Saturday, May 19, 2007

Episode 37 - The Films of Darren Aronofsky

Pi - Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a mathematician. He doesn't just work with numbers, though. He's obsessed with them. Max has a theory. His theory is that everything in existence is dictated by and revolves around numbers. By his estimation, there is a number out there just waiting to be found that can explain life itself and be used to dissect everything in nature. A social hermit, Max spends his days in his cramped apartment or quietly sitting in a coffee shop running numbers through his head. He then takes these numbers and programs them into a computer in his home that he hopes will help him discover the mysterious set of digits that he's searching for. His only means of recreation is visiting an elderly man named Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis) who spent the majority of his own life in pursuit of a number and tries to warn Max that nothing good will come of his tireless quest. Then one day a hasidic jew by the name of Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) sits down next to Max in the coffee shop and proposes to him the idea that there is a number that can be used to unlock a secret within the Torah. Considering the similarities between the number that he is searching for and the one which Lenny seeks, Max offers to help him locate the number. Meanwhile, a business woman named Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart) has been pestering Max to help her business discover the number he's searching for so that they can use it to predict stock trends and make themselves rich. As Max gets closer to finding the number which has ruled his life for longer than he'd care to admit, he begins to realize that some things are better left undiscovered. Pi is a peculiar movie. It was made with an extremely low budget as Darren Aronofsky's first major film project. It is entirely black and white and the film stock is very grainy. If I had to relate it to another film, that film would be Primer. Primer is a movie that is extremely technological, though the technology within the film is fake. The filmmakers get away with this because they've made the technology in the film so confusing that a lay person has no way of understanding what the actors are talking about half the time, making the premise believable since the average person can't disprove it. Pi is a lot like this. Unless you are a mathematician you will hardly ever really understand what exactly the actors in Pi are talking about, but because they sound so convincing you can take the premise with a grain of salt and just enjoy the events that are taking place. It's a very careful balance that the director must maintain. In the case of Primer, director Shane Carruth relies on the science fiction aspect of his film to keep the audience's interest among all the techno-babble. As for Pi, Aronofsky injects numerous visually interesting moments into the movie that keep even the least mathematically inclined person interested. One such example of the flashy visuals that Aronofsky offers up in Pi are known as "hip-hop cuts". Hip-hop cuts are a series of incredibly fast shots shown back to back, usually with some sort of defining, easily recognizable sound effects to accompany them. These shots are a trademark of Aronofsky's filmmaking. Opposing the very cold, confusing world of mathematics in Pi are the deeply personal problems that Max endures. He is obviously a troubled person, and the frequent back and forth between the scenes regarding numbers and the scenes regarding Max's inner struggles help this film to keep viewers on track. Also of great interest is the music which Aronofsky chose for this film. It is primarily electronic, which makes sense considering the technological leanings of the plot. Overall, Pi has a great premise with fingers in not only the science fiction pie, but also political intrigue and dark drama as well. As with all of Aronofsky's films, Pi is certainly not for everyone, but I'd certainly recommend it to anyone interested in science, science fiction, or quality cinema.

Requiem For a Dream - Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a heroin addict living in Coney Island, New York. To feed their addiction, he hand his friend Tyrone Love (Marlon Wayans) constantly take Harry's mother's television and pawn it for money with which to buy drugs. They then share those drugs with Harry's girlfriend Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), who has dreams of becoming a clothing designer. The three of them are living empty lives when they decide to set a goal for themselves. The plan to open a store for Marion to sell the clothes she designs from is innocent enough, but the method of raising the money to do so is less than innocent. Tyrone and Harry hit the streets, buying heroin and reselling it to raise funds. Things seem to be going well until the supply of drugs dries up and the three of them are forced to dig into their earnings to feed their own addictions. From there things only get worse as the three of them discover what their poor judgement has cost them. Meanwhile Harry's mother is dealing with an addiction of her own: an addiciton to television. Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely, elderly widow who spends her days in her apartment watching tv. When she gets a call from a tele-marketer who promises her an appearance on a television show, Sara is ecstatic with joy. She decides to begin dieting to fit into the dress she wore to her son's graduation for her big onscreen debut. Going to a less-than-reputable doctor, she receives a variety of weight loss pills which soon become Sara's new addiction. Requiem For a Dream is, simply put, one of the most depressing movies ever made. As it's characters spiral ever downward it can even become hard to watch. We're told from childhood that drugs are dangerous and that we shouldn't go near them. In my opinion, if schools want to teach children not to touch drugs they should just show them this movie. Depressing, frightening, and disturbing are all good words to describe this film. However, this is not to say that the movie is not worth watching. In fact, it is very much the opposite. Requiem For a Dream is a great movie. Full of trippy visuals and hip-hop cuts, it's obvious from the get-go that you're watching a Darren Aronofsky film. Where Pi's flaws were mostly found in it's acting, such is not the case here. The entire cast of Requiem For a Dream is outstanding. Jared Leto gives a career-defining performance as Harry. Jennifer Connelly is beautiful as usual, but also really brings it to the table as her character falls deeper and deeper under the control of her addiction. Ellen Burstyn, an actress I wasn't previously familiar with, devotes herself entirely to the role of Harry's mother Sara. She offers a haunting performance that will rip your heart out by the time the finale rolls around. Christopher McDonald is darkly comedic as the television personality with whom Sara is obsessed and Keith David has never been so disturbing on film as he is in his role in Requiem For a Dream. However, perhaps most impressive (and surprising), is Marlon Wayans' performance as Tyrone. Did anyone know that he could actually act? I sure as hell didn't. Again, the music in this film is wonderful, almost becoming a character in and of itself. Just as with Pi, Requiem For a Dream isn't for everyone, but it's a damn fine movie.

