darren-aronofsky.jpgNew and creative directors are diamonds in the rough, but they can be just as uneven and unbalanced as lumps of coal. Oftentimes, brilliant directors have rocky beginnings but still show potential for unprecedented style and character. Darren Aronofsky, a modern example of such, has shown growth and weaknesses within his repertoire of films, but has the potential to become one of the leading directors of our time.

Aronofsky’s first film Pi (1998) tells the story of Maximillian Cohenpi-movie.jpg (Sean Gullette), an insane mathematician who is looking for the number that is the key to all meaning. Stock market speculators want his number as a key to predicting exchange patterns while Hasidic Jews (one of which is Ben Shenkman of Angels in America fame) want the number as a key to find the 216-letter name of God. Filmed in black and white, the film is severe and disturbing (scenes feature Maximillian in delusional dream states poking his own brain). The film’s dialogue is rather sparse and told in a monotone narrative – certainly a stretch for conventional audiences. It is perhaps the most enigmatic of Aronofsky’s films due to its belief in its own intelligence and through its lack of concern to relate to viewers. Still, it is a notable foray into the mind of Aronofsky that produces some of his staple film and storytelling techniques.

requiem-for-a-dream.jpgRequiem for a Dream (2000) dives into lives of four addicts who are all deeply entangled by the time we are introduced to them. Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto, now the lead singer for 30 Seconds to Mars), Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Aronofsky’s latest film The Fountain), Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly, Labyrinth, A Beautiful Mind), and Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans, The Ladykillers) are all wrapped up in drug-and-dream addictions, each feeding their delusions with prescription meds and needles. Weighted in a book of the same title by Hubert Shelby Jr., the book actually evokes some emotion from its audience. The obvious descent into unrepairable damage to body, mind, and soul strikes a deep chord of regret on the audience’s part just as much as it does on screen. It is chilling in its inevitably and its way of finding ways for us to relate to the characters. Aronofsky’s adopts a very avant-garde directorial style, using split-screen cuts, rapid scene montage for the drug scenes, high speed time lapse shots (Ellen Burstyn’s character cleans her entire house in a 25-second scene to show the drug’s frantic effects on her), and the SnorriCam (a camera fastened to the actor’s body which makes the scenery around the actor move but the actor appears not to move). Elements like the SnorriCam and montage sequences were also used in Pi and are now considered classic Aronofsky.

the-fountain.jpgThe Fountain (2006) Aronofsky’s bravest and riskiest gamble to date divides critics and puzzles fans. A three-timeline story, it tells the story of Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman, Van Helsing, The Prestige) and Izzy Creo (Rachel Weisz, Constantine, The Constant Gardener) at three different junctures in time – once in 16th century Spain and its American territories as the conquistador Tomas and Queen Isabel, once in 21st century America as the neurosurgeon Tommy and dying Izzi, and in the distant 26th century as the meditative Tom and living-in-memory and tree Izzi. Strange, bitter, and beautiful, Aronofsky’s film serves as one of the stronger cases for a visual masterpiece. What it has leaps and bounds of in its visual aspect it totally lacks, even purposefully obscures, in its story and character development. It becomes his most caricatured piece, with characters that represent deeply human concepts, questions, and answers, but a story that doesn’t allow them to portray it at all. What emotional response the film garners is on the film’s actors and special effects alone, though it is not to be counted as a loss for Aronofsky. Though a risky undertaking and a departure from what, after two films, were considered his signature techniques, the film amazes and astounds with its grasp of surrealism. Each age is characterized by a shape (16th century by triangles, 21st century by squares, and 26th century by circles), filling the film with expert subtlety and admirable intelligence.

Aronofsky, a Harvard graduate, certainly possesses the intelligence to continue on a brilliant career, perhaps rivaling other great modern directors like David Lynch (Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive) or Kubrick (Clockwork Orange, Eyes Wide Shut). Though some complain that his characters lack of characterization is a problem, I could very well argue that it’s not a problem at all. Many directors refuse to paint vivid pictures of their characters and instead rely on contextual and visual cues and analysis. Aronofsky’s flaws lie in his inability to let a story live in itself. The closest he has come to this has been with Requiem, but its story was written for him in book form. Pi and The Fountain both show the fundamental weakness of development – in dialogue and chronology. I think painting surrealistic pictures of people, showing their beauty even in their ugliness, is an admirable skill. But doing it in a visual way alone loses those of us who cannot see with the director’s eyes, and eventually becomes a dense impenetrable method of filmmaking.

According to the site Comingsoon.net, Aronofsky is at the head of two major productions – The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon, and Black Swan, about a dancer and a rival. Though the two projects are rather ambiguous in their description on the site, it still lends hope that Aronofsky, when anchored in tight scripts and concrete concepts, can produce beautiful films. Though Pi was Aronofsky’s brainchild, it still had its problems that kept it from being a truly great piece of cinema. The Fountain only compounded those problems, though it excelled in a few ways that his other films had not, if only because of subject differences. It is a shame that Aronofsky can’t rein himself in on creative scripts and direction. Perhaps the best of Aronofsky’s work will come after experiencing the heavy thumb of Hollywood scriptwriters, when he understands the limits of the audience’s patience and his own ability to tell a good story.