Tag Archives: Darren Aronofsky

The Whale (2022) Review

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The Whale

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Suicide themes, sexual material, drug use & offensive language
Cast:
Brendan Fraser as Charlie
Sadie Sink as Ellie Sarsfield
Hong Chau as Liz
Ty Simpkins as Thomas
Samantha Morton as Mary
Director: Darren Aronofsky

In a town in Idaho, Charlie, a reclusive and unhealthy English teacher, hides out in his flat and eats his way to death. He is desperate to reconnect with his teenage daughter for a last chance at redemption.

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The Whale was one of the recent awards movies I was most nervous about watching. This would be Darren Aronofsky’s next movie since mother! back in 2017, and it would be starring Brendan Fraser in the lead role. While it had been positively received on the whole, there were some polarizing reactions and controversy which made me unsure about how I would land on this. I would say that I liked it but had some clear issues.

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Even if you didn’t know it beforehand, you could probably pick up on the movie originating from the play very early on. The Whale takes place at one location and consists of a small cast of characters. Even some of the dialogue feels very stagey, especially with lack of subtlety. Although there are some good moments, the screenplay and dialogue interactions can be very repetitive at times, though it usually fixes itself when it starts to feel that way. It isn’t a subtle movie by any means, whether it be with the dialogue or the themes. There’s a lot of things at play thematically, including religion, faith, personal tragedy and depression, and overall, I think it’s a bit messy and obvious with those.

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The Whale is a dark and heavy movie, though Aronofsky seemed to try to aim for empathy with this movie, however the results are mixed. Much of the movie is bleak, and whenever it leant towards nihilism and hatred, I thought it was convincing and genuine. When it is trying to be empathetic, it felt fake and hollow, especially when watching the story play out. For a movie that tries to reflect the view of protagonist Charlie that “people are amazing”, the movie conveys quite the opposite. In fact, I would’ve admired the movie so much more if it ended up leaning into the hatred of the world and people, because at least it wouldn’t feel so hollow. Another notable theme is honesty, which is also something that Charlie encourages. It’s also another thing that The Whale struggles with. I don’t exactly like using the criticism “emotionally manipulative” when it comes to movies, since all emotions in movies are manipulated by the filmmakers and writers. However, certain moments were clearly intended to make you feel something, and most of them felt artificial to me. The more impactful moments for me were the quiet, tender, and softer moments, as opposed to the over the top dramatic moments, the latter of which had me feeling unsure about them. This also extends to the ending, and I’ve noticed that it made lots of people emotional and cry. In contrast with the other scenes which I wasn’t sure about, I knew for certain that I really didn’t like the ending. Finally, there’s been some talk about whether The Whale is fatphobic, and I really don’t have enough to engage in that discourse, but I can talk about the way it views its protagonist. I will say that I’m pretty sure Aronofsky doesn’t have a negative view of Charlie, the film is sympathetic towards him. Some characters do treat him poorly, but I don’t think the film views him poorly. At the same time, I’m not sure its empathetic towards him (ironically).

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The acting for the most part does help to make the movie work better. Brendan Fraser gives probably his best performance yet, it’s very dramatic and he goes hard out for that, but I thought it worked. His character of Charlie is optimistic and believes in people despite the things he’s going through or the way people treat him. Much of the character’s positivity and optimism becomes redundant as we don’t really get to unpack that, he’s just positive because he’s just positive. Still, Fraser does help the character feel real and sells it as best as possible. Sadie Sink gives a notable performance in the movie, playing Charlie’s daughter, Ellie. I am fully aware that this is intentional, but she’s written to be such a menace and cartoonishly evil character that its hard to take her seriously. While she’s loud and aggressive, her character is pretty one note despite being one of the main supporting players, and it really could’ve used more nuance and depth. Sink’s performance goes along with that too, the angsty teenager scenes were pretty standard and she’s much better at the more emotional scenes, especially near the end. Hong Chau was one of the best performances of the film for me, playing a nurse and a friend of Charlie. While a lot of the supporting character are underdeveloped, Chau makes her character feel real, and was the most interesting and believable character in the film. Her scenes were really the highlights for me, her dynamic with Fraser was great and even worked better than his dynamic with Sink. Other actors like Ty Simpkins and Samantha Morton are also good in their parts.

