Darren Aronofsky is a distinct 21st century American filmmaker, whose intensely expressive audiovisual style relentlessly observes the human condition. Almost all his films have evoked polarizing reviews from audiences. At the same time, he is one of the few contemporary masters at visualizing psychological realism.
Born February 12, 1969 in Brooklyn, New York, Aronofksy was interested in arts from a young age. After high school, he studied filmmaking at Harvard and American Film Institute (AFI). He made his first thesis film in the year 1990. After finishing his studies at AFI, Aronofsky, for the next three years, was engaged in finding a style of his own. This led him to his maiden indie project Pi. He started working on it from 1996, but finished and released it in 1998. Pi became a Sundance Festival sensation. The viewers instantly recognized him as one of the original cinematic voices.
One of the signature elements in Aronofsky movies is his use of rapid editing techniques to guide us into the frenzied inner state of his characters. He took this to greater levels in his disturbing yet critically acclaimed second feature Requiem for a Dream (2000). He also crafted a unique visual language through his impeccable use of wide-angle lenses and SnorriCam. From then on Aronofsky has constantly reinvented his style, worked in different genres, and pursued fresh, mind-bending subjects.
Here’s a look at all Darren Aronofsky movies, ranked from the good to the best:
7. Noah (2014)
Darren Aronofsky is known for pursuing creative projects that are both challenging and unconventional. His $125 million biblical epic Noah is a bold and thought-provoking interpretation of the Old Testament story of Noah’s Ark. Russell Crowe plays the haunted eponymous character, who must save his family and every living creature from the oncoming apocalyptic flood.
One of the biggest strengths of Noah is Aronofsky’s vivid imagery. He opens the film with a brilliant time-lapse montage as Noah narrates to his children the biblical story of creation. Aronofsky also plays with color to distinguish each of the trials and tribulations in Noah’s journey. There are a few pacing issues in the narrative, particularly in the latter half. The more ponderous and bleak themes in the final half-hour might not work for those expecting a commercial blockbuster. Yet Aronofsky triumphs in the way he conjures a perfect visual language to narrate an all-too familiar story.
6. The Fountain (2006)
The Fountain jumps between three radically different timelines, and tells a story of love, life, and death that are somehow interrelated. The movie will certainly warp your understanding of reality. Aronofsky uses powerful and resonant imagery to create a romance spectacle that is not limited or imprisoned by space and time. One could argue that The Fountain shares its spiritual themes with Kubrick’s enigmatic sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz also offer pitch-perfect performances that match exceedingly well with the period and the character they portray. Their love for each other and his unflinching will to preserve a dying life reach us without any hindrance.
Another greatest aspect of the film is its style of storytelling. The most important element for me was the deep and meaningful relationship not only between the two characters but also between the abstract entities of life and death.
5. Pi (1998)
Pi is a daring experimental indie drama. It links together mathematics, God and humanity with a delicate thread. The movie focuses on the theme of man searching for the unknown and the subsequent fear that’s provoked by it. The way the film is shot sends chills down my spine. The black and white matches amazingly with the bleak, near-apocalyptic setting.
The movie deals with patterns and after watching it I wouldn’t blame viewers for actually seeing patterns in everything. It’s such a disquieting experience. Moreover, the topic is also based on reality and sound scientific research.
Aronofsky meticulously explores the anguish of the geniuses and social recluses. The movie might depict some things that are not really conventional. There is not much graphic violence or gore but even the mundane things are visualized in an extremely strange way.
4. Mother! (2017)
Darren Aronofsky’s metaphysical and metaphor-rich horror drama Mother! either evokes reverence or revulsion among viewers. It doesn’t allow for a good deal of middle ground in terms of opinion.
While I liked the intensity of this hermetically-sealed chamber piece, I could understand fellow movie-lovers’ intense dislike for it. Mother! starts off as a straight-up psychological horror, in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby.
A young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her middle-aged husband (Javier Bardem), a poet, in an isolated mansion. She focuses her days on restoring her husband’s house, previously burned in a fire. He was once a famous poet, but now sits brooding with pen in hand and words elude him.
