When you think of Darren Aronofsky, what's the first thing that jumps into your mind? Is it the manic nature of his characters, or the bleakness of his message and the reality it mirrors? His continued conversation around mental health and self-destruction? The surreal, frequent, rapid cuts, the feeling that his images hit your brain differently than other movies? Maybe all of the above? This is a director obsessed with making movies about mentality and obsession. And he's absolutely brilliant at it.
Aronofsky's next cinematic outing, mother!, opening on September 15, promises to expand his treatment of those ideas. The plot looks somewhat like an homage to Rosemary's Baby and Funny Games, with the addition of the director's signature vision. The first positive reviews out of Venice note the connections, and you can see them for yourself in the trailer below.
We're invited into the home of Jennifer Lawrence as "mother," and watch as her quaint, tender relationship to Javier Bardem's "HIM" is taken prisoner by two strangers — Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris — who root themselves into her life. As the movie delves into the psyche of Lawrence's tortured character, concepts of reality, sanity and safety become warped, replaced with a feeling of mania and loss of control. In other words, we're in for another Aronofsky special.
Take a look at the mother! trailer:
But what do I mean by "Aronofsky special"? And how does his obsession with obsession come across through his work?
Below you'll find three of Aronofsky's most haunting movies to date and the most affective scenes within them. While they may not all be horrific in terms of gore and violence, the overarching theme that binds them is far likelier to bury itself in your psyche, and continue to torment you after the credits roll.
3. Pi (1998) — Max Drills His Head
Meet Max, the unreliable protagonist of Aronofsky's feature film debut. Max is a number theorist obsessed, to an exceptionally unhealthy degree, with linking the stock exchange to the Voice of God. Through the connection, he wants to understand nature's secrets and thus the meaning of life. As his fixation grows increasingly intense it develops into a psychosis that wraps its claws around his brain and invites extreme paranoia, hallucinations, anxiety, headaches, and his descent into madness.
While this psychological thriller is haunting in its entirety, one scene will stamp itself into your nightmares. In order to dispel the voices and hallucinations that dominate his numerical world, Max drills a hole into his head. The reason for doing this is left up to audience interpretation. Is he trying to remove the obsession? Are the numbers even in there? Does he know that this act might kill him? Can we actually trust Max's version of events at all?
The impact of this highly disturbing scene is not solely down to the image of a man drilling into his own head, inviting us to watch his emotionless face remain rigid as the drill rotates into the right side of his skull, splattering the mirror with blood. The questions the scene provokes about mental health and our own perception of the world are just as intense.
2. Black Swan (2010) — The Sex Scene & The Mirror Fight
In Aronofsky's most critically lauded film to date, we're introduced to Nina (Natalie Portman), a tormented ballet dancer who transforms from innocent girl to demented glory hunter. Striving to embody both sides of the lead in Swan Lake — the White Swan (pure, fragile), and the Black Swan (sensual, dark) — and feeling increasingly threatened by a new dancer, Lily (Mila Kunis), who effortlessly champions the traits she lacks, Nina's tunnel vision ambition causes her to pirouette out of control.
Two scenes, the sex scene and the mirror fight, best document the ballerina's figurative fall from grace, and both operate around the theme of doppelgängers. Nina and Lily are strikingly similar, and of course this is no accident — it's all the more effective, and deeply disturbing, as an illustration of Nina's mania.
In these scenes Nina perceives herself to be physically interacting with her career nemesis in a primary, instinctual way; first by making love to Lily, and later by stabbing her during a passionate fight. In the aftermath of both scenes Nina's perception of reality is shattered; she realizes that she has confused Lily with the Black Swan manifesting inside of herself, which leads to some truly haunting imagery and a poignant commentary on how devastating obsessive ambition can be.
1. Requiem For A Dream (2000) — Cleaning The Apartment
To boil the demented effect of Requiem for a Dream down into one scene is impossible; the movie is such an intense look at every character's slide into despair. And while numerous scenes are likely to stick in your mind as the most haunting — the fridge, the dilated pupils, the sexual humiliation — for me, the mother's decent into madness, shown in a scene of intense apartment cleaning, leaves the coldest mark.
No one in this movie is given a chance at redemption; everyone succumbs to a chemical purgatory. Yet the manically psychotic, lonely hell Sara (Ellen Burstyn) finds herself in — old, neglected and hysterically addicted to diet pills — is so desperately understandable it's terrifying. This specific scene, shot using an extremely slow moving camera and then sped up, shows just how far down the rabbit hole her character has fallen. It's a living nightmare, and it's devastatingly real.
mother! hits theaters nationwide September 15, 2017. Don't forget to lock your door before you leave.
Which Darren Aronofsky scene did you find the most affecting?