most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile
but that it is indifferent, but if we can come to terms with this
indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning.
However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”
– Stanley Kubrick
paranoia with paranoia: Darren Aronofsky’s struggle to secure his
place in Hollywood
By Shannon Blanks
May 27, 2004
the universe is truly indifferent to the plight of man, can a hidden
order exist behind the veils of what we know as reality? Is there
a purpose to life, a pattern, an understanding to be reached? Here’s
one theory on the subject: If mathematics is the language of nature,
everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
If you graph the numbers in any system, patterns emerge. Therefore,
there are patterns everywhere in nature. Or so Max Cohen believes.
In Darren Aronofsky’s bold, fiercely assured and intelligent debut,
“Pi,” Max Cohen taps directly into the central theme that has not
only defined the still-evolving cinematic universe of Aronofsky (after
all, he’s only made two films), but has thus mirrored his plight within
the forever-tightening commercial constraints of Hollywood.
MARCH 18, 5.39 PM: PARANOIA
“A thought from today: Writing movies is like reverse paranoia. Paranoids
see signs of a hidden order behind reality. When you write a movie
you construct a world of signs which all point to the protagonist.
The result is a fictional world which mirrors the world of paranoids.
In fact, this may mean that Americans who spend hours in movies think
that everything is going to work out and everything has an ordered
purpose, like a Hollywood script. But the reality is that things don’t
work out and everything is chaotic. Hollywood films have turned America
into a land of paranoids. We must ‘fight paranoia with paranoia.’
– Darren Aronofsky, in an excerpt
from the Guerilla Diaries of “Pi”
far too poised, carefully constructed and calculated in his approach
to ever be written off as paranoid, in just two films Aronofsky has
utilized every cinematic trick in the book to peel back the curtain
on the art of filmmaking, restoring humanity to a mechanical process
seemingly devoid of life and creativity. In “Pi,” Max Cohen copes
with the indifference of the universe by fighting against it, struggling
to find meaning with mathematics.
for a Dream,” Aronofsky’s brutal and breathtakingly brilliant sophomore
effort, finds four disparate protagonists lost in a labyrinth of desperation
and hope led astray through the exploration of addiction and misplaced
trust. In this film, the characters attempt to warp their surrounding
realities to meet their own needs through drugs, diet pills and sex
but soon find their hopes and dreams deferred and ultimately broken
when they crash against the harsh walls of reality. And though Aronofsky
has yet to find box office success, critical acclaim and accolades
have not been withstanding.
crashed through the gates of Sundance, ultimately netting the film
a distribution deal with Artisan Entertainment and the highly coveted
Director’s Award for Aronofsky. Turning down offers to direct big-budget
Hollywood films (such as “The Fast and Furious”), Aronofsky opted
instead to pursue a labor of love (“Requiem for a Dream”), thus delaying
his entry into mainstream filmmaking. But Aronofsky makes no secret
of his desires to join the ranks of Hollywood’s upper echelon.
“I have a very
big interest in making big Hollywood films, but I want to make sure
that they’re different and unique.”
and unique. Not words openly embraced in an industry that turns out
makeshift products like a factory line. In the wake of the controversial
yet critical success, but ultimately commercial failure, of “Requiem,”
Aronofsky’s name has been attached to several big Hollywood films,
the highest profile belonging to his involvement in Frank Miller’s
“Batman: Year One,” which ended in his resignation from the project
(it was eventually assigned to Christopher Nolan, promising young
director of “Memento” and “Insomnia”). Similar to Max Cohen, Aronofsky
finds himself struggling to find meaning and artistic creativity in
a universe known for embracing banality and homogenized productions.
a writer and director, Aronofsky can be credited as not only the image-maker,
guiding our eye toward the important landmarks in a world of his own
devising, but he’s also managed to establish himself as an auteur,
that all too rare beast of a filmmaker whose films possess the focus
of a singular vision and practiced discipline.
with the visionary-as-director’s Godlike ability to influence and
inspire change is a responsibility to respect one’s ideals, an aspect
of filmmaking called into question since its conception as a commercially
viable product. As the struggle to be true to one’s vision as well
as meet the costly demands of the commercial market continues to mount,
we’re constantly confronted with the same questions. Can the artist
be a salesman? Can art and commerce coexist in a creative and equally
fruitful environment? Several rogue directors working within the Hollywood
system have shown us that, though difficult, the path can be walked.
Aronofsky has yet to find his place among those names.
self-described “Jewish Brooklyn hip-hop kid,” Aronofsky absorbed the
contrasting cultures around him, producing a unique amalgam of perspectives
that have appeared in his films today. In just two films, he’s drawn
inspiration from such diverse and distinct sources as the writings
of Philip K. Dick, the religious practices of Jewish Kabbalah, chaos
theory, German expressionism, hip-hop montage, the films of Stanley
Kubrick and the cyber-kinetic stylings of Japanese filmmaking,
among others. Successfully fusing these sources to create pieces of
blazing originality and brash intelligence, Aronofsky has managed
to work within his medium of choice without compromising his vision.
he came upon his biggest undertaking and, to date, most painful defeat
when he attempted to mount the production of “The Fountain.” A science-fiction
film whose philosophical roots and complex storyline that takes place
in three different time frames promised to be a breath of resuscitation
for a dying genre. And yet in fall 2002, Aronofsky watched his $70
million production shut down and fall apart when it’s star, Brad Pitt,
walked away from the project at the last minute. Though news of a
leaner production with half the budget has begun circulating in the
Hollywood rumor mill, Aronofsky has yet to successfully launch his
inauguration piece into the Hollywood machine.
if Aronofsky’s fate does indeed mirror that of his protagonist’s,
then there’s still reason to believe. His films, despite their pessimism,
hold out a hope for humanity and even suggest there being an order
and meaning behind it all. Yet his stance seems to be: Though understanding
the overall picture may be accessible to us all, the toll of the quest
may be beyond any of us. And like the words of Stanley
Kubrick reflect, peace of mind and good fortune lie within our
ability to find one’s place in the world. Let’s hope Aronofsky finds
his place within the filmmaking world soon.
Blanks is a senior majoring in film at the Savannah College of
Art and Design in Georgia.