If you’ve seen one Darren Aronfosky film you’ve seen them all, and you’ve seen none. Since the days of watching math psychothrillers in my friend’s parent’s basement, I find his movies to be unmistakably his and like nothing else I’ve seen. He’s like a folk-singer. He repeats themes, shots, and patterns in ways that are always innovative but beautifully familiar. Look for these themes in his work:
Clint Mansell writes the score for every feature film Aronofsky directs. He writes a beautiful theme around the narrative and characters that can transcend throughout the film. And like the stories and imagery, the score is always rich, dark, heady, open and somehow both sad and hopeful all at once. The score for The Fountain is undoubtedly my favorite. But Mansell’s work on Requiem for a Dream might be the secret sauce that makes a story about addiction and desperate hope stay with us longer than we’d like. Here are the themes from each of his films in order of my favorites.
The Fountain – Death is the Road to Awe (2006)
Requiem for a Dream – Hope Overture (2000)
Black Swan – A Swan Song (for Nina) (2010)
Pi – r^2 (1998)
Noah – Make Thee an Ark (2014)
The Wrestler – Theme (2008)
Recurring images are woven through each of his films in ways that are specific to the stories, but if you’re watching you’ll see it. Look also for images of trees, pools of water, crosses, and characters making extreme demands of their body. For example, in both Noah and The Fountain, the main character plants the seemingly exact kind of seed (that will breath in new life).
Elapsed Time Film Techniques are used in almost all of his films and most famous in Requiem for a Dream to show when the characters are high or getting high. He uses the same style in Black Swan and leans on a choppy but rich elapsed time technique to show nature changing over time. A good example is the scene of the slithering snake crawling through the Garden of Eden.
Immediate and unnatural growths shift the plot for the main characters in The Fountain, Black Swan and Noah. Without introducing any spoilers, I can tell you to look for organic natural activity happen in an unexplainable, mystical, transformative way. Aronofsky of course also uses the same, and beautiful, filming and editing technique in all three of these scenes.
Rebirth shows up in nearly all of these films. The Fountain and Noah most explicitly explore these concepts as Tom is searches for the fountain of youth in three parallel stories. Whereas, Noah builds an Ark so nature can start anew post-apocalypse. In Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, however, the characters struggle with addiction to either drugs or perfection. These films resolve not with a warm, nurturing hope for a better future but as an expression of what it looks like when we go too far.
Strong, still, female leads play a role in almost all of his stories. They coincidentally tend to have long brunette hair, milky skin and can probably make a man feel 3 or 13-feet tall in one glance. He writes their roles to soften the edge of their male counter-parts while remaining pillars of strength. They are strong, reliable, sensual partners that walk with grace, talk with intimacy and of course playing dual roles.
A once young 90s indie actress Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream returns to Aronofsky’s screen as Noah’s wife. In between Rachel Weisz plays Queen Isabella of Spain and Natalie Portman as a transforming ballerina in Black Swan.
Obsessive, righteous, male leads like Max Coehn in Pi are extremists. Cohen is beyond obsessed with expressing the natural language of the universe through mathematical patterns and hopefully the stock market. Of course, like all Aaronfsky films, he doesn’t quit until he’s gone too far. Noah, too, builds an enormous Ark and is willing to let his family die and slaughter his son’s offspring in the name of what he believes to be a righteous cause. And again, all version of Tom in the Fountain are obsessed with impossible goal to solve the “disease of death” so he can be forever with his wife. Who could forget how far Harry will go (and let his friends and girlfriends go) for a fix?
Our beautiful universe is a place of wonder for almost all of his characters. Scenes are often set underneath the night sky early in during the films. As the story progresses and time elapses we later see the sky, stars, light or water, like small golden charms, behind silhouetted characters, coming down from the sky. That’s an easy way to tell if the story is about to resolve.
Toy Story 2: Requiem
Buzz and Woody get wasted
The Children Watch Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain
Pretty smart, analytical 9-year-olds break down this three-part love story searching for eternal youth
The Simpsons Requiem for a Dream
Homer tragically eats too many rib sandwiches
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