April 15, 2021

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Aronofsky Endings: From Mild to Wild

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All legendary film directors have their “thing”-Shyamalan has his twists, Tarantino has his non-linear timelines, and Darren Aronofsky has his whirlwind endings.

From Black Swan to The Fountain, there’s no doubt that a Darren Aronofsky vehicle will leave you feeling….disgusted? Exhausted? Scared? Either way Aronofsky has perfected creating an unforgettable experience with his films, for better or worse. In this article I’ll be ranking the iconic endings of Aronofsky directed films from “mild to wild”. Obviously there is tremendous bias to this, but here is the criteria I’ll be basing my rankings off of:

  1. Blood and guts
  2. Disturbing imagery (that doesn’t include blood and guts)
  3. Relentless action
  4. Lingering feelings

*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW HOW THESE MOVIES END DO NOT READ FURTHER*

#7Noah (2014 )Mild Unseasoned Chicken

Noah is the reimagining of the biblical story of Noah’s Ark with Russel Crowe playing the titular character. Jennifer Connelly plays his dutiful wife Naameh and for some extra star power Emma Watson plays Noah’s adopted daughter Ila. This film didn’t receive great reviews- half the audience was upset with the changes Aronofsky made to the original story. The other half could accept the changes but still struggled to follow the convoluted plot. But in this ranking we’re focusing on the ending (last 20 minutes or so) of Aronofsky’s films.

Noah is the least Aronofsky-esq movie in this list, yet he wrote, directed, and produced it. There is no scary scoring, bizarre camera angles, erratic quick cuts. It’s 100% a blockbuster movie, which is off putting if you’re a fan of Aronofsky. It’s at the bottom as the most mild because in the last 20 minutes there is hardly any blood, guts, or disturbing imagery. Comparatively it’s bland. There’s intense conflict, as Noah decides he must murder twin infants in order to follow Gods will. And there’s a little violence when Ham, Noah’s son, murders Cain. Ultimately though Noah decides not to kill newborn babies and we could see Cains murder coming from a mile away. The movie ends with all of the conflict resolved and Noah’s family starting a new life on a beautiful island. This is about as mild as it can get-little action with a happy ending.

#6- The Wrestler (2008) Mild But With a Little Salt

The Wrestler follows Randy The Ram (Mickey Rourke) who, despite his failing health and waning fame, continues to wrestle in an attempt to cling to the success of his 1980s heyday. When he’s forced to retire due to a heart attack induced by a brutal barbed wire match, he tries to mend his relationship with his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and find romance with a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei). Unlike our most mild ranking entry, this film was extremely well received and even earned the two lead actors, Rourke and Tomei, Oscar nominations. While the ending of this film doesn’t have blood, guts, or disturbing imagery it does have a high-stakes, action-packed finale, which is why it ranks slightly higher than Noah.

After Randy fails his daughter and Cassidy he blows up at his deli counter job by slicing open his hand. He then decides to come out of retirement and wrestle again. The last moments of the film are Randy wrestling The Ayotollah, recreating the magic from their first match in hopes to relaunch their careers.

As the audience we know that the wrestling is fake, but the pain Randy is feeling is not. We witness him struggle to keep up with The Ayotollah, every punch, slap, and tackle landing harder than the last. As the audience we know this is Randy’s last match when he clutches his chest, feeling the heart attack coming. We are experiencing the symptoms along with Randy through the sound design. In one moment we can only hear the crowd. The next the crowd is almost completely muffled, only Randys erratic heartbeat is audible. In another moment only the referee and The Ayotollah are heard.

But rather than concede, he climbs the ropes to perform his signature move, a flying headbutt called “The Ram Jam”. As he flies through the air we feel upset, worried, shocked, and sad. So while this ending is not traumatizing like later entries will be, it still leaves you feeling.

#5- Pi (1998) A Little Mild But With Salt & Pepper

Pi is about a mathematician named Max (Sean Gullette) who believes everything in nature can be understood through numbers. He obsessively searches for the exact number by using his appropriately named computer, Euclid. Max suffers from cluster headaches, hallucinations, and paranoia, all of which intensify throughout the film as Max frantically searches for this divine number. Meanwhile he’s being harassed by Wall Street Firm agent Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), who wants the number for total power over the stock market, and a group of Hasidic Jews- who believe it’s meant for them to bring about the messianic age as the number represents the unspeakable name of God. This movie is in black and white, but that does not stop Aronofsky from utilizing these colors to disorient the audience. Through each hallucination the contrasting colors become blindingly intense, forcing us to experience a small fraction of Max’s pain.

