Darren Aronofsky  



A master director (who should be grabbing most of the director's awards), with a dark streak and a fascination for dark human obsessions. In this sense, he can be said to be the Jewish intellectual version of Shinya Tsukamoto. He has a natural talent for making every aspect of a movie work together as a whole in order to express his characters' emotions, obsessions and passions. From the rich and carefully selected cinematography techniques, to the editing, the framing, the meticulous pacing, colors, sounds, the details included in the sets, as well as casting and direction, and even sacrificing reality when needed, dipping into surrealism only when it is called for. All of these are chosen to express what Aronofsky wants to say, sometimes creating the feeling that he is over-explaining his point simply because all of the details point to the same focused message. That said, he does have a tendency to slip over the border into excess luridness or melodrama, especially in his climaxes which usually keep going where they should stop, but he is still developing his craft. Interestingly, his only conventional movie so far (The Wrestler) was made after The Fountain flopped.

Recommended

Black Swan  
Like a ballet, this movie revels in melodramatic excess and show-off bravura, but retains its humanistic passion and discipline. Aronofsky does it again, in a flawed package this time, but with undeniable mastery of his art, combining cinematography, surrealism, horror, framing, sound, and meticulous pacing to build a crescendo of human insanity. In this case, the insanity belongs to a ballerina desperate for perfection and acceptance, acted by Natalie Portman in an astounding performance. Her artistic director (Cassel), like Aronofsky, casts her in Swan Lake in what must have been an inspiration after seeing a flash of a possibly devastating black swan inside her good-girl, virginal psyche. Because of this decision, Portman trained for months in ballet, and gives every scene and performance her utmost, which is surprisingly intense and detailed. Her ex-ballerina mother suffocates her and tries to live her missing life through her, and her mind starts to crack under all the pressure. This is where the surrealism comes in, and for a while I kept thinking that I've seen this kind of thing done better in movies like Repulsion. For most of the running time, I both marveled at the craftsmanship, was fascinated by the movie, and sighed at the occasional bad choices, Aronofsky showing gratuitous nasty ballet wounds, perverts on the train, lurid violence, and even a useless lesbian scene, and going for literal surrealism where subtlety was needed. But then the climax happens and you won't know what hit you, the movie in all its aspects along with Portman and Aronofsky meeting the melodramatic ballet head on, and releasing their absurdly black swan onto the world in an insane need to perfect and release even their dark and pointlessly negative obsessions. This movie lives only for its final performance, and you will just have to endure the punishing training beforehand to get to see it.

Fountain, The  
This ambitious third movie from Aronofsky deals with death and how it affects us as human beings on all levels, whether it is psychological, metaphysical, or religious, how it drives us, and how we may come to terms with it. This movie flopped, and audiences are still stupidly trying to figure out the movie as if it were a narrative, arguing over which of the three stories are the reality and how they may intertwine into a solid linear narrative. The simple answer is that none of them are real, and only the characters of Tom and his wife and their emotions are real. At the obvious center is Tom as a scientist working to find a cure for cancer in a research lab using obscure remedies, driven by his sick and dying wife, coming close to a solution but never a full one. There is no need for even this research to be real or even to find a solution, because what is important is his state of mind, how he is driven to achieve, how he loves, how he deals with his dying wife, how he tries to find meaning and acceptance of death, and how death can cause transcendence and rebirth. In two obviously fictional and fantastical alternate realities of Tom as Conquistador searching for the tree of life in order to save Spain and its queen, and Tom as a new-age spaceman floating in a bubble in space accompanied by a tree on his way to a dying star, many parallels are drawn in order to help us enter his worried, tortured, fearful and grieving mind and soul. His bravery, his attempts to save his country and his queen who is also his wife, the fact that these realities are written by his dying wife who is his love and muse, the themes of death provoking awe and rebirth, and life literally growing out of a dead man's chest, etc. are all obvious parallels, and there are too many details and levels with which this movie can be understood, analyzed and enjoyed to explain here. And sometimes it's just about the little details, like when he touches fluttering tree tendrils, which is then juxtaposed with gently caressing the tiny hairs on the back his wife's neck. The ending dives deep into Buddhist ideas of rebirth (although Aronofsky could have used more Jewish ideas instead), and I could argue that it is more focused and understandable than 2001 (which was also received with some mixed reviews), and yet it is obvious that audiences have changed since then. The Fountain explores death, but through the living, it then transcends death, and that is why the movie is named after the fountain of life.

Pi  
An intelligent and artsy look into dangerous mathematics, dangerous knowledge, patterns and the stock market. A brilliant man is in search of the formula to the market, God and general existence, and is hounded and wooed by the expected groups and people, as well as some Kabbalistic Hasidim. On top of it all he has blinding headaches, paranoia and hallucinations to cope with, leading to a disturbing climax. Themes of genius and madness, and powerful, forbidden and dangerous knowledge are explored and how they can affect human beings and their interactions with other people. This is Aronofsky's first full-length movie, it is filmed in black and white and feels like a precociously talented student movie. Intensely fascinating.

Requiem for a Dream  
Possibly the most emotionally disturbing movie ever made. A devastating, brutal, realistic, involving, empathetic, relentless and sympathetic story about four drug addicts and the depths to which they sink when their little life dreams go wrong and the drugs take over. Unusually, one of the addicts is an older woman who starts taking diet pills, and the intense Ellen Burstyn in this role makes the movie very special. Artistic photography, careful use of sound and advanced filming techniques are all very effectively used to get you into the minds and hearts of the addicts. This intelligent and effective directing, the incredible uncompromising acting, the relentlessly bleak story, and no exploitative or preachy factors all combine to bring you to your knees and vow a solemn oath never to touch drugs. I've seen dozens of drug movies with losers making bad choices, and this is the only one that managed to get me into their heads, then rip out my heart. It's so good, I fear I may traumatize people by recommending it.




2000- by The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre Table of Contents