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Darren Aronofsky’s style and direction is usually very overt in his movies, but it’s been toned down quite a lot appropriately for The Whale. Not to say that the movie is directed in a basic way, it’s straightforward and simplistic, but it works for this story. It is shot with a 1.33 aspect ratio which makes you feel claustrophobic, especially given the movie takes place just inside and outside of an apartment. The murky and dim interior is also sets the right tone.  Brendan Fraser is wearing a fat suit and prosthetics to make him look obese and fair is fair, he looks completely different. The score from Rob Simonsen is also effective, atmospheric and oppressive, even if it can be a bit overbearing at points. However, the direction isn’t perfect; I wasn’t sure about some decisions that Aronofsky made, mainly in the way Charlie was filmed. The shots of his body and the filming of the binge eating is akin to how David Cronenberg would film grotesque body horror. It’s done for shock value and becomes uncomfortable, and for the wrong reasons which work against the film.

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The Whale remains a movie that I’m very conflicted about. Some aspects of Darren Aronofsky’s direction work, and many of the performances are great, especially Brendan Fraser and Hong Chau. However, even if you put the fatphobic debate aside, it has plenty of issues that hold it back from really working. The writing is so messy and mixed, from the lack of subtlety, to the rather hollow attempts at being empathetic, and to even the attempts of being emotionally resonant, much of it misfires and was a rather mixed result. I do wonder whether Aronofsky really was the right choice for this film. If it wanted to be more empathetic and human, then it should’ve been handled with more sensitivity and subtlety. That aside, The Whale might be worth checking out for the performances. I guess I liked the film overall, but I understand the people who really don’t.

Black Swan (2010) Review

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Black Swan

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] contains violence, sex scenes & content that may disturb
Cast:
Natalie Portman as Nina Sayers/The Swan Queen
Mila Kunis as Lily/The Black Swan
Vincent Cassel as Thomas Leroy/The Gentleman
Barbara Hershey as Erica Sayers/The Queen
Winona Ryder as Elizabeth “Beth” MacIntyre/The Dying Swan
Director: Darren Aronofsky

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a ballerina whose passion for the dance rules every facet of her life. When the company’s artistic director decides to replace his prima ballerina for their opening production of “Swan Lake,” Nina is his first choice. She has competition in newcomer Lily (Mila Kunis) however. While Nina is perfect for the role of the White Swan, Lily personifies the Black Swan. As rivalry between the two dancers transforms into a twisted friendship, Nina’s dark side begins to emerge.

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I liked Black Swan when I first saw it, and it definitely got all the acclaim that it deserved. I’ve already watched most of director Darren Aronofsky’s work (with the exception of The Fountain), but I wanted to have another look at some of his movies, and so I started my rewatches with Black Swan and got even more out of it this time. Aronofsky’s direction was really great and as usual Natalie Portman is fantastic.

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I won’t go into too much depth about the plot in case you still haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie yet. Darren Aronofksy really keeps this movie tight at an hour and 50 minutes long, it keeps the pace up pretty quickly and on a second viewing I really noticed it. It starts out as a movie about what an artist would do for art, and it is that throughout, but it also turns into a psychological thriller. It really goes crazy in the third act to say the least, and when the film needs to go horror, it really goes there. Looking at the plot from beginning to end, it’s so perfectly crafted and well put together.

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Everyone in the cast was outstanding, however this is really Natalie Portman’s show, giving a career best performance here. Her character’s whole thing is that as how she is now, she’s perfect for the role of the White Swan but in order to perfectly perform The Swan Queen, needs to delve deeper into darker territory to portray the Black Swan as well. Her descent and change were very convincing, and Portman works well. Her performance is essentially what drives the whole movie, as great as Aronofsky’s direction is here, Black Swan wouldn’t have worked without Portman’s excellently performance. Mila Kunis gives probably her best performance yet as a seemingly rival to Natalie Portman who seems to work as the Black Swan, which would compel Portman towards a different side. Vincent Cassel is also really great as the director of the ballet, who also pushes Portman further towards becoming more of the Black Swan. Definitely one of Cassel’s most standout performances. Barbara Hershey was also good as Portman’s obsessive mother, adding even more strangeness and uneasiness to the whole movie. Winona Ryder is in here in a smaller role as the previous Swan Queen before Portman, but she still really worked in her few scenes.

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Darren Aronofsky’s direction of Black Swan is excellent. I know it should go without saying but the actual ballet portions of the movie are showcased, choregraphed and displayed on screen very well. When it comes to the psychological horror side (especially towards the latter section of the movie), it’s effectively creeping and unnerving. The limited sections of crazy visual effects still hold up really well 9 years later. The score by Clint Mansell really works (which is to be expected of him at this point), very haunting yet beautiful, much like the whole movie.

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Black Swan is Darren Aronofsky’s best film yet, and considering some of the movies that he’s made, that’s saying a lot. His direction was great, really portraying a descent into madness well, with great acting, especially from Natalie Portman who gives an extraordinary performance here. Definitely one of the best films of 2010 and the 2010s, and worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.

