Bourdain’s Field Notes
MADAGASCAR, May 2015—Travel is not always comfortable, even when the scenery is at its most beautiful. Look out the window, get too close, and the reality of the situation—the world you will soon be leaving behind—intrudes.
I’m talking, of course, about crushing poverty, hunger, and the kind of desperation people can find themselves in when feeding themselves and their families becomes a matter of immediate urgency.
On “Parts Unknown,” we travel to a lot of places where people are poor. We either choose—or don’t choose—in every case, to concentrate on that aspect of daily life. We try hard to acknowledge the reality of the situation. But often, admittedly, we shy away from diving too deep into awfulness because we’re aware that viewers will often be unable to take it, that they’ll find prolonged depictions of the way millions of people live around the world just too damned depressing. They will, in all likelihood, change the channel. And we don’t want that.
So we make choices all of the time. Choices about what I will show you of what I saw and experienced during my limited time in a destination, and choices about what I won’t. It’s my show. I decide where we go. I decide what we do when we get there. And I decide what we show you when we edit down 60 to 80 hours of footage to 42 minutes.
That is a manipulative process. And not, inherently anyway, a bad one. I want you, the viewer, to feel the way about a place the way I want you to feel. I want you to look at it and see it from my point of view, if at all possible. Or at least consider other points of view. But it is, almost always, one point of view—or one lens through which you are see: mine.
This week, we go to the little-understood island nation of Madagascar—and we go with someone who most definitely has his own point of view.
Darren Aronofsky is the acclaimed director of the films “Requiem for a Dream,” “Pi,” “The Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Noah.”
People often ask what it would be like to come along on a shoot with me. Now you will see. We look at Madagascar, in many ways, through Darren’s fresh set of eyes. It’s a useful reminder, worth having, that what you see on the show is not the only angle. That we are looking at the world out my window, but that there are other windows—that maybe I’ve omitted or shaded something, if only to present myself in a more flattering light.
I was thrilled and honored and delighted when Darren approached us about coming along somewhere in the world to play with me and the “Parts Unknown” crew. It was his idea to go to Madagascar, largely for its unique ecosystem and its environmental situation.
My only request was that he shoot some footage—with whatever device he wanted to use. And that, at some point, he give us his version of at least a portion of the show for which we have already seen my version.
So in Act 6, you will get an example of what may or may not be missing from the shows we make. An ugly, uncomfortable reminder that it’s not just pretty pictures and neat, hopeful sum-ups. It does not, I’m pretty sure, portray me in the best light. Or any of us for that matter. But there it is. I thought it was important.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Darren for being a great travel companion. Nearly two weeks of, at times, very difficult living. Long, long uncomfortable train rides, bugs, hard beds, minimal plumbing, terrible heat. Darren is a vegetarian, so eating must have been tough. Though he seemed to be getting by mostly on rice, he never complained. Though he was in preproduction on a major Hollywood film, I never saw him on a cell phone. He never complained about lack of Internet—or anything else. He went fully off the grid for the length of the shoot and appeared to enjoy himself the whole time.
It’s a sobering reminder—one of many this episode—of how lucky I am.