thank you and it was Clint Mansell again, who I worked with on PI and REQUIEM, and we brought the Kronos back because we needed some strings and they are just the best. Then we also got this rock band called Mogwai, out of Scotland, to add sort of a psychedllic rock element to it.
The score, I think, comes out a day before the movie.
STIPP: A lot of the great filmmakers like to keep things consistent with regard who they work with on their projects, again and again and again, like the Kronos Quartet, is that how you see your future…
ARONOFSKY: I love them. They’re just great to work with. They’re really great people, they’re totally experimental, they’re totally willing to take chances and go out on a limb and try new things. They just have an incredible spirit.
And, on top of that, they are the most ridiculous musicians you’ve ever seen as far as skill. You’re like listening to some rhythm and you’re like, “Is that a 1/16th?” and they’re, “No, it’s a 1/32.”
STIPP: I heard Rachel, to prepare, went and visited with people who were about to die and I’m wondering, on a personal level, has that experience still lingered with her?
ARONOFSKY: I think so. I can’t see how something like that can’t change you and I think every film changes us and everyone. I mean, they’re very intense experiences. Rachel, especially, had to go and see some heavy-duty stuff.
I know Hugh talks about in some of his interviews…I took him to see brain surgery. We went in and saw an actual brain surgery on an actual person. And Hugh, I think, had a conversation with the woman beforehand. During the surgery the doctors were saying that she was going to die and this was just a last hope to extend her life a little bit.
You’re sitting there…staring at someone’s brain as they’re pulling out pieces. It’s a very intense thing.
Some people see that all the time. These surgeons are sitting there doing a job, like anyone else would be doing, but they do it every day.
STIPP: Do you think…myself I have two daughters, and it wasn’t until I had them when I started to feel pings of my own mortality. I’m scared to do a lot of things and I think I have a problem with death. As you were working on this did you find that, as a society, we have a problem with death? With talking about it, accepting it?
ARONOFSKY: I think we’ve completely hidden it…Ignore it and face it with complete hubris even though it’s going to win. Eventually it wins over everyone.
We just completely deny it.
That was the interesting thing…When me and Rachel and Hugh would go to these hospices we would meet these caretakers and doctors and they would all say something astounding which was a lot of these young people when they got closer to death…something amazing started to happen to them; something similar [to what happens] to Izzie in the sense that they started to see something infinite in the finite reality in front of them but they had no vocabulary to talk about it. They had no way of explaining of what was going on because there’s just no education, and there’s no spiritual support structure in the west to help us with it.
So, as they’re going down this path the ironic thing is that the families, who are healthy, are so indoctrinated into western medicine and science are like, “You’ve got to fight. You’ve got to keep fighting. You’ve got to fight.”
Even when, at a certain point, there is no more of a fight. It’s over.
And that’s the line that’s really hard; it’s when it’s ok to let go because, ultimately, it IS ok to let go because eventually we’re all going to die. But a lot of these people, a lot of these families, become really really tough and what happens, the tragedy of it all, that the person who’s dying actually dies in a much more lonely place because they can’t at all communicate with their families. And THAT, to me was the tragedy. That informed the whole plot of the film.
In THE FOUNTAIN you have Izzie who is actually approaching some type of understanding and trying to reach her husband who is just doing the typical, normal response of like, “No, I’m going to solve this problem. I’m going to fix it and you’ve got to keep fighting.”
So, I think in the west right now we’re completely cut off from having any type of tool or any way of understanding that what makes us human and what makes us alive is that we will die and mortality is actually a part of our humanity…and that dying can actually be a part of our spiritual path.
How about that? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.
STIPP: Who do you think has stated it best? In the past six years did you come across anything that has really connected with you?
ARONOFSKY: There was some, I can’t remember what, so many cultures have dealt with it in so many different ways, but one of my favorite was…and I don’t think it was Norse, I can’t remember, it was some type of northern European culture that was a warrior culture. You were judged by your dying words and how clever they were; and so, on the battlefield, you would construct, basically, a lyric that, if it was unbelievably poetic, it judged what your immortality would be. There was a whole culture based on that which I thought was great.
Ari, the other guy I wrote the story with, and I read tons of that stuff.
STIPP: I guess the last question I have is that you have a lot in your life, going forward, another life to look after as well, and are you now aware of what kind of legacy you want to leave behind you?
ARONOFSKY: Yeah. Part of that is keep trying to make good work. Keep from having to compromise because there is always pressure to compromise. But I think you just have to take it step by step…I’m not one of those long-term planners that can think of what I’d like in fifty years for my life to have been.
I think I’d just try to think about what I want to do next and then just get it done.
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