Darren Aronofsky has zero chill.
That’s what makes him so fascinating, no matter the project, no matter the setting, no matter who the character is under the microscope. Whether his film unravels in the cramped hallways of a Brooklyn apartment building, under the spotlight of the ballet, or in the wrathful landscape of the Old Testament, Darren Aronofsky is here to use his characters’ obsessions and addictions to break them down. He uses the vulnerability of high-focused obsession to destroy his characters, or at least destroy the place in which they have found themselves.
It may not sound like an appealing afternoon at the cinema to most and that makes sense. Aronofsky’s films are often armed to the teeth on a psychological level, never ready to shy away from the provocative imagery or disturbing depths of addiction. They aren’t for most even. With mother!, his latest horror starring Jennifer Lawrence, he will undoubtedly wade back into the waters of addiction, even if it may not be as clear cut as it was in his previous protagonists.
Pi was crystal clear: Max (Sean Gullette) has dedicated his life to finding a loophole in the stock market, even if the obsession drives him too insane to enjoy the fruits of a seemingly impossible labor. Requiem For A Dream is an even clearer examination of addiction, at least when it comes to the trio of dope-sick drifters played brilliantly by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. But Ellen Burstyn’s Sarah Goldfarb, lonely and tucked away in her lifeless apartment, has her own addictions.
There is the television, the remote control fetishized by the pop-art camera work of longtime Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique. There are her chocolates, sexualized by Goldfarb’s roaming fingers. And when she mistakenly believes she is going to be on the television herself, the obsession to trim off the weight becomes her ultimate undoing. It is the most profoundly affecting examination of addiction in Aronofsky’s career-long journey across the topic.
The Fountain, his long-gestating follow up to Requiem, may tell the story of his character Tommy (Hugh Jackman), who journeys across time and space to try and find a cure for death in order to live forever with his love (Rachel Weisz); but it also tells the story of Darren Aronofsky’s own obsessive nature, as his determination for The Fountain to be a sprawling science-fiction/fantasy epic was ultimately tinkered with and trimmed down by undoubtedly nervous and confounded studio suits to a brisk 90 minutes. It may be a mess, but it may also be the most personal glimpse into the powers of addiction throughout the course of his own career.
His next two films, The Wrestler and Black Swan, proved to be his most successful set of films – depending on your definition of success, that is. Both films found strong audience numbers, terrific Awards season buzz, and Natalie Portman won an Oscar for her turn as Nina, the mentally fractured young ballerina in Black Swan (Mickey Rourke deserved the Best Actor Oscar in 2008 for The Wrestler, but was inexplicably beat out by Sean Penn, who was… fine?… in Milk). They’re obsessions are clear, right on the surface, and they both involve physicality and self-mutilation for the sake of success – or fame.
The addiction and eventual madness of Noah never hit the sort of biblical proportions that the film needed, but credit to him for creating such a detailed, individualistic depiction of the place and time. Noah deserves more credit for its reach than its grasp, and Russell Crowe is game to put this Noah through the ringer as his obsession soon becomes his undoing. The addiction is, in a sense, the word of God, which Noah refuses to break regardless of the damage it could do to his family.
Which brings us to mother!, his take on Rosemary’s Baby. Or something along those lines. But the addiction here feels more opaque. It may be obsession with conception; it’s an avenue Aronofsky hasn’t quite tackled head on. The addiction isn’t as clear this time, not as much as his previous films, but make no mistake it will be lurking in this madhouse thriller somewhere. One thing is clear whether their is addiction at the heart of mother! or not, Darren Aronofsky will put Jennifer Lawrence through the ringer.