The Films of Darren Aronofsky
Pi (November 18/06)
Though stylish and sporadically intriguing, Pi is - by and large - a frustrating and maddeningly confounding piece of work that has inexplicably acquired a fairly substantial cult following in the years since its 1998 release. Director Darren Aronofsky's decision to employ grainy black-and-white cinematography admittedly suits the off-kilter material, but there's little doubt that the headache-inducing visuals ultimately cements the film's status as a thoroughly interminable experience. The inscrutable storyline revolves around an anti-social mathematics whiz named Max (played by Sean Gullette) as he finds himself embroiled in a far-reaching conspiracy, the entirety of which may or may not be a product of his crumbling mental state. Aronofsky's screenplay is teeming with references to a whole host of mathematical formulas and theories, and there's consequently no denying that Pi all-too-often comes off as a particularly baffling academic lecture. That Gullette is trapped within the confines of an egregiously unsympathetic character certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the increasingly preposterous and flat-out irritating storyline (which, even within the context of the film, feels forced and unnatural). Aronofsky's talent is not in question - there are a number of genuinely compelling moments contained within Pi's running time, including a De Palmaesque sequence in which the camera circles around Max as he paces his cramped apartment - but there's just no way to overlook the film's many deficiencies (the head-scratching conclusion is merely the final straw).
Requiem for a Dream
The Fountain (November 20/06)
Baffling yet strangely compelling, The Fountain boasts a storyline that seems to demand multiple viewings - though it's obvious that one doesn't necessarily have to understand everything within Darren Aronofsky's dense screenplay to enjoy the film. The filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an incredibly captivating sense of style, which - when combined with the best performance of Hugh Jackman's career - ensures that The Fountain is rarely out-and-out dull. Featuring three seemingly separate stories, the film transpires in the past, present, and future and primarily follows Jackman's Tommy Creo as he attempts to find a cure for his wife's (Rachel Weisz) terminal illness. It's a busy storyline that's almost entirely lacking an entry point for the viewer, as Aronofsky generally eschews overt instances of exposition in favor of a far more esoteric, visually-oriented sort of vibe. That being said, the movie does improve considerably as it progresses - primarily because there comes a point at which everything starts to make sense (well, sort of). And although the metaphysical conclusion is destined to leave even the most attentive viewer scratching their head, Aronofsky's artful directorial choices ultimately transform The Fountain into precisely the sort of challenging mainstream effort that's all-too-scarce these days (if nothing else, the film is probably worth a look for Jackman's textured, flat-out brilliant performance).
The Wrestler & Black Swan
Click here and here for reviews.
Noah (April 24/14)
Darren Aronofsky's first movie since 2010's Black Swan, Noah follows the title character (Russell Crowe) as he becomes convinced that God wants him to build an ark designed to hold two of every species of animal - with the movie detailing the character's efforts at accomplishing this incredible task alongside his patient wife (Jennifer Connelly's Naameh) and two sons (Logan Lerman's Ham and Douglas Booth's Shem). Director Aronofsky, working from a script cowritten with Ari Handel, has infused Noah with a larger-than-life and thoroughly epic feel that's often at odds with the low-key, simple storyline, with the filmmaker compensating for this difference by punctuating the narrative with several gleefully broad set pieces and sequences - including an unexpectedly enthralling battle between Noah's core group (which includes rock monsters!) and several hundred angry villagers. And while the film is exceedingly well acted - Crowe's turn as the surprisingly conflicted Noah is an obvious highlight - Noah suffers from a pervasively uneven atmosphere that's most prominent in the rather needless third act (ie the flood feels an obvious climax and yet the film continues for almost a full hour beyond that point). It's ultimately clear that the movie could've lost half of its running time without sacrificing any of its important story and character beats, with Noah's mild success due almost entirely to its often mesmerizing performances and Aronofsky's admittedly impressive visual flair.
An ambitious, audacious failure, Mother! follows a nameless couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) as their isolated existence is slowly-but-surely upended by a variety of sinister outside forces. Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky makes his overtly (and aggressively) avant-garde sensibilities apparent right from its opening shot, as Mother! kicks off with a visually-impressively yet wholly baffling shot that's ultimately indicative of the ensuingly head-scratching vibe - although, to be fair, the movie does, for much of its first hour, boast the feel of a low-key and somewhat mundane domestic drama. This is especially apparent in the early emphasis on Lawrence and Bardem's annoying, oddly insistent houseguests (Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris), and yet Aronofsky's inability (or refusal, more likely) to wholeheartedly flesh-out the characters makes it exceedingly difficult to actually care about any of this. There does, of course, reach a point at which Mother! becomes completely and entirely unmoored from any sense of reality, and while the degree to which Aronofsky commits to the nonsensical, nightmarish atmosphere is impressive, the progressively meandering narrative paves the way for a second half that's almost entirely devoid of intelligible, interesting sequences (ie one can't help but wish that Aronofsky would just get on with it already). The viewer's hope that everything will come together and make sense in the end is obliterated by a full-circle conclusion that doesn't offer any answers, and it is, in the end, impossible to label Mother! as anything more than a hopelessly self-indulgent vanity project that offers little in the way of entertainment (or coherence).