The Fountain - Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman) is a medical scientist whose wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) has an inoperable brain tumor. As such, Tom is testing methods by which he might be able to cure his wife. Just when it seems as though all hope may be lost, Tom's team injects a test monkey with a serum containing the sap of a tree in South America that seems to have some healing capabilities. The new drug has some astonishing effects, including apparent anti-aging properties. Time is running out for his wife, though, and in his haste to complete the new drug his co-workers begin to question his judgement. For some time now Izzi has been working on a manuscript called The Fountain, which is one chapter from completion when she asks Tom to read it. As he reads the manuscript the viewer is treated to the story as well. It follows a medieval Spanish conquistador (also played by Jackman) who, at the behest of his queen (also played by Weisz), sets out to search for an ancient temple that is meant to house the "tree of life" that is mentioned in the bible. To complete his mission he must first find the temple, which would be difficult enough on it's own, but also survive attacks from an invading army. Along with these two plot lines, we are also treated to a third in which a bald man (Jackman once again) floats through space in a large translucent bubble with an oddly shaped tree which he consumes the bark of to maintain eternal life. Alright, this is gonna be a tough one. I must begin this review by saying that I didn't completely understand The Fountain. However, I'm not sure if the audience is necessarily meant to understand it or not. If so, writer/director Darren Aronofsky isn't making it easy for us. The three plots of the film are interspersed throughout, making their confusing stories even more confusing. The relationship between the stories is obviously that of the tree which grants eternal life in one way or another, depending on the story. The fact that all of the stories involve both Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz makes sense depending on how you personally view the events of the film. In all honesty, I can't really comment much on the plot of the film as it didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense to me. However, there are plenty of other things to discuss. The film is visually very beautiful. The lighting in each scene is superb, and the magical imagery of the medieval and outer space stories is all magnificent. Hugh Jackman delivers a damn fine performance in each of his three roles. Rachel Weisz isn't bad, but doesn't reach the same level that Jackman does. The direction of The Fountain is a bit different from that of Pi and Requiem For a Dream. Most notably, there isn't a hip-hop cut to be found. The soundtrack isn't quite as notable as that of either Pi or Requiem For a Dream, but it remains one of the highlights of The Fountain. In conclusion, I personally wasn't a big fan of this film, as I like my movies to make at least a little sense. Now, there are probably people out there who think that The Fountain is a slice of genius, but in my opinion Aronofsky was a bit too ambiguous in getting his point across. If you like his other works you should at least give The Foutnain a try, but in general it is not a film that I would recommend to the average Joe.


JesseMunoz said...

I liked the fountain. When it ended I just sat in my seat for a few minutes just ... overwhelmed and confused. With movies like this, it takes me a while to get them out of my head. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Here is how I interpret it. I see the 3 seperate storylines as Flesh, Mind, and Soul. The flesh being the "real world" situation. The story of his wife dieing. The mid would be the story that she has written that he reads thoughout the film. The Spirit is his traveling in a bubble self. I don't think it was real at all. I picture it as his soul struggling and finaly coming to grips with his wife's death. Call me crazy but thats how I see 'em. I thought it was great.

Ricky Robertson said...

I think The Fountain makes perfect sense, if you think outside the box a little. I was overall disappointed. after seeing the trailers, it wasn't the movie I expected to see, but it was still interesting. Had I seen it before I bought it, I definitely wouldn't have bought it, but it is pretty cool to see once and it definitely makes sense.

Rian said...

Jesse - That's an interesting interpretation of The Fountain. Something like that never really crossed my mind. I like the idea that the "future" scenes were just supposed to insinuate a coming to terms in Jackman's mind, almost like a dream.

Ricky - I don't think The Fountain makes perfect sense. I think The Fountain makes perfect sense to you in the same way that it makes sense to Jesse because you've each got an interpretation of the plot that you feel is the true message of the film. However, your interpretations are not the same, but that doesn't make either of you wrong. I just don't feel like Aronofsky told the audience his own interpretation very clearly, and therein lies my problem. As you know, based on the conversation you and I had right after watching the movie, I have my own interpretation of the plot just as you and Jesse have yours. I only wish that the true meaning of the movie wasn't so ambiguous. I want to know what Aronofsy was really trying to say, and short of reading/hearing an explanation from Darren himself, I don't think anyone can really tell me what the true meaning behind The Fountain was. This is why I'm somewhat interested in the commentary track that Aronofsky is supposedly going to release online. I want to know what he was actually trying to do, and I want to hear it from horse's mouth.