Tag: darren aronofsky

mother!


mother! (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Too many movies of today are so bland, so vanilla, they are forgotten even before the credits roll. I believe the great thing about “mother!,” written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is that the viewer will not walk away from it without an opinion or, at the very least, a strong impression—even if, at the time, one is unable to put into words the blender of emotions that come with the experience. Yes, it can be maddening at times, particularly the final forty minutes, but it is also intriguing as a horror film. Polarity is interesting.

There is curiosity in the story because it appears to follow a familiar horror template of a couple (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem) living in isolation whose peace is disturbed by strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer). We observe as the elements are introduced and fall into place like clockwork until we come to a conclusion as to what might be going on underneath the niceties and sudden passive-aggressive remarks. I thought the revelation is going to be deathly similar to a certain psychological horror film from the 1960s that was written and directed by Roman Polanski. I was elated to have been proven wrong.

Although not the most digestible work, I enjoyed putting some of the pieces together and realizing eventually that these pieces can also fit together a different way, paving several other ways to interpret the message of the story. To me, it is a criticism of how our society, certainly applicable to American standards, has normalized women having a certain place and for them to defy or step over the line that has been drawn by patriarchy is considered to be horrific by those in power. An evidence of this observation is when Lawrence’s character finds herself reluctant to take action or ashamed when she feels the need to speak up and inform her guests, whom her husband has welcomed, that they need to leave. After all, we have this idea that women are supposed to bear the inconvenience of having a chaotic home and get it all under control.

But interesting messages do not necessarily make a good movie. There is craft to appreciate here, particularly in how the writer-director builds the tension behind the mystery. It is done through showing curious images like a mass of deformed tissue clogging up a toilet, a strange bloody hole on the wooden floor, a possible hidden door in the cellar. One can even study the face of the husband when his wife attempts to encourage him through his writer’s block. There is almost always a hint of annoyance and frustration there. Perhaps a part of him considers that the mothering is contributing to his state of stagnancy.

Most problematic is the final third of the project because the metaphor is so heavy and long-winded that it tests the viewers patience more than it demands to be carefully considered, to be thought about. Credit to Aronofsky for making the assumption that some viewers would be willing to look past the extreme and desultory images. However, this portion of the film comes across as self-congratulatory, perhaps even self-masturbatory, rather than something to be appreciated in silence. Sometimes subtlety and silence is the correct way to go about an allegory.

Noah


Noah (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Noah,” directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a film with a core that should be regarded highly. That is, it takes inspiration from a source and stretches it to a point where it becomes an original vision—or at least one that is close to it. I was wary going into this film. Despite a highly respected filmmaker from behind the camera, I thought it was just going to be another one of those stories directly taken from the Bible without any bite, meat, or flavor—out of fear that a group might get offended. On the contrary, the picture has several layers of substance. Not all of them work, but those that do go beyond lessons or religion. It touches upon a more spiritual realm.

Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are descendants of Seth, one of the sons of Adam and Eve. They live off the land while people who live in cities, Cain’s successors, nefarious and vile, spread wickedness all over the world. Noah begins to receive troublesome nightmares about drowning among countless dead people. He deems that The Creator has sent him a warning—that a great flood is coming for the cleansing of the land.

The visual effects are not the most convincing: the animals boarding the ark, plants sprouting from the ground, the inevitable flood all look rather fake—but I did not mind. Nor did I care that there are giants with boulders for bodies for half the picture. I found myself caring more about what is being attempted: a critique of Noah’s blind devotion to his creator. When the title character puts his family’s life second, anybody in their right mind, no matter what anyone’s creed, would and should question the man’s sanity.

This is why Crowe’s performance is key. The actor’s role is a challenge in that he must be loving and brutal at the same time. Being slightly off-key is not good enough. Crowe must embody a man torn by love—that of his own flesh and blood and that of his own creator. From the moment Crowe appears on screen, he is Noah: Noah the father, Noah the husband, Noah the believer, and Noah the fallen man.

A few of the supporting actors are miscast. Although Logan Lerman, who plays Ham, Noah’s middle-born son, and Emma Watson, the adoptive daughter, are able to have some moments where they do shine, their looks are too modern. I had too difficult a time believing that they are playing characters from an ancient time. In addition, Lerman’s accent comes and goes while Watson tends to overdramatize especially toward the end when it is time to wait for a sign of dry land.

In place of Lerman and Watson, I would have rather seen plain-looking but very good performers. When the weaknesses in their acting are front and center, I wondered if they were cast mainly to attract the younger audiences. Somebody needed to match Crowe’s intensity and they are not up to the job. Jennifer Connelly, playing Noah’s wife, has one wonderful scene where she has to beg. However, her character is not fully developed. Naameh should have been written to have a complex subplot, one that is comparable, if not parallel, to Noah’s consuming passion.

Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, “Noah” is difficult to swallow for many people mainly because of expectations. One group may find it too rogue from the original—and rather short—story. (I went to Sunday school.) Another group may find it not extreme enough especially given the director’s track record for focusing on characters driven by an obsession. Putting those aside and evaluating the picture as is, it is well-made and well-acted at times especially by the lead. It doesn’t quite touch the very depths of our soul but it does offer some food for thought.

