Taking a Look Back at the Films of Darren Aronofsky on His 45th Birthday

Darren Aronofsky once said, “I’m Godless. I’ve had to make my God, and my God is narrative filmmaking.” And in the church of cinema, for many, the 45-year-old director ranks high on the list of worship. As one of the most psychologically enticing and visually minded filmmakers working today, he creates haunting worlds full of desperate and passionate characters clinging to intangible ideals. As intelligent as he is artistic, Aronofsky’s films come alive through his wonderful knowledge of how to tell a story through dialogue and images, but also characterized by the his ear for music and the help of composer Clint Mansell.

And as today marks the 45th birthday of Aronofsky and his famous petit mustache, let’s take a look back on some of his best work with behind-the-scenes clips and favorites from his amazing soundtracks.

Behind the Scenes: Requiem for a Dream

Aronofsky’s nerve-wracking and chilling sophomore feature about the mutual existence of addiction and psychosis and how love crumbs in its wake. Brilliantly directed, shot, edited, acted, and scored, the film takes us through four leading characters as they fall prey to delusion and reckless desperation. With music that feeds its way through your veins, there are few films who possess such cohesion of sight and sound. Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her frightening performance as a amphetamine-addicted, lonely older women who becomes obsessed with the idea of appearing on a daytime talk show.

Soundtrack: Requiem for a Dream

Behind the Scenes: Black Swan

Aronofsky’s beautifully dark and sensual psycho-erotic horror thriller. Revolving around a production of Techaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the haunting doppleganger tale is told through a ballet dancer who loses her mind after gaining the lead role of the delicate White Swan. Aronfsky saw the film as a companion to The Wrestler, both surrounding demanding physical performances in various forms of art.  The film won Natalie Portman a Golden Globe and Academy Award with nominations for Best Director, Editing, Cinematography, and Best Picture.

Soundtrack: Black Swan

Behind the Scenes: The Wrestler

Aronofsky’s gritty and painful film of desperation and redemption. A deeply moving portrait of a man at his last end, the film tells the story of an aging wrestler attempting to cling to his past success and failing health while trying to mend a stain relationship with his daughter. Mickey Rourke took home a Golden Globe for his immersive performance as did Bruce Springsteen for his heartbreaking original song.

Soundtrack: The Wrestler

Behind the Scenes: The Fountain

Aronofsky’s romantic fantasy drama that serves as an amalgam of history, religion, and science fiction. Compromising of three story lines, we see the actors play different sets of characters entwined in themes of love and mortality. The visually stunning and hallucinatory film that spans over a thousand years won Clint Mansell a Golden Globe nomination for his stunning and encompassing score.

Soundtrack: The Fountain

Soundtrack: Pi

Aronofsky’s surrealist debut feature, the psychological black and white thriller first introduced him to audiences as visual and narrative force. Centering around a man whose obsessive pursuit of an idea leads him into a spiral of self-destructive behavior, paranoia carries the film as he searches for a key number that will unlock the universal patterns found in nature. The film won Aronofsky a Gotham, Independent Spirit, and Sundance award.

Mickey Rourke on His Lost Years

Credit where credit is due. Robert Downey Jr. turned in two unforgettable performances this year, but he did it with the help of a super-powered armored suit and some blackface, taking him from Hollywood screw-up to golden boy. But all Mickey Rourke needed was peroxide, a pair of tights, and one heartbreaking performance to resurrect himself from movieland exile. In Darren Aronofksy’s The Wrestler, Rourke delivers what many are touting as the year’s most powerful performance as washed-up wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson, and he’s landed himself squarely in the sights of the Academy. This is remarkable for a man who went from 80s leading man, to failed professional boxer to a Hollywood journeyman, owing to his distaste for authority figures and his increasing on-set volatility (director Alan Parker once called him a “nightmare” to work with). “I was on the bench for 13 years, and after like 10 years go by, you kinda start thinking, man, is it really fucking over like everybody says it is?” he tells us at The Wrestler press day in New York.

“And you’re in a town like LA, where you’re reminded every fucking day. You’ll be buying a pack of cigarettes at two in the morning, and there’ll be a line of five people, and some jerk will say, ‘Hey weren’t you in –‘ and it’s like, ‘Give me my cigarettes and let me get the fuck out of here.’” Rourke, who reportedly turned down major roles in Pulp Fiction, Rain Man, and The Untouchables, wasn’t completely out of work, with parts in bombastic low-tier action pics and B-movie schlock. Circumstances got so dire he had to sell his ten motorcycles just to make rent.

A memorable scene in The Wrestler sees Rourke’s character forced to take a job as a butcher, slopping coleslaw and potato salad into containers, just to pay rent. The scene hit close to home for Rourke, who at one point couldn’t book a construction job off a friend. “He was really having a tough time that day,” says Aronofsky of Rourke, “and I couldn’t figure out why he was in a bad mood. And then the next day I talked to him, and it turned out he was completely connecting with the shame of Randy. He was so embarrassed, and he couldn’t separate the fact that he was making a movie, and that he wasn’t the character.”

Rourke’s resurrection was slow, and it came in baby steps. His friend Sean Penn gave him a day of shooting on his directorial piece The Pledge. “Stallone saw me in a restaurant eating one night, where I could hardly pay for my fucking spaghetti, and put me in Get Carter.” Then came his role as the imposing, brutal-yet-lovable Marv in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, which was Rourke’s true re-introduction to mainstream audiences.

But it’s his role in The Wrestler that has already won him a DC critic’s award and has people talking not just comeback but Oscar, which despite his old school, don’t-give-a-fuck persona, has the actor excited. And yes, he cares. “Absolutely, I do. It’s always meant something, but before, I didn’t have the tools to handle myself the way you’re supposed to in the business that I’m in. I brought my old-school textbook with me, and that didn’t jive out there.”

But despite all the accolades and the renewed interest, a career renaissance is anything but a given. Unlike Downey Jr., Rourke no longer possesses matinee looks or the everyman persona needed for leading man stature. And he knows not to get his hopes up. “When you’ve been out of work for a certain amount of time, you’re kind of weary of it all. I behaved so terribly when I had a chance. I wasn’t accountable, wasn’t responsible, wasn’t professional. It wasn’t that I was misunderstood. I behaved terribly because I had a fuse in me I couldn’t put out.” Now that he’s managed to extinguish that fuse, after much self-reflection, what kind of career redux awaits? Perhaps the second coming of Mickey Rourke is going to play less like Downey Jr.’s redo, and more like the recent rejuvenation of Thomas Haden Church, who received a professional boost after his acclaimed turn in Sideways. Don’t think Spider-Man, think deranged villain who Spider-Man defeats in the last act.

And earning the support of your peers is one thing, but keeping it is a whole other story. If anyone knows that, it’s Mickey Rourke. “They are not running to my door. I did a lot of damage out there.”