Darren Aronofsky has accrued a body of work in his 10 years of directing that is substantial, intelligent and emotionally charged. Below we shine a brief focus on his 4 films to date that are all necessities for any serious film buff to have in his home entertainment DVD library.
His debut with Pi focused on a mathematician searching for a number that could change the world and was a gritty thriller in the style of David Lynch. Pi was shot on an amazingly low budget of $60,000 but won Darren Aronofsky Best Director honors at the Sundance Film Festival in 1998. Aronofskys inventive use of black and white photography drives this disturbing yet exhilarating film that is forever probing our own insecurities and can only be described as a true original. The Sundance success of this movie was a major lead in to Aronofsky securing a two movie major Hollywood deal. The DVD release has some entertaining extras on offer including a wonderful commentary by the director and his cast.
His follow up to Pi was an Oscar-nominated drama based on Hubert Selbys novel, Requiem for a Dream released in 2000 and followed by an Unrated Directors cut on DVD in 2001 which contained a plethora of extras and some fascinating insights into Darren Aronofsky and his Director of Photography collaborator Matthew Libatique with uncensored commentaries. There is also finally a high definition Blu-Ray release of this unrated version due 9/8/2009.
The movie centers on 4 people whose lives are sent out of control by addiction but told through the eyes of a director whose visionary style leaves you gasping for air. This is at its base a horror story but not the type youre maybe familiar with and Aronofsky himself said he drew inspiration for Requiem from 50s horror films. This compelling nightmare intertwines some darkly humorous comedy with the some of the most gut wrenching images conceivable but fashioned in a way by Aronofsky that extends a heartfelt compassion for the self-deluded, yet seemingly doomed central characters.
The entire cast is extraordinary. Aronofsky manages to draw astonishing performances from all his actors and is why this film works so very well. Requiem for a Dream is deeply disturbing on a psychological level that no other film that has dealt with addiction comes anywhere near. It is a captivating depiction of lost hope that is visually astounding, coupled with a harrowing score and is likely to never leave you. Truly a film like no other that should not be missed.
In 2006 Aronofsky bought to theatres The Fountain after a stop start and checkered life which almost didnt eventuate. Originally the main lead character was to be played by Brad Pitt and the budget for Fountain was 90 Million Dollars. With Brad Pitt leaving the movie it looked like this gem would be lost. Fortunately Aronofsky wasnt about to let that happen and reworked the script and presented a film with a much smaller budget that the studio was unable to say no to. The Fountain was reborn and Hugh Jackman became the leading role along with his love portrayed by Rachel Weisz.
This complex tale spans 1,000 years in 3 distinct time periods beginning with a conquistador named Tomas (Hugh Jackman) searching for The Tree of Life while battling Mayan warriors. Next we jump to the future where Tom (Jackman) is an astronaut travelling through space towards a golden nebula in an ecosphere spacecraft, which also houses a living tree. The sap from this tree provides Tom with his eternal youth but the continuous taking of the sap is destroying the tree but in his quest to find his true love Izzi who he is continuously haunted by on his journey leaves him with disregard for the tree and assures the tree that all will be justified and made right when they reach the nebula.
Majority of the screen time surrounds present day where Tommy Creo (Jackman) plays a research oncologist attempting to reverse brain tumors in rhesus monkeys through animal testing. His work is motivated by his cancer-stricken wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz). When the tests fail on a monkey named Donovan, Tommy is inspired to break medical protocol and use an mysterious compound derived from a Guatemalan tree. At first, the drug fails to stop the tumor’s growth and appears another attempt has failed but surprisingly after a short period the drug rejuvenates Donovan, healing his wounds and improving his cognitive abilities all happening while Tommy is absent from the lab. Soon after Izzi collapses from a seizure caused by her illness and is admitted to hospital and at this time his associate Dr. Lillian Guzetti (Ellen Burstyn) finds him and tells him that Donovan’s tumor is shrinking. Tommy rushes back to Izzi’s bedside with the news, only to find that his wife cannot be resuscitated. At Izzi’s funeral, Tommy tells Guzetti, “Death is a disease, it’s like any other. And there is a cure. A cure. And I will find it.”
At its heart The Fountain is a simple story of eternal love and how that love is cheated by inevitable death but Aronofsky weaves it in a way that you can see he himself is truly in love with the filmmaking process. You have to surrender yourself to this film and if you do that it will overwhelm your senses in a truly tantalizing way. It was always a very ambitious project but it is shot superbly and acted with artistry and is filmmaking with articulate structure and execution. The deep philosophical questions posed in this cinematic masterpiece are not ones that would be tackled by many directors but Aronofsky does it with a noble passion.
Blu-Ray and DVD special features are minimalist but the Blu-Ray does provide a glorious visual feast for which this movie requires. The scene to storyboard comparisons provided amongst the extras are insightful along with the interview with Darren Aronofsky.
The Wrestler was Aronofskys next triumph and should have garnered a Best Picture Oscar and undoubtedly a Best Actor Oscar for Mickey Rourke the central character in The Wrestler as agreed upon by many pundits and critics alike. Alas this was not to be in what is more of a political and marketing triumph than one that rewarded sheer talent in the case of Rourke. Never has an actor so fully engulfed a character as he does with Randy The Ram Robinson, a professional wrestler past his prime and living in a trailer. In his glory days he headlined matches and possessed a devastating individual signature move called The Ram Jam for which his opponents had no answer. Still Randy cannot be drawn away from wrestling as it fulfills him in these decadent days where he settles to wrestle on weekends in environments far reaching from those of his past glory but the crowd is addictive and he is unable to let go.
This film seemed tailor made for Rourke who not only possesses the physical attributes to make the role believable but the absolute talent and acting range to have us glued to the screen watching the tale unfold as it is so craft fully exploited by Aronofsky. Great films are sometimes difficult to watch as they unsettle you in such an emotional way and The Wrestler takes you to those extremes. The ebb and flow eloquently fluctuates between the highest of hopes and the deepest despairs with gut wrenching sorrow and isolation. It is a one-two emotional punch that has an ending that is eerily beautiful but uncovers in a single photographic master stroke a realm of senses that exudes a range of emotions that capture our fallen star raising him to a former level of greatness that sympathizes the viewer. A wonderful collaboration by all those involved but particularly Mickey Rourke and Darren Aronofsky.
April 09 saw the release of this film onto DVD and special edition 2 disc Blu-Ray that is awe inspiring visually and the classic rock soundtrack which features the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Guns N Roses, Scorpions, Madonna and others will push you into sensory overload presented in fabulous 5.1 digital surround.