Darren Aronofsky – Director Overview

No one has ever accused, at least not with any sort of evidence or other substantiation, director Darren Aronofsky of being an easily-accessible filmmaker. He’s built a career around difficult, challenging films that beg for repeated viewings, often defy interpretation and at times seem solely geared toward upsetting the audience. Aronofsky is Todd Solondz without the dark humor. Terry Gilliam without the whimsy.

With his latest film, mother!, hitting theaters this week and seeming to continue his tradition of challenging, inscrutable and divisive films, it’s a good opportunity to look back at the director’s previous six films and how they were sold.

Pi (1998)

Max (Sean Gullette) has developed a supercomputer that can unlock the key to life and existence, part of his belief that numbers can solve any problem. When he accidentally stumbles across a number that seems to have widespread spiritual and financial implications he becomes sought by mysterious agents from both worlds. The trailer for Aronofsky’s feature debut is a weird tonal mix. The visuals are cutting edge and off-kilter. The narration, though, makes it seem like a traditional thriller about a lone genius trying to evade capture in light of his discovery. It’s clear there wasn’t a good idea of how to sell Aronofsky’s films yet.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Obsession and mental capacity are again at the core of the story in this movie. With a cast that included Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Marlon Wayons and Jennifer Connelly, the film has each of them playing a character who can’t rise above their station because of one kind of addiction or another. Existing problems only become greater when supplies begin to dry up and the characters resort to desperate measures to maintain their highs. Some of that is on display in the trailer, which shows the fast-paced, drug-fueled and often frustrating lives the characters lead. Notable is the lack of narration this time around, as it just would have gotten in the way of the disturbing visuals being sold here.

The Fountain (2006)

Hard to believe it was six years before Aronofsky went back behind the camera. When he did it was with a Hugh Jackman along for the ride. Jackman played three roles (or, actually, one spread out over millennia) in this time-spanning story of the search for love, played by Rachel Weisz, with all three stories converging into something truly mind bending. We see all three in the trailer, though the emphasis is on the one set is present day. Still, the whole span of the story and incredibly visuals Aronofsky conjured up as he embraced special effects that go hand-in-hand with emotional turmoil.

The Wrestler (2008)

Possibly Aronofsky’s most mainstream movie (at least to that point), this one cast Mickey Rourke as an aging wrestler who’s having trouble coming to terms with how his life has turned out. A faded shadow of what he once was, he tries to reconnect with his family while also seeking out one last shot at the spotlight. The trailer opens with praise for Rourke’s performance, something that was the central focus of the marketing campaign on all fronts. We see the depths he’s fallen to and the way he’s trying to go out on his own terms while listening to a haunting original Bruce Springsteen tune as we’re sold a tale of redemption and that’s way more emotional than anything else Aronofsky has put out there.

Black Swan (2010)

That sentimentality didn’t last long as the director quickly got back into the world of twisted mental states and questions of identity and the lengths one will go to in order to succeed. Natalie Portman plans Nina, a top ballet dancer who’s selected as the lead in a prestigious staging of Swan Lake. She’s challenged by Lily (Mila Kunis), a newcomer who has all the sensuality and vulnerability Nina lacks. The two become friends, but the truth is much darker than it initially appears. We immediately get the idea that issues of identity and reality are at the heart as the trailer opens. As things progress and become more terrifying and mysterious the pace increases, showing a truly disturbing movie being sold. It’s easy to see why this is one of the two films from the director frequently name-checked throughout the mother! campaign.

Noah (2014)

An oddly mainstream entry in Aronofsky’s filmography, this one cast Russell Crowe as the Old Testament figure tasked by God with preserving humans and animals from the flood waters of judgment He was about to unleash. Noah’s assigned mission brings him into conflict with others nearby as we see in the trailer. It’s also clear here that the director is once more doing everything he can with the special effects he’s given to heighten the impact of the story and show God’s wrath being executed in as epic a manner as possible.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

mother! – Marketing Recap

The official synopsis for mother! reads thusly:

A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

I’m not sure anything I could write could expand on that considering, as we’ll see, the marketing of the movie has kept the story under wraps. So let’s just note it comes from writer/director Darren Aronofsky and stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as the couple and Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer as the uninvited guests. Let’s dig in.

The Posters

The first poster, which was revealed on Mother’s Day, is messed up. It’s not a photo but a painting that shows Lawrence wearing a white dress and standing in a magical, overgrown garden and sporting a serene look on her face. That all is in stark contrast to the fact that she’s holding her own heart in her hand after clearly pulling it out of the still-open wound in her chest. That’s…just not right, but what do you expect from Aronofsky? A second poster is a similarly artistic image showing Bardem sitting on a chair while being engulfed in flames.

