Darren Aronofsky secured a reputation as a brash, intelligent filmmaker at the age of 29, with Pi, his 1998 feature directorial and screenwriting debut. A dizzying black and white odyssey, it tells the story of a brilliant mathematician (Sean Gullette) driven by his conviction that higher mathematics can be used to unlock the secrets of the natural world. Claiming such disparate influences as Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the visual and editing style of Japan's Shinya Tsukamoto (Tokyo Fist, Tetsuo), Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Rod Serling, Philip K. Dick, chaos theory, and the Jewish Kabbalah, Pi undertakes a journey into the surreal confines of the mind's inner space, one that garnered Aronofsky the 1998 Sundance Festival's Directing Award for Dramatic Competition.
A self-described "Brooklyn hip-hop kid," Aronofsky was born in the borough on February 12, 1969. His upbringing was marked by his Jewish heritage (although in an interview he once disparagingly referred to himself as a "classically hypocritical high holiday Jew"), painting graffiti art on subway cars, and filmgoing in Times Square. An alumnus of the New York public school system, he attended Harvard, where he studied live action and animation and met future collaborator and Pi star Sean Gullette. He received international acclaim for his senior thesis film, Supermarket Sweep, which also starred Gullette, and went on to earn an MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute.
After the critical success of Pi, which Aronofsky made with $60,000 borrowed from family and friends and what must have been half of New York City's abandoned computer equipment, the maverick embarked on his next major project. Entitled Requiem for a Dream, and developed with scripters at the Sundance Screenwriting Lab, including Robert Redford, the picture stars Jared Leto as Harry Goldfarb, a heroin addict intent on pawning his mother's beloved TV as part of a scheme that will allow himself, his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), and his best friend (Marlon Wayans) to score more smack. While the trio sink helplessly into a whirlpool of addiction, Harry's mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn) wins a spot on a game show, but nearly starves herself to death on diet pills and develops a serious dependency herself. Issued on October 6, 2000 Requiem drew critical raves from coast to coast from all but the most discerning of reviewers. Roger Ebert wrote of Requiem, "With greater resources [than in Pi], Aronofsky brings a new urgency to the drug movie by trying to reproduce, through his subjective camera, how his characters feel, or want to feel, or fear to feel," while The San Francisco Chronicle's Bob Graham rhapsodized, "This unrelenting film presents some of the most wrenching images conceivable, yet never for a single moment is there anything exploitive about them. Aronofsky's artistry extends to compassion for the self-deluded, doomed characters."
Aronofsky ducked out of the limelight for a few years after Below, but made an unanticipated resurgence in 2006 that foretold his propulsion, once again, to the front of the American indie filmmaking scene. The fascinating premise of Aronofsky's tertiary directorial outing, The Fountain, suggests influence by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jim Webb's hit song "Highwayman," as it tells of a character's centuries-long pursuit of the Tree of Life, sustained throughout several reincarnations.
Aronofsky runs his own production shingle, Protozoa Pictures, headquartered in Southern California. In early 2006, Protozoa inked a Universal Pictures deal - with producing partner Eric Watson - to develop new projects through the studio's Focus Features and Rogue Pictures arms. At that time, the trades reported on several of these efforts, including Black Flies, a drama about a Manhattan paramedic, Song of Kali, an adaptation of Dan Simmons novel about a man and his family who encounter unspeakable horrors on a trip to obtain a poem from the city of Calcutta, and Flicker, an adaptation of Theodore Rozak's heady, metaphysical fantasy novel about a film critic who unearths apocalyptic truths in his investigation of a German expressionist filmmaker's bizarre (and occult-laden) past.
An intellectual with a broad philosophical streak, Aronofsky concurrently refers to himself as "godless," and proclaims that filmmaking is his god and mantra. In an interview with KQED's B. Ruby Rich, he pared his passion for filmmaking down to the medium's highly subjective quality:
"What I really like about subjective filmmaking... is when you're walking down the street, you're not just walking down the street. You're thinking about the conversation you had with your mom two hours ago or you're thinking about the vacation you're going to go on in two weeks with your friends. Your mind is all over the place... the great thing about filmmaking is that as filmmakers, we can show where a person's mind goes, as opposed to theater, which is more to sit back and watch it."