Friday, January 16, 2009

Nigel Andrews on Darren Aronofsky

Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times on Darren Aronofsky's new movie The Wrestler ("Fallen star shines again"):

After more than a decade of failure or renegade moonlighting (including a spell as a boxer), Rourke re-enters that well-lit hoosegow, Hollywood. The Wrestler , a Rocky -ish melodrama redeemed mainly or solely by Rourke's performance, is directed by, of all people, Darren Aronofsky. After Pi , Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain - a geek masterwork about maths, an existential drugs tragedy and a film about time and metaphysics - Aronofsky must have decided, "I'll make one for the airheads."

I have no comment on The Wrestler, as I haven't seen it, but I've seen the other three Aronofsky movies Andrews mentions (the first and third of which were also written or co-written by Aronofsky), and liked them all, particularly the third one Andrews mentions, The Fountain.

The action of The Fountain (2006) takes place in three different story lines/time lines: in one, a Spanish conquistador (played by Hugh Jackman) searches for the Fountain of Youth/Tree of Life in Central America for his queen (played by Aronofsky's wife, Rachel Weisz); in the second story line, Jackman plays a scientist in the present day searching for a cure for brain cancer in a rare compound extracted from a tree in Central America, while his wife, played by Weisz, is dying from brain cancer; in the third story line, Jackman is a sort of futuristic, yogic astronaut, traveling with the Tree of Life to a distant nebula representing the Mayan underworld. Reviews for The Fountain were mixed, but here is an excerpt from Glenn Kenny's four-star review in Premiere:

The Fountain is probably the deftest stories-within-stories narrative film I've seen since the very different 1965 Polish film The Saragossa Manuscript (itself based on an early 19th-century novel). By The Fountain's end, the multilayered meta-narrative (which Aronofsky co-conceived with Ari Handel) resolves (or does it?) into a kind of diegetic Möbius strip, to stunning effect.

This may all sound kind of dry and cerebral, and the fact that Aronofsky is currently being compared to Stanley Kubrick (and this film in particular to 2001: A Space Odyssey) no doubt adds to that impression. Aronofsky's work certainly resembles Kubrick's in terms of conceptual audacity and meticulousness of execution (Aronofsky's prior feature, 2000's Requiem for a Dream, showcased a scattershot deployment of a fecund visual facility; here he's got his formidable apparatus under control), but Aronofsky is a romantic with a capital "R," which Kubrick was certainly not. As it happens, each one of these tales is also a love story, and The Fountain is Aronofsky's profession of faith concerning love's place in the idea of eternity. It's a movie that's as deeply felt as it is imagined.

Below is the trailer for The Fountain. Watch it with the volume on your computer turned on to get a sample of Clint Mansell's score, which fits the film perfectly. Incidentally, due to budget constraints, the special effects in The Fountain included almost no CGI.


Sivaram Velauthapillai said...

Requiem For A Dream is one of my favourite films of all time (I'm somewhat young :) ). But I was somewhat dissapointed with The Fountain. I didn't hate it as much as the critics or the mainstream did but I felt its threads could have been linked together in a better manner. The "ending" to the tree of life was lame. The climax to a great mystery completely collapsed.

Having said that, Arronofsky tackled a difficult subject matter and he pulled of something worth watching...comparing him to Kubrick or The Fountain to 2001: ASO is an insult to Kubrick ;)

DaveinHackensack said...

I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but suffice it to day that I disagree with you about the ending being lame. I actually liked the way he tied it together. Different strokes though.

Requiem was excellent too, though that one was written by Selby (who adapted it from his novel). One actress Aronofsky cast in both movies was Ellen Burstyn (probably best known as Regan's mom in The Exorcist).

Sivaram Velauthapillai said...

The overall tie-up of the three threads was fine in my eyes. But did you actually like what happened after the conquistidor(?)enters the temple in the tree of life thread? Maybe I didn't understand it but what the guardian of the temple did was lame.

Anyway, thanks for highlighting this film. Hopefully it'll get greater acceptance over time, because it is not as bad as many claim.

DaveinHackensack said...

Disagree about the temple scene, Siv, but let's not get more specific about that, in case anyone reading this hasn't seen the movie.

Question for you though: Have you seen Dark City? That movie got a similarly mixed reception from reviewers, but it's also one I think will grow in stature as time passes.

JK said...

I'm a Dark City fan. One of my fav's.

DaveinHackensack said...


Did you get the DVD for Dark City? It had an interesting feature comparing the movie, and the critical reception it received, to Metropolis (from which Dark City clearly borrowed much of the look of its cityscape). Got to see Metropolis on the big screen a few years ago, incidentally, when an art house theater in New York screened it on the movie's 75th anniversary.

JK said...

Yes, I got the DVD. And I always tell people to turn the sound off for that stupid 2 minute narration in the beginning when watching it for the first time. That's the worst part of the movie for me, the studio forced it in there to "dumb it down", afraid audiences wouldn't be able to follow otherwise.

Haven't seen Metropolis though. Will have to change that.

DaveinHackensack said...

Proyas of course was against the narration (similar to how Ridley Scott opposed the narration in Blade Runner, although that narration was worse because it went throughout the movie). I guess you didn't get the DVD with the director's cut, because that narration isn't in the director's cut. That version of the DVD also has a special feature comparing the movie with Metropolis -- it's just a text feature, but it includes an excerpt of a critical review of Metropolis, I think by H.G. Wells.

DaveinHackensack said...

Another difference in the director's cut: Jennifer Connelly actually sings instead of lip-synching. Found a clip of that online, which I'll post separately.