The finale of the movie sees Max escaping both the Wall Street agent and Hasidic Jews, running to his mentor’s home. Once he arrives he discovers that his mentor, Sol( Mark Mogolis), has died due to another stroke. Max returns to his apartment and experiences another cluster headache but does not take his painkillers. Driven to the brink of madness, he destroys part of Euclid. Believing the number and the headaches are linked, Max tries to concentrate on the number through his pain. After passing out, Max has a vision of himself standing in a white void, repeating the digits of the number.  Once he comes to Max burns the paper with the number. Then uses a cranial drill to perform a trepanning on himself, which relieves pressure in the skull by drilling a hole into it.

That ending seems pretty hardcore, but this film ranks in the mild category mostly in comparison to Aronofskys later films. The trepanning sounds brutal, but the shot itself is pretty short. We see Max lift the drill to his head, turn it on, and a splash of blood on the mirror. Then the scene cuts to black- we don’t get to see him actually make the hole. After all the madness, it ends with Max sitting on a bench outside his building happily interacting with his neighbor. He appears cured. While there is constant action, disturbing imagery, and (some) blood & guts, I would almost call this a happy ending.

#4- The Fountain (2006) Salt, Pepper, and Paprika

This film, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, is a little bit of everything-fantasy/science fiction blended with history and spirituality. The plot is a little complicated and I think Wikipedia describes it best. ”The film consists of three storylines involving immortality and the resulting loves lost, and one man’s pursuit of avoiding this fate in this life or beyond it. Jackman and Weisz play sets of characters bonded by love across time and space: a conquistador and his ill-fated queen, a modern-day scientist and his cancer-stricken wife, and a (space) traveler immersed in a universal journey alongside aspects of his lost love.” This movie ranks higher than our other entries because the ending is non-stop action with some disturbing imagery, concluding a plot that is already bizarre to being with. While Jackman’s scientist storyline ends on somber note, the Conquistador and the Space Traveler have wild finales.

As the Conquistador, Jackman has been tasked by the Queen of Spain (Weisz) to travel to Central America to find the Tree of Life. In his quest he brutally kills several indigenous warriors and battles the Shaman. The Shaman stabs him and just before he’s about to kill the Conquistador the Space Traveler (still Jackman) appears in place of the Conquistador. The Shaman recognizes him as the “First Father” and allows himself to be sacrificed. Once the Shaman is dead the Conquistador proceeds to the Tree of Life. He drinks its sap then uses it to heal his wound. After a moment of relief grass bursts from his wound. His body is turned into flowers, killing him in order to give rise to new life.

We then quickly cut to the Space Traveler. His storyline ends with his spaceship arriving at its destination-a star with ominous, foreboding beauty. The star that goes into supernova-engulfing the ship in its entirety. The visuals for the supernova are intense, utilizing bright colors and morphing Jackman’s form into something inhuman. By the time this movie ends you wonder if you really watched a film or just woke up from the trippiest dream.

#3- Black Swan (2010)-Wild With Jalapenos

Black Swan follows Nina (Natalie Portman), a ballerina who struggles to maintain her sanity after being cast as the lead in Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Black Swan”. If The Fountain feels like a trippy dream, this film will feel like a nightmare. I would consider this the first horror movie, or at least horror adjacent, entry in this list. Throughout the movie we watch Nina obsess over performing the character perfectly. She must portray the dual role of the innocent White Swan Odette and the sensual Black Swan Odile. Nina has perfected the White Swan side, but can’t seem to embrace the dark, sensuality of the Black Swan. She struggles to let go of her need for perfectionism. Well, she certainly let’s go in the end.

Her hallucinations (which include plucking feathers out of her skin and ripping a hangnail down the length of her finger) eventually lead to a physical confrontation with her main competition and alternate, Lily (Mila Kunis), moments before the show opens . During the fight they break a mirror and Nina uses the broken glass to stab Lily, presumably killing her. In her panicked state Nina hides the body and continues to get ready for the show. We watch Nina perform as the White Swan, but not as the audience. These scenes are directed so that we’re on stage with her. She’s giving the performance of her life but her hallucinations are still happening.