Mother! (2017) Review

Time: 121 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Contains violence, horror, cruelty, offensive language & content that may disturb
Cast
Jennifer Lawrence as Mother
Javier Bardem as Him
Ed Harris as Man
Michelle Pfeiffer as Woman
Domhnall Gleeson as Oldest Son
Brian Gleeson as Younger Brother
Director: Darren Aronofsky

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

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Mother was gaining my attention with every passing day. It is directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars talented people like Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, so it definitely had a lot of potential. My interest levels only increased when I heard the response to this movie, that being incredibly divisive and polarising. People either loved it or hated it. As for me when I finally saw it… I kinda loved it. With that said, I can perfectly understand the people who really dislike it. Calling Mother ‘not for everyone’ would be an understatement.

First thing I want to get this out of the way, don’t watch the trailer. The trailer makes Mother look like a straight up horror movie, but the actual movie is nothing like the trailer. It’s a little difficult to describe what kind of movie it is. I can’t even pin it down to one genre, I guess perhaps horror but even then it doesn’t go to that level until the third act. I can’t really go into detail about my interpretation about the story because that would be spoiling things, so I’ll just have to be vague when describing it. All I can say is that there is some religious/biblical allergories that Aronofsky put into the movie, and if you don’t pick up any of them, you will be completely lost. The pacing was slow but I never felt bored, I was always intrigued as to what was going on and trying to figure out what this movie is actually all about. However if you aren’t invested in what is going on (or aren’t able to pick up anything that Aronofsky might be going for), this is going to be a very long drag for you. As I previously said, this movie is very allegorical and metaphorical, it’s not a good idea to go in expecting a conventional story. The third act is where it goes into absolute insanity, by this point, you’d probably realise that this isn’t a conventional story. I’m not going to act like I understood everything, a lot of it I did and I thought it was notably done by Aronofksy. There are some hidden meanings and unresolved aspects that I’m still not certain about, especially the ending. I have a feeling that more rewatches will clarify what this movie is about (though to be honest its going to be one of those sparingly done rewatches). Fun fact, Darren Aronofsky wrote this screenplay in 5 days and it kinda shows. This movie does seem more Aronofksy wanting to deliver a message than an normal movie and while its not necessarily a bad thing, but I can see how this can annoy some viewers.

There’s not really much to say in terms of characters as they seem to be more representative of ideas, and I can’t go into my thoughts on that because that would of course be in spoiler territory. But I can say that the acting across the board is great. This is one of Jennifer Lawrence’s best performances, we really see the movie from her perspective and we relate to her because they are having the same reaction as the audience, completely and utterly confused at what’s going on. She has to deal with a lot of things and Lawrence delivered that greatly. Javier Bardem is also great, as usual he’s a significant screen presence and for what I think he represents, we was perfect for it. The supporting cast we don’t see a whole lot of, but they do great to make themselves memorable. Ed Harris is good, showing a vulnerable side to him that we don’t usually see from his performances. Michelle Pfeiffer is also fantastic, stealing the scenes that she’s in. The Gleeson brothers (Domhnall and Brian) also show up briefly and despite their short appearances managed to do so much with their performances.

Darren Aronofsky’s direction was a bit interesting. The camera most of the time follows and focuses on Jennifer Lawrence, whether that be up close on her face or over her shoulder. While I get why this was done as it helps highlight how she feels as the movie progresses, at times it can be a little annoying and overused. It does help convey a feeling of claustrophobia however, which helps with the uncomfortableness factor that Darren Aronofsky was going for. Apparently the soundtrack is done by Jóhann Jóhannsson but it honestly doesn’t sound like there was a soundtrack. The sound design however was done very well. Aronofsky also does well to convey a sense of uneasiness, even in just the first two acts, you know that something is not right but you don’t know what it is. As for the disturbing levels of this movie, most of it actually happens in the last act and while most of it is appropriate for the story, there is one moment, really one shot that felt completely unnecessary. They really didn’t need to show that and it felt like it was used for shock value rather than having any form of meaning, which the film for the most part seemed to do. It doesn’t ruin the movie but it does stand out in a very bad way.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll like Mother, it is an unusual and bizarre movie, unconventional in both story and direction, I can’t recommend it to everyone. I don’t blame you if you downright hate it. If you don’t like unconventional movies, stories which are allegorical, I actually think you shouldn’t watch it, because its unlikely that you’ll like it to be honest. Even if you’re fine with those movies I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it. You’ll just have to see for yourself, if you are willing to take the risk. It seems like you’ll either love it or hate it. For me though, it only gets better the more I think about it. Everything from the performances to the unique story is so great and special. This is to me is one of the best films of the year. This is one thing I can say, this is a movie that people will be talking about for a long, long time.