4. The Wrestler (2008)
Although his previous films were mind-bending thrillers and epics, The Wrestler sits back and revels in its quiet realism. It tells the story of Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a washed up wrestling star, now well past his prime. The only days he wrestles now are on the weekends at independent promotions. During one match, he suffers a heart attack, and is forced to retire from the wrestling world.
The film explores the world of wrestling; a world that everyone knows is fake, but the film suggests that there is more than meets the eye. While the fights are choreographed, we see behind the curtain, as Randy uses a hidden razor blade to open a wound on his face during the middle of a match.
Randy befriends a stripper, played by Marisa Tomei, and although that may seem inconsequential, their careers and characters are foils of each other. Tomei’s character is getting a bit too old for her career as well, and they are both performers, faking something that their audience wants to believe is real. There isn’t too much of a difference between wrestlers, strippers, and filmmakers.
Aronofsky’s film techniques take a backseat, as we follow Randy through mostly handheld cameras. This gives the film realism to it that his other films don’t have, and it grounds the film in Rourke’s portrayal of the famed Ram. As much as the film is about Randy, it is also about the world of wrestling, and the ins and outs of that business.
The film ends ambiguously, leaving Randy’s fate open. Whether Randy dies or not doesn’t matter, this is a film about a man’s lust for the spotlight, the only place he feels he truly belongs in the world.
5. Black Swan (2010)
Many of us are perfectionists. This can be just as much a strength as it is a weakness. The pursuit of perfection leaves many frozen, and unable to act without the knowledge that their outcomes will be successful. On the other hand, it can cause self-defeatist attitudes and do a number on one’s mental health. Black Swan shows us the irony of being perfectionists. In order to truly perfect our craft, in whatever it is we do, we must let go of perfection as a goal, and give into the process of creation.
In this film, Natalie Portman portrays Nina Sayers, a young ballet dancer following in her mother’s footsteps. She is chosen to play the White and Black Swan in her company’s upcoming production of Swan Lake. Her frigid tunnel vision towards giving a perfect performance holds her back from actually giving a good performance. The doubt and anxiety put so much pressure on Nina, that the production leads her down a path of mental self-destruction.
In the hands of another director, Black Swan’s content could have easily played as melodramatic. Aronofsky keeps us grounded in Nina’s perspective, as we view the world of ballet as one fraught with the same amount of fear as any horror film. Nina begins to experience haunting visions, breaking under the mounting pressure of the performance and the possibility of being usurped by her understudy.
There are various interpretations over the film’s ending – on whether Nina is hallucinating the whole thing, or if she’s really stabbed herself. According to Portman, Aronofsky asked that the blood in the final scene be spooled around her lower stomach, representing Nina’s coming into womanhood.
It would make sense given Nina’s childlike presence throughout the first half of the film, suffering from a female form of Peter Pan Syndrome spurned by her over domineering mother. It is only when Nina has disobeyed her mother, and mentally killed that version of herself that she overcomes her fear, and embraces her sensuality.
There will never be a perfect painting, a perfect song, or even a perfect film. That being said, Black Swan executes it’s content exceptionally and succinctly. The film earned several Academy nods, with its only win being Natalie Portman for Best Actress.
6. Noah (2014)
As you’ve probably deduced by the title, the film is Aronofsky’s retelling of the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark. We’ve all heard various versions of the story – a man receives a message from God that he is going to flood the Earth for forty days and forty nights, and that he must build an ark to carry two of every animal aboard to save them from extinction.
Where Aronofsky’s voice comes in is after Noah and his family are safe aboard the ark. Noah believes that God hates man’s sin, and that he wants humanity wiped from the planet, so he informs his family that they are to kill themselves. Noah’s wife believes Noah is taking God’s message too far. Like all Aronofsky’s tales, Noah is the story of a man who becomes too obsessed with an idea.
Of all his films, however, Noah ends on the happiest note, with Noah deciding to change where Aronofsky’s other protagonists did not. Instead of continuing to pursue his deranged interpretation of God’s message, upon seeing his grandchildren, he chooses mercy and decides to spare the babies. Although his choices cost him his son’s good faith, it preserves humanity, and gives them another chance.
Being Aronofsky’s most expensive effort, the film is a visual feast and a quiet epic. The most impressive sequence is one in which he merges the ideas of creationism, Darwinian evolution, and man’s original sin. This, of course, managed to upset people on all sides of the topic.
Atheists were angry he brought God into the equation, and creationists were upset that Aronofsky took such liberties with the Noah tale. The film ends up being more than the sum of the parts it’s borrowing from, giving Noah a proper character arc that is truly in line with Aronofsky’s voice.
Author Bio: Ethan Levinskas is a writer living in North Hollywood where he enjoys a consistent diet of oven baked pizzas and blessing each slice with his shameless tears. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Art + Science (yes, that is the degree name) at Columbia College Chicago with a focus in screenwriting. His goal is to one day have people enjoy his stories from a reclined leather seat with a bag of overpriced popcorn in their hands.