Before the last act she returns to her dressing room to switch to the Black Swan costume. Surprisingly, Lily’s dead body is no longer there. Then there’s a knock at her door and it’s actually Lily. Nina realizes that the fight with Lily was yet another hallucination, but the mirror is still broken. She realizes that she stabbed herself and pulls a shard of glass out of her abdomen. Undeterred, she continues as The Black Swan for the final act. In a moment of grand delusion, Nina’s arms morph into giant black wings and her eyes develop a red hue as she piqué turns around the stage. She becomes the Black Swan. It’s beautiful and frightening as we’re on stage with her again, so close that the hallucinations start to feel real to us too.

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After dancing the final act, in which The Black Swan attempts to commit suicide by throwing herself off a cliff but instead falls onto a hidden mattress, the theater erupts in thunderous applause. The director, Lily, and the rest of the cast surround Nina to congratulate her while she’s still laying on the mattress. They then discover that she is bleeding profusely. The director orders some of the dancers to go get help and frantically asks Nina what happened to her. Nina replies to him that her performance was perfect. She loses consciousness as the screen slowly fades to a blinding white light.

This ending is so high on the list because Aronofsky has us so physically close to Nina that we begin to believe her hallucinations. This directing style is effective because we don’t pity Nina, we’re not allowed that distance. We’re right with Nina as she over works her body and mind. In her final moments we feel disturbed, upset, but also a sense of relief as her consciousness fades to white. This ending gives us constant action, excessive blood, and disturbing imagery. The feeling you’re left with will linger for a while. It may even force you to reflect on your own sanity.

#2- Mother! (2017)-Wild With Habanero

Mother! Is the story of Him (Javier Bardem) and Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) who are living together peacefully in a giant house in the country when a couple show up, bringing chaos and uncertainty with them. Him is a poet with writer’s block and Mother is his wife, dutifully renovating their home. This movie is really 3 different stories, each progressively more stressful and violent than the last.

The first story is Him welcoming strangers (Man and Woman, played by Ed Harris and Michelle Pfieffer respectively) into their home, even though they’re rude to Mother and make her uncomfortable. This first act ends with their children showing up. One murders the other. Then during the memorial the house is filled with uninvited guests who damage the house. The second act ends in pandemonium. Him has published a new poem and it becomes so popular that fans, zealots, and general followers arrive to their house and bring about absolute chaos. They’re stealing, beating, bombing, shooting, and at one point committing mass murder. Meanwhile Mother goes into labor and the act ends with her giving birth to a son in the boarded up study.

The final act consists of intense, visceral violence most audiences aren’t used to and which most of the controversy stems from. After giving birth Him begs Mother to let the people meet their son but she resists, clinging to their newborn. After having fallen asleep, Mother wakes up empty handed because Him has taken the baby to the people. She frantically fights her way through the crowd, who have now taken the baby. Amid passing the baby back and forth they eventually kill the baby, then eat its flesh and body. In her rage and sadness, Mother stabs members of the crowd and screams at them. The crowd in turn beats Mother while calling her a slut, whore, and bitch.

This part is brutal because the camera is focused only on Mother’s face while we witness in real time the bodiless fists beat her, transforming her beautiful face with swollen, discolored bruises and blood. Him finally steps in to stop the beatings, then begs her to forgive the people. She refuses, rushes to the basement, spills hot oil, and lights the house on fire, incinerating every person and everything.

Somehow, Mother and Him survive. Him, completely unscathed, carries Mother’s scorched body to the burnt down kitchen and lays her on the table. She asks him what he is, and he ambiguously implies that he is a deity. He asks for her love, and when she agrees he tears open her chest and removes her heart. As he crushes the heart with his hands a crystal is revealed. He places it on its pedestal and the house is transformed from a burnt-out shell back into a beautiful home, repeating the cycle from the beginning. In bed, a new Mother appears and wakes up wondering aloud where Him is.

Aronofsky achieves such a wild ending so well in part to the constant action, but by also only using three camera angles-close up, over the shoulder, and POV (Mother’s point of view). Telling the story only using these three angles exemplifies the sense of chaos and uncertainty. We know there’s more that we can’t see, but we aren’t allowed access to that.

