(from left to right) Sean Gullette in Pi, Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, Hugh Jackman in The Fountain, and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

I had been writing a rambling introduction to this piece, but to make a long anecdote short, I decided to re-watch the works of writer-director Darren Aronofsky prior to seeing his new film, The Wrestler. Out of more happenstance than planning, I began his first film exactly a day to the minute before this one would end, and now I offer up my thoughts on his career to date. (Who knows what more could come following this: 24 Hours of Fincher? 36 Hours of Boyle? My Dinner with Andre Benjamin's Idlewild?)

Pi (1998) - I had seen Aronofsky's writing and directorial debut once upon a time, but I'd be damned if I could remember much of it at all. So, with fresh-ish eyes, I gave another gander to this tale of a paranoid math wiz (Sean Gullette) looking for patterns in the stock market and the Torah that might lead to one number which would reveal What It All Means. It's gritty and grainy and convincing in its portrayal of obsession to the point of self-destruction (a recurring theme in Aronofsky's films), and while I could use all those same details to say that I found 2005's Keane to be captivating viewing, I was only marginally interested here -- a fault I'll admittedly place on myself more so than the film.

[DA staples: score by Clint Mansell; supporting turns by Mark Margolis and Ajay Naidu]

Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Ellen Burstyn (in an Oscar-nominated performance), Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans all find themselves succumbing to the depths of drug addiction in Aronofsky's harrowing adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's novel, one so harrowing that I only now felt comfortable with giving it another look after seeing it in my formative years (I'll spare you the exact math). If ever there was a film that ought to be shown in public schools across the country to deter drug use, I can't imagine a more powerful replacement for a "Reefer Madness" filmstrip than this.

[DA staples: score by Clint Mansell; editing by Jay Rabinowitz; cinematography by Matthew Libatique; supporting turns by Sean Gullette, Mark Margolis (as a "Mr. Rabinowitz"), and Ajay Naidu]

Below (2002) - As the film that Aronofsky has written without directing (he's co-credited here alongside two other writers), none of his usual themes pop up in this effective, underappreciated little thriller in which Olivia Williams, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Davis, and others cope with supernatural shenanigans on their WWII submarine. It may lack just one more layer of polish -- the Weinsteins gave this their traditional heave-ho in terms of a theatrical release: 353 theaters and a total gross of $605,562 -- but the tension is established here early and often, and the way with which Aronofsky and/or his fellow scribes manage to eliminate pretty much all of the red-shirts onboard in one fell swoop is chillingly simple.

[DA staples: none]

The Fountain (2006) - After stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett backed out (creative differences, who knows), Aronofsky had to slash the budget in half and substitute Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz instead in this epic regarding a romance that seemingly spans past, present and future (not entirely unlike next month's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring... Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett). Critical response upon its release was thoroughly divided, but I for one thought it to be endlessly beautiful to savor, and not just for its stunning visuals and Clint Mansell's ethereal score. (Besides: it's not really all that complicated. Trippy, yes, but not impossible.)

[DA staples: score by Clint Mansell; editing by Jay Rabinowitz; cinematography by Matthew Libatique; supporting turn by Mark Margolis]

And a two-hour drive to Sarasota's Cine-World Film Festival later...

The Wrestler (2008) - I'll only say so much, since I'm writing my own review elsewhere and because James Rocchi nailed a lot of it in his own Cinematical review. It may not look like your usual Aronofsky film (whatever that would be), but it certainly falls in line thematically; it may not look like much beyond your typical comeback-redemption story, but it is and isn't in all the best ways; and Mickey Rourke deserves every last accolade that is surely coming to him this awards season.

[DA staples: score by Clint Mansell; supporting turns by Mark Margolis and Ajay Naidu]