Simply put, Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors. His films are typically classified as "independent" or "art" films, though his appeal is much wider then one would typically expect from a director in those genres of film. Most recently with the release of the film Black Swan (featuring the famous Natalie Portman), Aronofsky has become much more well known. Most important to his films are the themes discussed, which are often ones heavily ignored by mainstream Hollywood. Throughout his films you will undoubtedly experience a sense of awe and wonder as Darren Aronofsky takes you to the dark and melancholy worlds of drug addiction, sex, spirituality, death, and reincarnation, among other things. Whether you are a movie buff or just someone who enjoys a good movie, you will very likely find something enjoyable within his movies. I hope this examination of Darren Aronofsky's 5 films will provide you some insight into this director, writer, and producer; and perhaps even inspire you to check out these movies for yourself.
Being honest, Pi is one of the stranger films to brace Darren Aronofsky's list of films. Running in black and white, this simple fact alone will likely be enough to turn many people away. Of course, if you can get past this aesthetic appearance of the film (which many people enjoy as well, mind you) you will find a very interesting story that is thought provoking and relatively easy to grasp if you pay attention. Pi is labelled as a sci-fi thriller, and no doubt adheres to that genre pretty well. However, the story of a paranoid mathematician looking to find the key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature is certainly not the genetic makeup of everyday storytelling. Another issue some viewers may find with this film is it's focus on mathematics. Some have said "This film is too smart!", but the reality is that those individuals have not even bothered to watch this film. While math plays a significant role in this film, it is easy to grasp the basic themes and concepts whether or not you are a mathematician yourself. As a first film from director Darren Aronofsky, this is really excellent.
2. Requiem for a Dream
Perhaps one of director Darren Aronofsky's most popular films, Requiem for a Dream is often hailed by fans and critics as being a unique and true-to-life representation of drug addiction. It cannot be denied: this is a graphic film, and certainly not for all audiences; but amidst all of it's graphic depictions of drugs, violence, and sex there exists a story that is very accurate to what drug users experience with their addictions. Most interesting to me is the variety of drugs displayed, from ones one would expect like cocaine and marijuana, to less noticed drugs like those of the weight loss sort. Another interesting aspect of this film is the focus on how drug use is not just something done by teenagers or young adults, with one of the 4 overarching stories focusing on an older woman who has body image problems and uses drugs as a way of dealing with her body. While I wouldn't say this film is "perfect" by any means, it is certainly heart felt, beautiful, and deeply examines the real human condition behind drug usage. There are plenty of moments of happiness, as well as those of expected sadness as well. I definitely recommend this film if you are looking to check out the work of Darren Aronosfky. It should also be pointed out that the track titled Lux Aeterna (by Clint Mansell) is the main theme of this film, and has been used in countless ways since it's creation.
3. The Fountain
Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors in part because of his honest film making, but also because he produced one of the films I have deemed my "favorite" since viewing it a few years ago. The Fountain is this movie. Easily one of the more "artistic" films on this list, The Fountain tells three interwoven stories at once; all taking place in very different time frames, and to some extent on very different worlds. Many will recognize well known actor Hugh Jackman as he takes the lead role in this film, and gives a stunning performance that quite frankly made me cry at one point. Unlike the previous film Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain is not nearly as graphic; but still depicts love, death, spirituality and reincarnation, and existential issues in a manner that is both beautiful and true to reality. The film is ultimately one that is rather abstract, but if you are able to fill in the pieces; you will certainly find an excellent film for your viewing pleasure that is both aesthetically beautiful as well as well-written and well-acted. It should also be pointed out that the soundtrack for this film, created by composer Clint Mansell, is awe inspiring and is enjoyable to listen to even outside of the movie itself.
4. The Wrestler
This is certainly one of the more approachable films on this list. The Wrestler is much more straightforward then the art/house films that precede it, but it tells a story with such truth and awareness of reality that only Darren Aronofsky is capable of. The examination of the life and lifestyle of a professional wrestler is one that is very dramatic, and while the scenes in the wrestling ring will surely impress those who enjoy the sport; the bulk of the film takes place outside of the ring and focuses on the day to day problems this professional experiences, such as those related to health. This film will certainly draw comparisons to the film titled The Fighter (which features Christian Bale and Mark Wahlberg), which is similar in theme; but ultimately different enough to make both films enjoyable on their own merits. It should be pointed out that Darren Aronofsky's film The Wrestler was created prior to the fighter; and ironically he was looking to cast Christian Bale in the main lead. Coincidence? I think not.
5. Black Swan
Featuring famous actress Natalie Portman, Black Swan is perhaps one of Darren Aronofsky's most popular films. In fact, when I originally saw it in theaters, I was not even aware of it directed by Aronofsky himself. While honestly my least favorite film of Aronofsky's, many people love it and for that reason it is certainly worth at least discussing. Black Swan features a story that is not to often told: the deeply emotional and physiclly challenging lifestyle of a professional ballerina. This is certainly not a fairy tale rendition of the classic theater production Swan Lake, and the lifestyle of a ballerina is painstakingly accurate to a great degree. This is definitely a great film to check out if you are into the content of ballerinas, or if you enjoy psychological thrillers. My main problem with this film was my disinterest in the ballerina lifestyle, and I also found the steamy sex scenes between Portman and Mila Kunis to be more distracting then useful to the story.
Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors. He has produced two of my favorite films, The Fountain and Requiem for a Dream, and his other films are also entertaining and often enlightening as well. If you have not checked out the work of this director, I would highly recommend it. These films are not your standard Hollywood fare, though on occasion they come close to feeling accessible (especially the film The Wrestler). Still, the content remains often very honest to real life; which makes the stories told in each film (whether they are fantasies or not) to feel real. You really care for the characters and engage with their stories. Additionally, in all of these films the music that goes along with the movies is just top notch.
Do you have a favorite Darren Aronofsky film? Let me know in the comments.