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Darren Aronofsky: ‘Keeping Audiences on the Edge of Their Seat Is Our Job, Especially in Today’s World’ – Toolkit Podcast

Ep. 47: The "mother!" director talks about the careful planning that went into making this year's most raw film.


Ever since he was kid growing up in Brooklyn, Darren Aronofsky was drawn to alternative and polarizing forms of art. As a teenager, he would take the train into Greenwich Village to see underground films like “Liquid Sky” and “Clockwork Orange,” while falling in love with the cinema of directors like David Cronenberg.

“I think my tastes have always laid into those type of films, which are often polarizing and different, that’s just my taste,” said Aronofsky when he was guest on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast. “All these films that I guess were supposed to be cool, but they kind of got me excited and moved me in different ways.”

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All of Aronofsky’s films have been cut from this same cloth, to one degree or another, but none more so than his latest, “mother!,” which the director knew would strike particularly strong reactions. Rattling the audience’s cage is important, though, according to the director – both because of the film’s allegory (our destruction of mother Earth) and the media environment we live in.

“My mentor Stuart Rosenberg always said you have to make them laugh, cry, or scare the shit out of ’em,” said Aronofsky. “I think keeping audiences on the edge of their seat is our job, especially in today’s world, when in cinema we are dealing with people on two or three different screens at one time. We’re all guilty of doing that when we watch TV at home, you got your phone, sometimes you’ve got your computer, and there’s a piece of entertainment that someone put their heart and soul into. So you got to make stuff that makes you want to watch.”

Aronofsky’s process for making “mother!” was also purposefully designed to keep his filmmaking team and himself on the edge of their seats. After quickly writing the the script, the meticulous filmmaker immersed himself in an intense rehearsal process of having to figure out how to make what, in many ways, would be his most technically difficult film.

“We had been doing the same thing for a long time and I wanted to try a different process to see what would happen to the team if we did something where it wasn’t so much pre-production,” said Aronofsky. “If we were a little bit more rock ’n roll about it and just be like, you know, we’ve been doing this for awhile, we know we like to push each other, let’s try to make something crazy and let’s just see what happens in the world. I think it’s important to shake it up.”

This approach to “mother!,” the director admits came, in part, from inspiration he drew from a documentary about the “Godfather of Soul.”

“Something that was really inspiring to me was Alex Gibney’s documentary on James Brown, “Mr. Dynamite,” said Aronofsky. “There’s a moment where his band fell apart and he went electric and suddenly funk came out and Bootsy Collins and all that [was] very inspiring to me, to shake things up and just keep moving forward creatively and to take risks and to do different things, I think that’s what keeps you young.”

This isn’t to say “mother!” wasn’t just as carefully crafted as Aronofsky’s previous films. While on the podcast, the director discussed how he needed three months of rehearsal in a Brooklyn warehouse with his cast and cinematographer to carefully plan out the complicated subjective camera movement.

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

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