Some Things Cannot Be Unbroken: On Movie Marathons and Darren Aronofsky

The Tree of Life in The Fountain

As the concept of this website suggests, I watch a lot of movies. Every now and then, I'll take this habit even further by indulging in a full-blown movie marathon. When I'm watching something for review purposes, I generally like to make sure there's at least a bit of space between that title and whatever I watch next. If I'm planning to write about a film, I want to give my feelings some time to marinate, to ensure that those feelings aren't brushed away or distorted by something else before they've had a chance to congeal. However, a purposefully organized marathon can provide a different kind of insight. Last year, for instance, I joined a friend of mine in shotgunning the entire Halloween series in the span of two days, and the experience ultimately offered a fascinating examination of the ways many filmmakers have struggled to comprehend what made John Carpenter's Halloween such an effective experience. I watched Michael Myers return from the dead again and again and again, aimlessly slashing away at assorted victims as one movie after another tried (and failed) to figure out how to make him scary again.

Yesterday, that same friend joined me in consuming the entire filmography of director Darren Aronofsky within the span of twelve hours. As you might imagine, it was an emotionally exhausting experience: none of the director's films qualify as light viewing. However, it was also an exhilarating experience, and by the time it concluded I felt as if I had witnessed a singular, multi-layered vision of the world.

We opted to watch the films in chronological order, and Aronosky's body of work flows so beautifully that it almost feels as if the director made his career choices with such marathons in mind. The lo-fi intensity of Pi leads into the hi-fi intensity of Requiem for a Dream, the jarring bleakness of Requiem for a Dream leads into the beautiful warmth of The Fountain, the cosmic wonder of The Fountain leads into to the firmly earthbound grit of The Wrestler, the hair metal rawness of The Wrestler leads into the classical precision of Black Swan, the arthouse thrills of Black Swan lead into the multiplex spectacle of Noah. These films are not the same and they are not equals, but collectively they form an astonishing whole.

Watching these films one after another, I began to notice a host of fascinating connections. For instance, I realized that the paltry breakfast (one egg and half of a grapefruit) so sadly consumed by the diet-obsessed Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream is the exact same breakfast so enthusiastically consumed by the eating disorder-plagued Nina Sayers in Black Swan. A creepy subway crooner appears in Pi, then re-emerges as a creepy subway lech in Black Swan. In both instances, he may or may not be a figment of the protagonist's imagination. Clint Mansell develops musical motifs that echo across multiple films, as melancholy strains from the end of Requiem for a Dream re-emerge near the end of Noah, once again sadly lamenting the things human beings are capable of doing to themselves and to each other. A key line from Pi (“When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun, so when I was six I did...”) casts a shadow over Aronofsky's entire body of work, as one protagonist after another goes too far in search of transcendence. It's Randy the Ram in that final match, Nina in the final act of Swan Lake, Tomas approaching the Tree of Life, Noah holding a knife to his grandchild's throat and Marion Silver submitting to extreme degradation.

Prior to this marathon, I would have told you with confidence that the best Aronofsky film is Black Swan. To be sure, it remains a precise, stunning work, and it's crafted in a manner that pushes all of my cinephile buttons (while the movie is pure Aronofsky, it also feels like the love child of Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski and Dario Argento). However, after experiencing this entire twelve-hour journey, I find myself certain that The Fountain is the director's purest and most resonant work.

The first time I saw The Fountain, I had mixed feelings on it and more or less shrugged it off as an ambitious misfire. The second time (which only happened thanks to the urging of friends who saw its greatness much more clearly than I) I found it a much richer experience, and felt that I had been unfairly dismissive of it the first time around. Even so, it took this marathon – and seeing the way the statements made by The Fountain ripple through the rest of Aronofsky's work – to see it for the staggeringly beautiful masterpiece that it is. It also took a bit of life experience. In 2015, I am a man who feels certain of what matters in life and who has made peace with the inevitability of death. In 2006, I was much like Tommy, frantically searching for answers on my own terms despite the fact that the answers were right there in front of me. To spend a life merely resisting death is a waste of a life. Indeed, the existence of death is what gives life meaning. To borrow the film's words: “Death is the road to awe.”

Enough about that for now. This isn't a review of The Fountain, or of any of Aronofsky's other films (though I hope to get around to writing those reviews at some point in the lifespan of this site). It is, however, a general recommendation of both this particular director's filmography and of purposeful movie marathons. By the time I finished the six-film experience, I felt like Maximillian Cohen felt after staring into the sun: it was taxing in one way, but enthralling in another. I had been enabled to see things I couldn't see before.