What seems to be the theatrical poster just showed Lawrence in extreme close-up. That seems normal enough until you notice her skin is cracked and chipped like a glass vase. The names of the leads as well as the director are prominently displayed, with Aronofsky’s role as the director of The Black Swan also mentioned here.

The next poster is focused on the remote, odd-looking house that the couple in the story move to. A lone figure is seen in the doorway to the faraway house but more noticeable is Lawrence’s face, which looms behind the house like a setting sun.

A new mirror-image poster was revealed by Aronofsky during a reddit AMA session that underscored the mind-bending nature of the movie’s story.

The Trailers

The first trailer starts off with scenes of domestic bliss between the main couple, despite their age difference. They’ve moved into a new house and she’s making it their own. Things begin to get strange when a couple they don’t know comes to stay with them, which leads to more and more mysteries that go deeper and deeper. There’s sex and violence and tunnels being dug and a general sense of looming terror.

Ummm…yeah. This is a full-on horror movie Aronofsky appears to have made, though it’s not as if his other movies aren’t disturbing in their own ways. There’s a lot going on here but it’s great to see Lawrence being given room to stretch a little. Also, the promise of her and Bardem acting against Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer is too great.

Another short trailer came out a bit later that doesn’t show a whole lot, at least not until the end, but still features plenty of dialogue that’s creepy enough when contrast with Lawrence walking around the house coldly.

Online and Social

The movie’s official website is focused on selling tickets and even has “tickets” in the URL. If you try to take that out you’re redirected to the Facebook page for the film.

There are only a few other bits of content on the site outside of the message to buy tickets. “Message Me” encourages you to sign up for text alerts when new marketing materials are released. “Videos” has the official trailer. Finally, “Synopsis” gives you the same short, vague recap of the story I included above. At the bottom of the page are links to the movie’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter profiles.

When Aronofsky revealed the poster during the reddit AMA mentioned above it didn’t take long for people to realize there was a hidden website address on the image. That website, YoullNeverAnswerTheDoorAgain.com, kept the twisted nature of the poster going with a series of images that when clicked and highlighted revealed clips and other clues as to the story that hadn’t been hinted at in the campaign to that point.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

TV advertising kicked off with a series of sequential commercials during the recent “MTV Video Music Awards that definitely sold the movie as a twisted domestic drama, one that will mess with people’s minds.

That clip that was mentioned above was used for ads that ran as pre-roll on YouTube.

Promoted posts were run on Twitter as well. With at least one of them, this one, there was a call-to-action to Fav the Tweet, promising something in return if you did. As soon as someone liked that post there were sent a response with an exclusive new clip.

Media and Publicity

The movie was announced as one of those that would screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it picked up very good buzz that focused around the madness of Aronofsky’s story and the performances of Lawrence and Bardem.

Right after the first trailer popped up a huge feature interview with Lawrence in Vogue, which was accompanied by four variant covers, hit where the actress talked about this movie, albeit in vague terms so as not to give away too much. It also obviously covered a lot more of her career and was generally part of the continued to position her as the most relatable actress of her generation.

That was followed by an interview with Aronofsky in Entertainment Weekly’s fall movie preview issue where he talked about how even he was still trying to figure out what the movie was all about. A few new stills came along with that story. Another interview had the director trying to prepare audiences for the craziness of what the movie was going to present to them and how intense Lawrence’s performance is.

Domhnall Gleeson talked about his still-unknown role here and how he met with Aronofsky before taking on the part. At the same time, at the Venice Film Festival, Aronofsky and the rest of the cast talked about the movie and the divisive reactions it created in the audience who saw it.

Another promo video offered more fast-cut visuals for fans to dissect and try to find meaning in.

Lawrence did plenty of press in the last few weeks, including an interview where she talked about the feminist message of the story and appearances on late night talk shows where she continued to sell her image as America’s most awkward actor.

Overall

Well I certainly don’t think Aronofsky or his stars have spilled many, if any, of the secrets and twists of the movie. There’s been plenty of discussion about those secrets, but it’s always in the context of why they exist and what the director was trying to accomplish with them. Other than that the focus was on creating a sense of mystery and tension in the audience with tight spaces, fast cuts, building music, dramatic visuals and other tactics.

All of that means it has what would appear to be little chance at anything approximating mainstream success. Unless word of mouth from this weekend is extraordinarily positive and it becomes a must-see status-symbol type of phenomenon, it will go on to become fodder for film geeks to discuss as they weigh Aronofsky’s career of off-putting and difficult-to-process movies. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but considering the festival reviews seem to tag it as an incredibly divisive film, it doesn’t seem likely to break out of the niche audience.

PICKING UP THE SPARE

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky made the subtext of the divisive film the text in a keynote address at SXSW, laying out exactly what he was going for, apparently hoping it will get people to revisit or rethink their initial opinions.