One night, a stranger (Ed Harris) arrives, looking for lodging and food. Soon, more strangers arrive, as unfathomable menace looms over the young wife’s restored home.
The entire narrative mostly stays close to Jennifer Lawrence’s face. The swish pans, close-ups, and behind-the-shoulder shots deftly capture the maddening frenzy around the restricted point of view. Arnofsky’s visual energy is well-matched with far ambitious thematic notions. From biblical references to metaphorizing gender roles, artistic creation to delirious fandom, the filmmaker takes on a vast number of themes.
Some thrive with idiosyncratic energy, while some appear to be banal. In the end, Mother! is a pretty vicious (self) critique on the artist-muse relationship. Mother! is a perfectly disquieting roller-coaster of a horror ride.
3. The Wrestler (2008)
The Wrestler, unlike many of its counterparts, i.e., sports-based movies, focuses more on the human drama and interpersonal relationships. The film was responsible for reviving Mickey Rourke’s failing career. And what a poignant performance he offers! And with Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood flawlessly playing the supporting roles, the movie hits all the right notes. It richly depicts the sorrows of those who fall from grace, and the struggles that go into rediscovering themselves.
Rourke plays the old wrestler Randy Robison, who faces many troubles in life. He also tries to reconcile his relationship with his adult daughter, whom he abandoned as a kid. It’s moving to see the delicate father-daughter relationship deftly handled.
The Wrestler pleasantly surprises us with a remarkable narrative that is grounded in realism and rooted in the people’s immediate social and psychological reality. It displays a humanist viewpoint, elaborating on the pains and sufferings of the marginalized or underclass people.
2. Black Swan (2010)
Black Swan is one of the best psychological horror thrillers. Natalie Portman gives, what is perhaps, one of the most compelling performances of her career. The dark, subliminal imagery goes so well with the ballet setting. The unforgiving world is superbly superimposed over the troubled psyche of the protagonist, Nina. Aronofsky often plays with his central character’s psychological reality; we too share her confusion in understanding what’s real and what’s hallucination.
The movie sends a clear message about the insecurities that plague the minds of those ambitious. It brings us face to face with the darker realities of the human condition. The movie throws light on the need to be accepted ingrained deeply in us. Black Swan inquisitively questions how far one can go to achieve one’s dreams.
The dance pieces and the swan lake metaphor add new layers to the film. Black Swan has succeeded in achieving a certain tier of filmmaking genius which could easily allow it to take its place among the classics of the psychological horror sub-genre.
1. Requiem For a Dream (2000)
Requiem For a Dream is exactly what its title sounds like. It is a grand final outing in honor of dead dreams. The most fascinating feature of this movie is the unbelievably realistic portrayal of the state of mind of drug addicts. The escape and the brief respite drugs provide is depicted with extraordinary realism.
The actors deliver some of the most unforgettable, heartbreaking performances in portraying the broken, desolate lifestyle. It’s a trippy ride that rightly deserves all the acclaim it gets.
The psychological drama is masterfully crafted and executed to give us a detailed perspective of not only the addicts, but also the mindset of working class Americans in general. The themes of self-destruction, loneliness, alienation form the narrative. Ultimately, Requiem for a Dream is a sad, disturbing film; one you can’t bring yourself to watch more than once. Even a single viewing leaves you with such morbid imagery that’s hard to shake off.
Darren Aronofsky’s seventh film mother! proved to be his most controversial work. The film was so polarizing that Aronofsky recently confessed he still receives hate mail for it. But after a break, he returned to filmmaking, and is currently working on the post-production of The Whale. Similar to The Wrestler, it’s a drama about a middle-aged man’s redemption with Brendan Fraser playing the lead role. His other project that’s in pre-production is titled Adrift. A horror genre film, Adrift is based on the short story by The Ring novelist Koji Suzuki. Jared Leto reunites with Aronofsky for the film after Requiem for a Dream.
What are your most favorite Darren Aronofsky movies? And how would you rank them? Let’s talk in the comments below.
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Additional writing by Arun Kumar