Recently I watched Christopher Nolan’s film Following. While I was watching it, I kept linking some strange similarities to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. For example, both were made in 1998, both were the first feature films for these directors, and both chose to work in a black and white, highly realist style . I never really made the connection between the two directors before, despite the fact that I absolutely love both of their volumes of work.
I also found both films to be extremely characteristic of their subsequent films. We’ll start with Following:
The film centers around a loner who beings to follow people at random. Not for perverse thrills, but merely to gain inspiration for his writing. He soon encounters Cobb, a thief who takes him under his wing. The young man quickly tail-spins into a world he was never meant to be a part of and one which is way over his head.
I feel this film is similar to the rest of Nolan’s work in that it envolves a character thrown into an unknown world, stuck in the middle of a puzzle he may only be a pawn to. This is true of Memento (2000) in which the main character is actually running around in a puzzle of his own making, and one that can never really be solved. The Prestige (2006), in which Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale are in a magicians death-match. Inception (2010) where the characters are literally in a world of dreams and layers of puzzles. Even the Batman movies share some of these attributes. It seems all of his characters are at one point or another asking “How did I get here?”
And then we get to Aronofsky:
(Ha, I had to, sorry.)
Pi follows Max through his quest to find a universal set of numbers which will unlock everything: nature, the stock market and even god. Max, who routinely suffers from crippling migranes, in his pursuit becomes increasingly paranoid and delusional.
Aronofsky’s code is easy, and I feel falls into all his films (this is not to say his films are easy, just an easier concept to explain than Nolan’s) and can be described with one word: Obsession. All of the characters in all of his films are obsessed with something. Sometimes this spins them into strange and unknown worlds, often ones that can put them in danger. With Pi it is the obsession with numbers and trying to make sense of the world around him. In Requiem for a Dream (2000) it is the obsession with drugs, and all the characters trying to live life through the hardships. The Fountain (2006) – My all time favorite film ever, I might add – Hugh Jackman’s character is consumed with grief over the loss of his wife, and obsessed with both love and death. Black Swan (2008) concerns the obsession with one’s art and is a character study of just how far one’s devotion to their art can take them.
Both films are immensely interesting not only as separate autonomous films but also as the first chapter in each directors’ volume of work. While some film-makers sizzle out after their first film, I feel that these two get stronger with every film they make.