Requiem for a Dream


Requiem for a Dream (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) lived by herself and she spent most of her days watching television. When a caller informed her that she had been selected to appear on television, she became obsessed with the idea of losing weight and wearing her beautiful red dress for the occasion. Her first attempt at dieting didn’t work so she saw a doctor. The so-called doctor prescribed colorful “diet pills” which, unbeknownst to Sarah, were amphetamines. Her addiction reflected that of her son’s (Jared Leto), his best friend (Marlon Wayans), and girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly). Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film’s approach was to showcase drug addiction as a slow descent to hell. Heavy-handed with its themes, it showed its characters in utter physical and mental pain with little hope of rehabilitation and a better life. On one hand, some of the scenes were well-made. Sara’s hallucinations of the refrigerator attempting to get close to her signified Sara’s subconscious need to eat. It was terrifying, especially when the fridge would appear out of nowhere, but at the same time I found it darkly comedic. I relished the scenes between Burstyn and Leto particularly the one when the son finally found the time to visit her lonely mother. Combined with Aronofsky’s sublime direction, Burstyn’s performance was electric when she expressed to her son what being on television really meant to her. Even I can admit I was on the verge of tears because I really cared for the character she created. Lastly, there was a shot the defined Leto and Connelly’s relationship. When they were laying next to each other on the bed, presumably after sex, there was a split-screen and the camera was fixated on their respective faces. It was meaningful to me because the message I extracted from it was despite the fact that they took up the same space, were looking at each other, and the words they uttered were directed at one another, it wasn’t a meaningful relationship because there was a disconnect between them. As long as they were under the influence of drugs, there would always be that disconnect because the need for the drugs would always be more powerful than their need for each other. That one scene was probably one of the most powerful in the film even though it didn’t show any drugs, just two people talking. I wish the rest of the picture was more like that. In other words, what the film desperately needed was subtlety. Most of the time, I felt like Aronofsky was hitting me over the head with a mallet every time he wanted to get a point across. It wasn’t necessary with people, like me, who can think for themselves and are aware of the pros and cons of drugs. His technique here would most likely appeal more to high school students. Based on Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel, “Requiem for a Dream” was nonetheless a powerful head trip. It was a classic case of unhappy individuals attempting to find happiness elsewhere other than within.

Black Swan


Black Swan (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) was a ballet dancer who was chosen to play the lead role, the White Swan and the Black Swan, by the director (Vincent Cassel) in the upcoming performance of “Swan Lake.” However, although Nina had mastery in terms of technique and grace which were perfect in fully embodying the White Swan, she didn’t know how to let go of control so that, as the Black Swan, she could successfully generate enough anger and edge to leave the audiences breathless. Lily (Mila Kunis) had what Nina did not. Nina began to suspect that she was going to be replaced by the director and slowly she began her descent into madness. Darren Aronofsky fascinates me as a director. I know many disagree with me but I think he has yet to create a masterpiece. But this a good thing because I’ve noticed that he continues to evolve. Aronofsky does a wonderful job establishing a certain look and feel as he did in this film because he had concocted the right amount of realism and fantastic imagery. Blend it with a person on the verge of a psychological breakdown and we’ve got a chilling examination of a character physically pushing herself to her absolute limit. Nina wanted perfection and she had to pay a price. Portman should be commended for her dedication. I knew she was an actress of many talents with a chameleon-like approach in enveloping herself in her roles but I’ve never seen her so sensual and dangerous. Even with the complex dance sequences with booming music and dancers making their way across the screen, I was drawn to her face because the subtlety in her expressions made me wonder what was going on inside Nina’s mind. Sure, pain was involved but I wondered if she enjoyed it, too. The film reached its peak when Nina eventually couldn’t discern what was real and what wasn’t. Since we saw the story through her eyes, we also couldn’t tell reality from fantasy. It was a scary experience especially when she began to see paintings taunting her about her confusion and when she thought she had committed murder and felt the need to hide the body. The last few minutes were a barrage to the senses, completely in a good way, and I was left staring at the screen as the final shot fade to white. I was mesmerized and it left me wanting more. “Black Swan” was an intense experience but I wish it spent more time tying up loose ends between Nina and her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey). There was an undercurrent of sexual repression inside their apartment which reminded me of Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion.” It begged the question what really drove Nina off the edge: the endless hours of practice or the endless nagging from her mother. Most would say it was both but I believe one factor was more influential than the other. If the director had spent more time highlighting trends between the two worlds, “Black Swan” would have been his best work.

The Wrestler


The Wrestler (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I thought this film came out of nowhere because I never heard of it before the awards season. Since many critics gave it enthusiastic recommendations, I thought I’d check it out. I’ve never been that much of a big fan of Darren Aronofsky because his films start out really good but as they go on, they lose that powerful momentum that initially piqued my interest. “Requiem for a Dream” and “Pi” are perfect examples. That said, I think “The Wrestler” is one of his most consistent and touching films. Mickey Rourke is devastating as Randy “The Ram” Robinson and he deserves to be nominated for an Oscar. I’ve never seen him so broken down, trying his hardest not to scream out of frustration even though pretty much everything in his life is going wrong. Throughout the film, we get to understand that he feels more at home in the ring than out in the real world because he is accepted and respected in there. Moreover, he prefers the ring over the real world because physical pain is more bearable than emotional and psychological pain. I admired the way he kept his cool when people are annoying or insulting him; even though he can just as easily result to violence, he refrains and that’s what makes me want to root for him. It was painful for me to watch his interactions with the daughter he neglected (Evan Rachel Wood). There was a scene when they were sitting down and Rourke decides to pour his heart out to his daughter. That was one of the most poignant scenes I’ve seen in any movies that came out of 2008 because it felt so genuine. What I found distracting, though, was Rourke’s relationship with Marisa Tomei. At first it was sweet then it got ugly; ten minutes later it’s sweet again and then it’s the total opposite. It was somewhat effective the first two times but it quickly got repetitive and it was a waste of screen time. I felt like Aronofsky wanted to increase the drama when the picture already has enough. Still, I recommend this film to everyone because it has something to say about faded glory and one’s relationship with people who matter most when one has lost everything.