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‘Swan’s’ Aronofsky: ‘I Like That People Wonder What the Hell I’m Doing’

New DGA nominee talks about having fun, going too far, and why he’s making a comic-book movie

Even before he nabbed a DGA nomination on Monday morning, Darren Aronofsky had achieved something rare for a director: with "Black Swan," he'd made one of those movies about which every filmgoer simply had to have an opinion. Love it or hate it – and there are plenty in both camps – Aronofsky's flamboyant, ballet-set horror film has become ubiquitous enough to have been parodied by Jim Carrey on "Saturday Night Live."

Natalie Portman and Darren AronofskyHave you been surprised by the intensity of the reactions to "Black Swan?"
It's very similar to all my films. I make those films that some people really support, and some people want stick their noses up at it. So I'm a little bit used to it.

I guess the thing that's most exciting to me is that the adjective that keeps coming back to me is fun. I guess "Pi" was intellectual, and "Requiem for a Dream" was harrowing, and "The Fountain" was mysterious, and "The Wrestler" was sad. And with this one, what keeps getting back to me is that they're having fun. Which, as a filmmaker, I guess is the best compliment I've ever gotten on a film.

Was that a goal: to make a fun movie?
I think we wanted to make a scary movie, first and foremost. We were definitely playing with the horror genre, kind of in an old-school, psychological-horror kind of way. The films from the '70s were a big influence on us. And we also knew that there was a lot of humor in the film, and also a lot of beauty, and also a lot of sexuality.

We were just trying to entertain, and hit people from a lot of different ways.

Reactions on both sides have been extreme. Do you enjoy making a divisive movie?
I guess so, because I keep doing it. (Laughs) And I think that any time you really go for something, and you're doing something rock and roll and pushing the edges and trying to scare the bejeezus out of people, there's going to be people who don’t want to go along on that trip. Some people are going to have an immersive experience and have a good time, and people who don’t want to go along for that ride are going to fight it.

At a recent Q&A, I understand that you told one woman who had qualms about the film, "Beware of my movies." Is provocation fun?
I think when you do something like a scary movie, there's a question of taste, and there's always going to be a line of what is too much and what's not enough. We spent a lot of time in the editing room thinking, is this too much? Is it too intense?

But I think my tastes definitely are toward making memorable images. Because in today's world there's so much distraction that it's really hard to get people to focus on something for 90 minutes, in this world of clicking to the next rss feed or whatever. People are always chasing after the next headline, so you’ve got to make stuff that's memorable.

Darren AronofskyCertainly, some of your other films – and I'm thinking particularly of "Requiem for a Dream" – do something similar to "Black Swan," in that the final stretch of the movie rises to a fever pitch and just keeps going, getting more and more intense.
Well, "Requiem" was about  that. It was about the furthest you could possibly go. Because the film was about how addiction destroys the human spirit, so if we held back in any way it would have undermined the exact message of the film.

This film is trying to take the audience on a psychological mind-f— with Natalie Portman and her character. So I wanted to push the edge of what would be acceptable to an audience. Because it is a fairy tale, you know. "Black Swan" is based on the fairy tale of Swan Lake, and we took the extreme language of fairy tales, the melodrama, the horror, the gothic nature of that, and tried to translate it into a real world setting.

It took so long to get it made — were there times when you thought, there's no way this is happening?
There were endless pressures to pull the plug. The money was harder to get than it was for the "The Wrestler." It took about 18 months of chasing money. And there were many moments where we didn’t think it was going ot be possible, and our good friends at CAA were like, "It's not happening."

Unfortunately, any film that doesn’t have a superhero in it is really hard to get made in today's world. But, you know, I can sit there and complain about how hard it is, but at the end of the day I got to make a $14 million movie about ballet.

You said that it's hard to get a film made if it doesn't have a superhero in it. Does that make your next movie, "Wolverine," a case of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em?"
I think … I've always had a big big attraction to making mainstream studio films. I could have easily gone down that path, but I didn’t have access to it. So I made "Pi," and that's what sent me down the path of independent films.

I just feel like I'm always about doing something different, doing "The Fountain" into "The Wrestler" into a ballet movie. Everyone's always questioning what I'm doing. And I like that people are wondering what the hell I'm doing, because it just makes it more of a challenge for me.