5. The Fountain (2006)
Just like the songs of Johnny Cash, Darren Aronofsky’s films play as if a train hurtling down a hill with no brakes, increasing their pace until one almighty explosion; a crescendo that brings a new perspective to all that has come before it and acts as the ultimate source of relief. These moments are often spiritual, the enlightenment of a film’s protagonist being the major key upon which all prior tensions are released and the idea of a new truth formed through his work. The Fountain is the first on this list to adopt that trope, and while widely divisive it is a film that truly speaks to select individuals inclined to believe in its centre-most theory of eternal love, purpose and meaning.
Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz star as star-crossed lovers across numerous timelines in this intricately told tale of other-worldly proportions, Aronofsky’s embrace of visual effects providing a stunning palette of colours and iconography that create a rich and immersive experience.
The Fountain can be seen as one of Aronofsky’s true departures from mainstream filmmaking into the poetic and metaphorical, and as such has been seen as less complete or tangible than some of the works to come on this list, but it remains an important entry into the director’s filmography nonetheless and something of a sleeper hit for audiences catching up on the film years later.
4. Mother! (2017)
Possibly the most challenging Aronofsky release to date, Mother! is a film intent on putting you out of your comfort zone, at first placing you off balance and then violently shaking your anxieties into the forefront of your mind as it rolls and rolls towards its spectacular climax.
A film very much allegorical of humanity’s relationship to God and to the Earth, as well as the discrepancies between God’s will over the Earth and the natural needs of the planet, Mother! was a much clearer philosophical exploration of religion than Aronofsky’s earlier Noah, though arguably just as self-indulgent.
Starring Javier Bardem as a challenged poet establishing a new home with his much younger wife whom he deems too naive to cope on her own, comparisons between the film and Aronofsky’s own (at the time of filming) fledgling relationship to Bardem’s co-star Jennifer Lawrence are easy to make, and don’t shine too fondly on the iconic filmmaker.
The result is a divisive feature in the middle of this filmmaker’s great catalogue of works, a film that is arguably his most tonally accomplished to date but may take time to settle away from the outside controversies and opinions currently marring its reception.
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3. The Wrestler (2008)
Perhaps the most traditional drama in Aronofsky’s catalogue, and certainly the most heart-wrenching, The Wrestler‘s tale of a less than honourable man looking to mend his life in the aftermath of a body-destroying run of fame and fortune is this great filmmaker’s exploration of what happens once the dream is over. It asks; what happens after the pursuit ends?
Choosing one time Hollywood A-Lister turned shamed boxing match fixer and film industry outcast Mickey Rourke to star in the lead role was a stroke of genius, the eighties heartthrob being utterly believable as a one-time star turned washed up man quickly ageing out of his window back into the limelight, his very public physical transformation informing the character on screen; a man whose entire livelihood is dependent upon his body.
Visually, The Wrestler is a huge step away from The Fountain before it and Black Swan which followed it, substituting typically cinematic features for a washed out colour palette, handheld camera moves and a more blunt editing style, all of which was of course in-keeping with the hard hits (physical and mental) of the professional wrestling industry both in terms of its action and in terms of the full-time commitment it demands.
Rourke was sensational, as was Marisa Tomei who earned an Oscar for her part as the only caring presence in the wrestler’s life, and in presenting the world of wrestling with such a seeing eye, Aronofsky managed to forge a beautiful, intimate piece very much in his own mold; an unmissable entry into his filmography.
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