In the latest episode of CNN's Parts Unknown, director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) tags along with host Anthony Bourdain on a trip to "nowhere" — or, rather, to Madagascar, an island off the coast of South Africa.
For a country with rich reserves of oil, most of the population struggles with poverty and hunger. Adding a wrinkle to the journey is the fact that Aronofsky recently became a vegetarian. As it happens, most Malagasy (as the people on the island are called) don't eat meat at every meal. They cannot afford it. The poverty of the country is at times crushing, and though communities host feasts and festivals, the sheer lack of luxury of any kind is stark. The country's 22 million people live on an average of less than $2 a day. While Bourdain is known for painting a picture of each country or city's extremes, it becomes clear that the cast and crew had a hard time finding the kind of excess available in other parts of the world.
No where is this more apparent than at a final train stop. Aronofsky and Bourdain are starving and in search of food, but are unable to eat the food they acquire because they are surrounded by starving children and end up giving away their small snacks. "This is fucked up," they are caught on camera saying to themselves, somewhat overwhelmed by the scene in front of them.
Here now, the 21 best one-liners from Parts Unknown: Madagascar.
1. On the first restaurant Bourdain goes to with Aronofsky, which specializes in pork head: "This is what you call being passive aggressive, I think. Pork. My favorite vegetable."
2. On a popular notion of how to save Madagascar's economy: "The best case scenario that everybody seems to raise is that ecotourism will save the day... To me, this is not an ideal option..."
3. On the rural economy south of the city: "Rice is the difference between life and death."
4. On the lay of the land: "Between the traditional slash and burn agriculture... and the imperative of charcoal as heat source, much of the traditional forests that cover Madagascar are gone."
5. On the nearly extinct greater bamboo lemur that popped through the brush to pee on the cameraman: "Hopefully that's not an editorial statement."
6. After Aronofsky pricks his finger on a potentially deadly plant: "Hopes for Black Swan 2: The Revenge, were dashed today..."
7. On Aronofsky's solo treks through the forest while a cow is killed by locals in a sort of sacrificial ceremony: "For someone with as dark a world view — judging from his films anyway — as the newly vegetarian Mr. Aronofsky, he seems unusually uncomfortable with the bleeding realities of local customs."
8. On riding an antique train with surprised locals: "First class. We ride in style... wow, [the train] works...I hope that's not a pitying look on some of their faces..."
9. On the train route: "For the majority of the 17 station stops along the line, this train provides the only connection to the outside world."
10. On Aronofsky's train cocktail contribution: "Darren woke early and hit the hotel kitchen to make the necessary fresh lychee puree for festive cocktails..." They christen the drink, "The Golden Lemur."
11. On poverty, and being extremely hungry after seven hours on a train with no food: "It's hard to complain about the lack of food options."
12. After more time on the train, and daybreak on the shore: "This is what it's like at the end of the world."
13. On the spiders in the sleepy beach town of Manakara: "That is a disturbingly large spider, I would be unhappy if I saw that coming across my pillow."
14. On the local wildlife: "Dude, it's a chicken."
15. On Aronofsky's analysis of what the local wildlife must eat — "corpses" — Bourdain notes: "You are such a downer, such a Debbie downer!"
16. On the table full of food: "It should be noted, we bought a lot of food. This amount of food is unusual in these parts."
17. In the local village, on how everyone is served: "First ladies serve the men, then they serve the kids. It may not be our system, but it is a system, and it becomes clear that everybody will eat."
18. Again, on Aronofsky's new diet: "You picked a bad time to become a vegetarian, you really did."
19. After the meal, during a spontaneous party: "We all forget where we came from and where we might be for a little while."
20. On the evolving landscape: "If you'd been here, chances are you would have seen it differently."
21. And on taking it all in: "It may look simple. But the harder you look the more complicated it gets."