Two Films from Darren Aronofsky
Pi (November 18/06)
Though stylish and sporadically intriguing, Pi is - by and large - a frustrating and maddeningly confounding piece of work that has inexplicably acquired a fairly substantial cult following in the years since its 1998 release. Director Darren Aronofsky's decision to employ grainy black-and-white cinematography admittedly suits the off-kilter material, but there's little doubt that the headache-inducing visuals ultimately cements the film's status as a thoroughly interminable experience. The inscrutable storyline revolves around an anti-social mathematics whiz named Max (played by Sean Gullette) as he finds himself embroiled in a far-reaching conspiracy, the entirety of which may or may not be a product of his crumbling mental state. Aronofsky's screenplay is teeming with references to a whole host of mathematical formulas and theories, and there's consequently no denying that Pi all-too-often comes off as a particularly baffling academic lecture. That Gullette is trapped within the confines of an egregiously unsympathetic character certainly doesn't help matters, nor does the increasingly preposterous and flat-out irritating storyline (which, even within the context of the film, feels forced and unnatural). Aronofsky's talent is not in question - there are a number of genuinely compelling moments contained within Pi's running time, including a De Palmaesque sequence in which the camera circles around Max as he paces his cramped apartment - but there's just no way to overlook the film's many deficiencies (the head-scratching conclusion is merely the final straw).
Baffling yet strangely compelling, The Fountain boasts a storyline that seems to demand multiple viewings - though it's obvious that one doesn't necessarily have to understand everything within Darren Aronofsky's dense screenplay to enjoy the film. The filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an incredibly captivating sense of style, which - when combined with the best performance of Hugh Jackman's career - ensures that The Fountain is rarely out-and-out dull. Featuring three seemingly separate stories, the film transpires in the past, present, and future and primarily follows Jackman's Tommy Creo as he attempts to find a cure for his wife's (Rachel Weisz) terminal illness. It's a busy storyline that's almost entirely lacking an entry point for the viewer, as Aronofsky generally eschews overt instances of exposition in favor of a far more esoteric, visually-oriented sort of vibe. That being said, the movie does improve considerably as it progresses - primarily because there comes a point at which everything starts to make sense (well, sort of). And although the metaphysical conclusion is destined to leave even the most attentive viewer scratching their head, Aronofsky's artful directorial choices ultimately transform The Fountain into precisely the sort of challenging mainstream effort that's all-too-scarce these days (if nothing else, the film is probably worth a look for Jackman's textured, flat-out brilliant performance).