Placing this movie as the 2nd wildest ending may be a controversial take. Most people I’ve spoken to about this movie would easily classify this as the most wild. However, most horror fans feel much differently about this ending. Not to pass harsh judgement on us, but if you’ve been a horror fan for a long time you’ll become a little….desensitized. Yes, the ending includes bombs, mass murder, killing a baby, and eating it’s flesh. But so much is happening all at once it borders on becoming too much. It feels more like a circus of horrors as opposed to a den of brutality that Aronofsky wants us to feel.

Like I said at the beginning of this article, this list comes with extreme bias. Mother! checks off everything in the criteria-blood & guts, constant action, disturbing imagery, and lingering feelings once the film ends. But the ending action is so over-the-top it’s clearly not realistic. As a viewer I’m able to disconnect from the film. The ending may stick with me for a couple of days, unlike our last movie on the list.

#1- Requiem for a Dream (2000)-Ghost Peppers Wild

Requiem for a Dream is based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr, who also wrote the screenplay with Aronofsky. The film depicts the lives of four people and how their lives deteriorate due to drug addiction. Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a widow living alone in Brighton Beach. She receives a call one day to appear on her favorite game show, prompting her down a rabbit hole of weight pills and doctor prescribed amphetamines to suppress her appetite. Her son Harry (Jared Leto) along with his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayaons) traffic heroin to achieve their dreams. Marion and Harry plan to open a clothing store while Tyrone wants to escape the ghetto and gain his mother’s approval.

Most of the movies on this list I’ve seen or would be willing to see more than once, except this entry. The ending of this movie has got me fucked up for life. When surveying my friends who are fans of horror movies this one ranks as the most fucked up non-horror movie. I believe that has to do with the realness of the subject and the chaotic directing/editing/scoring choices.

Leading up to the ending of this film the characters have already experienced horror like events. Example: Sara hallucinating that her fridge is trying to consume her. Or when Harry shoots up heroin in an already sepsis wound in his arm. These moments are a sample of what’s to come.

The last ten minutes depict a downward spiral by quickly cutting from Sara’s predicament, to Harry’s, Tyrone’s, and Marion’s. By the end of the film they’ve all been separated. After the cocktail of pills alter her sense of reality and cause her to act erratically, Sara is admitted to a mental institute. Her doctor determines that since she isn’t responding to their medications she needs electroshock therapy. While she physically signs the consent form we know that she isn’t really aware of what she’s signed. From there it cuts to Harry and Tyrone in a prison, scared and coming down from the high. Then it cuts back to Sara being moved to the operating room. Then it cuts to Marion arriving at her pimps place.

For the next 5 minutes we’re violently thrown from each situation through the director’s use of quick cuts. We’re barely given a moment to breathe. We also can’t relax due to the scary, sharp, and loud scoring that’s placed over these scenes. In this spiral we witness Sara suffer through the electroshock therapy. Afterwards her friends visit. They cry outside the facility after visitation due to her state. They’re also the ones who suggested the diet pills. Harry is taken to the hospital and has his arm amputated. Tyrone is racially harassed by the prison guard while performing back breaking labor. Marion performs in a humiliating sex show in exchange for more heroin, ( I don’t think any of us will forget “ass to ass”).

After enduring these situations, we see each character laying down curled up into a fetal position. Harry in his hospital bed, Tyrone in the prison bed, Marion on her couch at home, and Sara in her hospital bed. The most disturbing of these, to me, is Marion. She is the only one who smiles and seems to actually be pleased, showcasing how strong her addiction is. The last person we see in the fetal position is Sara. When she turns onto her side we see her final hallucination. She is the beautiful winner of the game show, with Harry—married and successful—arriving as a guest. Sara and Harry lovingly embrace.

This ending is the most wild because while it lacks blood and guts it more than makes up for it in disturbing imagery, constant action, and lingering feelings. At no point does Aronofsky allow us to romanticize or let us forget the ugliness of addiction. And this film ends with absolutely no hope or any feelings of happiness. Of all of his films this one is the most effective in making anyone who watches it feel-whether that feeling be hopelessness, frustration, fear, disgust, or dread. You will leave this film wanting to forget what you saw but never being able to.

In summary, Aronofsky is great at creating unforgettable experiences. He excels at character studies and tackles tough topics with raw honesty. According to IMDB Aronofsky has 2 films in pre-production and I for one will definitely be seeing them. What do you think? Would you change the rankings at all? Let me know in the comments!