During his career, Darren Aronofsky has managed to balance mainstream success while still staying close to his indie roots. Since his 1998 directorial debut Pi – a movie about a mathematically gifted man who becomes involved with shady Wall Street types and an Hasidic sect who believe his skills can unlock the secrets of the universe – he has made six feature films.
Aronofsky is noted for his surreal story-telling style; he is not one to shy away from twisted dream sequences or visually heavy hallucinations to represent themes such as addiction or madness. Over the years he has won awards from the Sundance film festival, the Independent Spirit Awards and has been nominated for Golden Globes, BAFTA’s and the Academy Award for Best Director.
Requiem for a Dream was released in 2000 and brought Aronofsky to the attention of the world. A grim look into drug addiction and its devastating effects on those sucked into it, it’s heavy with a lack of hope and an unflinching darkness that can often be found in Aronofsky’s work. Unflinching in what it allows the viewer to see, the director wants you to feel uncomfortable, a little bit dirty and soiled as you watch these characters’ lives go to proverbial shit. One cannot help but watch with almost car crash-like horror, unable to turn away as the film reaches its depressing climax.
An under-appreciated work of Aronofsky’s is 2006’s The Fountain, an epic and magical love story that literally spans all of time and space. No other film quite encapsulates the core of his work like this fantasy. Three separate but linked storylines run concurrently involving Hugh Jackman and his attempt to save his love Rachel Weisz (who was married to the director at the time) and his attempts at finding immortality. The stories involve a Spanish conquistador and his queen, a scientist and his terminally ill wife, and a time traveler.
With a hauntingly gorgeous score by Clint Mansell (who also worked on Pi and Requiem for a Dream), the film is bathed in gold and white light throughout representing life and the afterlife, whatever that may be. Aronofsky wanted to use as few computer generated effects as possible and this helps give the film more of a dream life feeling, especially in the scenes involving Tommy the traveler. The themes of lost and eternal love never feel overdone in Aronofsky’s hands, and The Fountain is, at its heart, both beautiful and hopeful.
His next movie The Wrestler garnered huge awards buzz, including an Oscar nomination for star Mickey Rourke for his portrayal of Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson, a down on his luck wrestler searching for just one more match. This is perhaps Aronofsky’s most human movie so far; here he exhibits a light touch with his characters. It sticks to the basics, it is a character study.
Randy is a sympathetic character, sad, like a former God who realizes that he is sadly human. His attempt to build bridges with his daughter are touching (“I just don’t want you to hate me”) but are ultimately misguided as he shows willingness to sacrifice everything, including his life, for one more moment in the sun.
For as linear and “normal” as The Wrestler was, Black Swan was not. Natalie Portman gives a blistering portrayal as a fragile and emotionally weak ballet dancer who is driven mad by her, and her mother’s, constant need for perfection when she is cast in the lead of Swan Lake. The film constantly blurs the line between fantasy and reality, leaving you never really sure what is real and what is not, including *that* sex scene. Isolated socially and constantly berated by an overbearing stage mom, the pressure to perform mounts until finally, just like Randy, the swan gives the performance of her life.
This September sees the release of Mother! which has been selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The psychological horror stars Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, and is now on general release.
What is your favourite Aronofsky movie? What did you think of Mother!? Let us know in comments or on social media.