Darren Aronofsky is an American film-maker who, like Paul T. Anderson and Christopher Nolan, has always rode that fine line between "artistically independent" and "financially successful". Oh, and he's obsessed with making movies about obsession
Born in Brooklyn, Aronofsky was into film and theatre from a very young age onwards. His studies ended up taking him as far as Kenya and Alaska before he studied film at Harvard. Graduating with full honours in 1991, his career began immediately. Aronofsky began work on two short films and released them both in 1991. One was called "Supermarket Sweep", and it ended up being a finalist in the Student Academy Awards (whose title explains why nobody knows about this movie). The other short was called "Fortune Cookie", and there's hardly any info available for it. Except the helpful hint that it only contains one guy who's credited as 'Pervert'. The film is listed as a comedy.
"It was just a weird student film. I promise the rest of my filmography will be totally different!"
Two more shorts after that was the 1993 movie "Protozoa" (which surprisingly co-starred Lucy Liu), and the 1994 movie "No Time", which is also known by its alternative title, "No Info on IMDB about this movie".
From here on in, though, Aronofsky's mainstream career would kick off, in perhaps one of the most interesting ways possible.
Believe it or not, Aronofsky's first feature film that was called "Pi", about an number theorist who is obsessed to the point of self-destruction on figuring out the secrets of nature through mathematics.
"Hope you like these kinds of stories. And just in case you don't, I'll make sure to add some psychosexual themes to liven the mood."
Aronofsky filmed "Pi" on a miniscule budget of $60,000. This was mostly obtained through his friends and his family. Thankfully he was able to make good on his loans because the movie was a surprise success, grossing over $3 million and making a successful DVD release.
This naturally persuaded producers that Aronofsky could be trusted with bigger things. This, of course, led to his deciding to make a movie that would push the limits on how a certain topic was seen, but also leading to a huge censorship problem that delayed the release for almost a year.
"Hm, I wonder why that is..."
"Requiem for a Dream" stars Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, and Jennifer Connolly as three heroin addicts trying to get by. Ellen Burstyn also appears as Leto's mother, and she ends up hooked on diet pills, because Aronofsky was adament that nobody had anything resembling a chance to be happy. Seriously. It's a really dark film.
Despite the censorship problems, and despite being released as an NC 17 movie, "Requiem for a Dream" was another box office success for Aronofsky. It was a genuinely gripping tale of drug addiction that many find hard to watch even to this day. More people remember its soundtrack as being used in the trailer for "Lord for the Rings: The Two Towers".
After this gripping tale of drug addiction turned out so well, Aronofsky decided to try one of those bigger budget movies that any film auteur has to have on his resume.
Writing a great role for his then-wife Rachel Weisz, Aronofsky made his third film, "The Fountain" in 2006. It starred Hugh Jackman as a Spanish conquistador, a time traveller, and a scientist obsessed with finding a cure for his wife's cancer, ultimately leading him to seek a cure for death. All for his beloved wife.
She would go on to leave him for Daniel Craig four years later
This one was also famous for it's epic soundtrack, and almost nothing else. Despite containing Mayan warriors, Earl Hickey's brother, and scenes that feel like an acid trip, the movie was a financial flop.
Hugh Jackman did not take the news very well
After the failure of "The Fountain", Aronofsky was seriously considered to direct Christian Bale in "The Fighter", but he realized that it was too much like an film idea he'd been meaning to work on for over a decade. So he moved on from "The Fighter", as well as a "Robocop" remake that he'd been attached to for a while. His next film turned out to be the 2008 movie known as "The Wrestler", a movie that starred Mickey Rourke pretty much playing himself if he'd been a wrestler.
Greatest example of method acting in years.
Both Rourke and his character get a chance at redemption, one in the film and one in real life. After years of being a shell of his former self, Rourke was launched back into the limelight and welcomed back with open arms and an Academy Award nomination. The movie also featured Marisa Tomei as a stripper, and to show that her surprise win for "My Cousin Vinny" wasn't a big misunderstanding amongst voters, she too was nominated for an Academy Award that year. Aronofsky, on the other hand, was denied any such recognition.
"Psh, whatever. I don't need your stinkin' Oscar nomination to feel special!"
Aronofsky then made the feature film that would go on to gross more than all his other films combined.
And a movie about ballet, no less
"Black Swan" was a psychological thriller starring Natalie Portman as an insecure young ballerina obsessed with being perfect. She trains under the creepy watch of Vincent Cassel, the universal French villain of recent film, hoping to win the lead part in the upcoming rendition of "Swan Lake". The movie also stars Mila Kunis as a rival for the part, and because Aronofsky knows what people want, he made sure to add a lesbian scene between the two actresses.
Besides the obvious draw for anyone with eyes and hormones, "Black Swan" delved into the very demandng life of ballet, showing how you can only be good for a couple of big roles before you get replaced by someone younger. It's a credit to Aronofsky that he cast Winona Ryder as the older ballerina being usurped by Natalie Portman, especially considering how they're basically the same person albeit with ten years difference between them.
Meanwhile, "Black Swan" was a smash hit, nominated for five Academy Awards, including a long-deserved Oscar nom to Aronofsky himself. However, the Academy preferred to watch a stuttering English monarch manage his way through a radio speech rather than watch Natalie frigging Portman get seduced by Mila Kunis on the path to her own loss of sanity and innocence.
Though to be fair, the rest of the movie's pretty damn scary and twisted.
After his massive triumph with "Black Swan, it was revealed that Aronofsky was attached to the sequel to "Wolverine", which would have reunited him with Hugh Jackman. However, he presumably saw how the first one turned out and wisely back the hell away from that inevitable trainwreck.
He has since been planning his most ambitious film yet: a movie about Noah. That's right, Aronofsky's next film will cover the Old Testament story of how God flooded the world, except for one big boat built by a man that had been called crazy by his peers for listening to an imaginary friend.
"I just realized you could describe my career in those terms too!"
And what makes this upcoming project so fascinating is how it really is a departure from Aronofsky's usual work. Although there was a historical plot line in "The Fountain". And the idea of God was touched upon in "Pi". And it's another story about a guy obsessing over something in a way seen by everyone else as crazy...
Well, maybe his planned biopic on George Washington will be a little more of a departure. Unless it turns out that Washington was obsessed with replacing that damn cherry tree or something...
"And even if I did that, you'll still watch my movie. And you know it."