1) Requiem For A Dream (2000) – Ellen Burstyn is phenomenal (she was nominated for an Oscar in this role as Sara Goldfarb) in this film that centers on addiction and spiraling delusion of four linked characters played by Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans. I’ve said it before: though it’s labeled a drama it’s actually one of the better horror films released in the last decade, and I remember Aronofsky himself saying it was a roller coaster ride that crashes into a brick wall — like that was most moviegoers' idea of fun! Burstyn’s palsied declaration, “I’m going to be on television,” with the refrigerator coming after her is indelible stuff. Each character ends up in the fetal position.
2) The Wrestler (2008) – Aronofsky took a chance on casting Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson as an aging professional wrestler who is clinging to fading glory from the 1980s. Now he works in a supermarket part time, has heart issues and pops pills in handfuls. He falls in love with a stripper. His nails are white as cotton. He wants to rekindle his relationship with his daughter. But the best, most poetic part is when he’s sitting in a bar for an afternoon drink listening to glam rock and bemoans the fact that that “Cobain pussy had to come along and ruin it all.” Classic sublimation. Very real.
3) Black Swan (2011) – The latest of Aronofsky’s, and he gets an Academy Award-winning performance from a sinewy Natalie Portman (who plays Nina Sayers). It’s the trickery—are we watching an insane person turn into the black swan through desperate obsession? Or do all Broadway thespians go through Dante’s hell when trying to nail down the lead of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake? Will wings grow from her shoulder blades? What’s dream, what’s real, why is everyone groping this stick figure in leotards? It all comes to a climax in the end, but it’s a trademark Aronofsky hellride to get there.
4) Pi (1998) – Psychological thriller, my ass -- this is the type of thing that makes you suspect all of mathematics lead to the booby hatch. Numbers are behind the meaning of everything, thinks the lead character/narrator, Max Cohen (a morbidly convincing Sean Gullette). Soon we’re reading into a 216-digit number from a crashed computer having metaphysical value on the stock market, then we’re dealing in Gematria, the correspondence between the Hebrew alphabet and numbers. Then the drill comes out. And the drill goes in the cranium. And Aronofsky lets it be known that he’s, um, different than others out dropping celluloid. He did his first feature for only $60,000 (and got paid back thrice that in the nightmares he generated).
5) The Fountain (2006) – It’s a twister of a couple played by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky’s old flame), which follows three different story lines separated by five centuries, all of them dealing in love, mortality and a gnawing sense of existential vertigo. That’s his specialty. He said at the time that it was like a “Rubik’s cube that can be solved different ways, but that ultimately there’s only one solution.” I never was too good at Rubik’s cubes. I used to take them apart.
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