Darren Aronofsky

Darren Aronofsky

And raised in the Manhattan Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Both his parents, Abraham and Charlotte, were school teachers, giving the young lad an interest in artistic pursuits. He was at first interested in black-and-white photography, then began writing while attending Edward R. Murrow High School. Influenced early on by "The Twilight Zone," Bill Cosby and MTV, Aronofsky began developing an interest in film when he saw Spike Lee's "She's Gotta Have It" (1986) by sheer happenstance - the blockbuster he meant to see was sold out - and was immediately blown away, in part because the film took place in his native Brooklyn. Aronofsky meanwhile headed to Harvard University in 1987, where he studied anthropology, but began shifting towards film, thanks to his animator roommate whose completed films at the end of every year looked much more appealing than a pile of boring papers. He switched gears to general studies and began making short films, one of which, "Supermarket Sweep," was a 1991 Student Academy Award National Finalist.A year after graduating Harvard, Aronofsky departed for Los Angeles to attend the American Film Institute, where he earned a master's in directing. After returning to New York in 1995 with advanced degree in hand, Aronofsky began work on his first independent feature, "Pi," a surrealist thriller that followed a reclusive mathematics genius, Max Cohen (Harvard classmate Sean Gillette), in his obsessive drive to find a unifying numerical pattern in the stock market, which attracted the attention of a Wall Street company seeking to dominate the financial world and a ruthless Kabbalah sect wanting to unlock the secrets of their sacred texts. Aronofsky put together the project with help from numerous friends and family, generating $60,000 through hundreds of $100 donations, while his mom contributed bagels and cream cheese for the crew. Shot guerilla-style throughout New York City, "Pi" originated from an epiphany Aronofsky had on a road trip to Belize that, despite the seeming chaos of life, there is an underlying order unifying everything. "Pi" emerged from the 1998 Sundance Film Festival a fan favorite, while Aronofsky propelled his career by winning the festival's Directing Award for Drama.Because of the relative success of "Pi" - it was a critical darling, but by no means a blockbuster with a $3 million take at the box office - Aronofsky was able to pay back the many contributors who made his first film possible. He then began planning his second film, starting with the desire to make "the darkest, most f---ed up movie possible," he told The Sunday Herald. That desire led Aronofsky to adapt Hubert Selby's stark tale about addiction and obsession, "Requiem for a Dream" (2000), in typically bleak and unrelenting fashion. The story followed three young heroin addicts - Harry, Marion and Tyrone (Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans) - in their quest to become successful drug dealers while barely being able to support their own habits. The stark and often depressing film, which was brought to vibrant life through Aronofsky's signature hip-hop-influenced style of filmmaking, garnered critical kudos, as well as an Best Actress Oscar nod for Ellen Burstyn as Leto's mother.Labor of love only began to describe Aronofsky's next project, "The Fountain" (2006), an ambitious tale told in three different time periods, but employing the same actors in different roles who were - thematically at least - linked. Ultimately a love story about a scientist (Hugh Jackman) struggling to save his wife (Rachel Weisz) from terminal cancer, "The Fountain" took Aronofsky six years to make. In August of 2002, his original conception for the film starred Brad Pitt and was set to film in Australia. But after months of struggling with financing and story issues, a disgruntled Pitt left seven weeks before production, leaving Aronofsky, a large crew and a replica of an ancient Mayan temple in the lurch. After suffering a near-mental breakdown - he disappeared to China for several weeks - Aronofsky returned depressed and withdrawn. Eventually, he resolved to make the film, managing to get Warner Bros. - the first studio to back the project - to fund a revamped version to be shot on a soundstage, minus elaborate special effects and battle scenes conceived for the original draft. Starring Jackman, Weisz and old favorite Ellen Burstyn, the new "Fountain" was shot for a relatively modest $35 million.Reaction to "The Fountain" at the 2006 Venice International Film Festival was a mix of lavish praise and punishing scorn, which in turn happened to be the same reaction when critics reviewed the film for its subsequent theatrical release. Though he struggled long and hard to get his film made, Aronofsky only managed to reinforce his reputation as a gifted, but somewtimes difficult genius. The director moved on to his next film, "The Wrestler" (2008), a sports drama about a former pro wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), who once reveled in the glory of being a star, but was forced into retirement after suffering a heart attack. Years later, he works a menial job while remaining estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachael Wood). But when his old rival, The Ayatollah (Ernest "The Cat" Miller), attempts to draw him back into the ring, Ram is confronted with the potentially fatal consequences of making a comeback, especially after he strikes up a relationship with a fading stripper (Marisa Tomei) and starts to make amends with his daughter. Stripped of the cinematic flourishes Aronofsky indulged in with his previous film, "The Wrestler" was hailed by critics and earned the director a Golden Lion for Best Film at the 2008 Venice Film Festival.Following his triumph with "The Wrestler," Aronofsky went to work on his next film, "Black Swan" (2010), a psychological thriller set in the highly competitive world of professional ballet. The film starred Natalie Portman as Nina, a ballerina for a New York City company who finds herself facing fierce competition for the leading role in "Swan Lake" from an edgier new talent, Lily (Mila Kunis). As their rivalry intensifies with the rapid approach of opening night, Nina begins to lose her grip on reality while entertaining increasingly darker revenge fantasies. After premiering at the 67th Venice Film Festival - where it received a long standing ovation - "Black Swan" earned numerous nominations and a handful of wins from critics' associations, while Aronofsky landed Golden Globe, Independent Spirit and Academy Award nods for Best Director. Unexpectedly, Aronofsky's next project was "Noah" (2014), a cinematic retelling of the Biblical epic that cost over $125 million dollars and was challenged by religious leaders of multiple faiths for straying too far from the holy source material. With an all-star cast featuring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson, "Noah" performed decently at the box office and earned mixed reviews. However, Aronofsky's next project was possibly his most divisive to date. Initially marketed as a horror film, "Mother!" (2017) was an oblique parable; unfortunately, even many of the film's fans couldn't agree on what the underlying theme was, with religion, the creative process and climate change being three popular competing interpretations. The small-budget film starring Jennifer Lawrence (at the time Aronofsky's girlfriend), Javier Bardem and Kristen Wiig was a box office flop, earning a rare F score from the movie polling firm CinemaScore and engendering fierce online debate on social media.