What makes a Darren Aronofsky film a Darren Aronofsky film?
Obsessive, expressionistic, and agonizing are a few things that characterize the work of Darren Aronofsky. From his first feature film Pi to his latest mother!, the director has made a name for himself for his brand of psychologically horrifying cinema. Crafting films that dive headfirst into the painfully traumatized minds of his isolated, troubled characters, Aronofsky forces audiences to look into the spotted mirrors of their own subconsciousness, to grapple with their beliefs surrounding existence, reality, and the darkness that quietly consumes us all.
In this video essay, ScreenPrism digs into eight of Aronofsky's cinematic trademark to reveal how he constructs these intensely emotional and psychologically harrowing stories.
Though Aronofsky's career has spanned nearly two decades, he has only directed seven feature films. However, each of those films is packed to the brim with visual sensation and cinematic poetry that one could watch each one repeatedly and find something new every time.
This is because Aronofsky's approach to filmmaking puts so much responsibility on the audience to dig through the narrative and uncover the deeper meanings of his work. You won't find much closure, long expositional scenes, or neat and tidy narrative unity in any of his films. Instead, they exist as ponderings of the world we live in, our various experiences of reality, and the agony that befalls us when we acknowledge and entertain the darkness in deepest reaches of both.
In order to explore these themes, Aronofsky commonly uses the following tropes, methods, and stylistic choices in his work:
- Ambitious, obsessive protagonist
- Characters live in a fantasy world
- Expressionist sensibility
- Subjective camera
- Mirror shots
- Strobe lighting in key moments
- Expressionistic sound design
- Parent-child conflicts
The further Aronofsky progresses through his career, it appears the further he pushes the envelope of what is traditional and even socially acceptable in cinema. Though his latest film mother! was one of the most highly-anticipated films of the year, it has become one of the most polarizing, receiving incredible resistance from critics and moviegoers alike as well as praise.
Whether or not you liked mother!, or any of Aronofsky's films for that matter, no one could deny that the director is one of the biggest risk takers in film today.