Darren Aronofsky movies bring us to the most complex regions of the human psyche.

As the Black Swan director says, “Because we are filmmakers, we can show where a person’s mind goes.”

Aronofsky is able to use the tools of cinema to visualize the abstract emotions of everyday experience. But how exactly does he achieve this?

In this post, we’re going to examine the ways director Darren Aronofsky’s shot list enhances some of the strangest worlds imaginable.

Alright, let’s get started!

The God’s eye view in Darren Aronofsky films

The God’s eye view is one of the most-recognizable camera shots in cinema. As the title suggests, the shot consists of an overhead angle achieved by placing the camera directly above the character.

When employed, this particular shot bestows a great degree of power upon the audience. From here viewers recognize and interpret events much differently than the characters will.

A deity is supposed to be all-powerful and knowing. With the benefit of omniscience, an audience can experience the emotions of joy and frustration more intensely. This approach is a familiar motif in Darren Aronofsky films.

Take the moment in Noah when Methuselah confronts the flood waters.  

Darren Aronofsky Movies - Noah

Darren Aronofsky movies use overhead shots to heighten emotion. Noah

Noah is the story of God cleansing away the evils of the world. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that Aronofsky would make his audience the stand-in for this creator.

Yes, the camera perspective provides us a more well-rounded view of the action on screen. But Aronofsky doesn’t just use the tool to progress the story. He employs it as a commentary on the entire storytelling process.

Whether you’re a fan or not, you have to admit that Darren Aronofsky movies are unique and uncompromising. And like the director, his characters also embody this extreme determination. Despite dire consequences, his characters will place themselves in precarious situations to achieve some kind of pleasure or transcendence.

Like the God of Genesis, Aronofsky creates characters that succeed, and others that fail. Like Methuselah, some will accept destruction knowing that it leads to salvation. On the other hand... 

Darren Aronofsky Movies - Requiem for a Dream 1

Characters in Darren Aronofsky films must choose between salvation and destruction. Requiem For A Dream

the God's eye view and destruction

For a character like Marion Silver in Requiem For A Dream, salvation becomes confused with destruction.

The highs of drugs and money give the illusion of accomplishment. 

Aronofsky shows us the misguided notions of his character. In an interesting twists, he also implies that misguidance is inevitable in his own art.

Gut-instinct is a powerful component for creatives. It’s unavoidable, and Aronofsky knows that following his gut is sometimes going to lead to success, and other times to failure.

By using this camera shot, he’s creating a powerful connection between audience and character. But also, he’s making a greater commentary about artists, and the uncertainty of whether their creations will survive.

Darren Aronofsky movies use lots of tracking

There’s much debate about whether long, elaborate tracking shots are beneficial to a project, or merely self-indulgent.

Filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson say it enables an audience to be more in-tune with characters. That the length of the shots also heighten the suspense of a scene.

Aronofsky also subscribes to this philosophy. Yet he approaches the mechanics of it in a unique way. Traditionally, tracking shots run alongside a character, mimicking their movement.

However, in Darren Aronofsky movies, the tracking is more violent. Aronofsky is not afraid to put his characters through the ringer.

Because of this, the camera movement mirrors the atmosphere of chaos and disorder. Rather than smoothly following the protagonist, we get the sensation of being dragged against our will.

Consider the frantic moments of Pi when Max Cohen moves about the New York subway system.  
Darren Aronofsky Movies - Pi

Tracking shots take on a violent quality in Darren Aronofsky films. Pi

Max is a mathematician. The more he dives into the mysteries of patterns, the more paranoid he becomes.

As he encounters one bizarre obstacle after another, we want to turn away. We don’t want to witness a horrific outcome.

But Aronofsky and the characters will not allow us that escape. We are tethered to these characters, and must endure the same uncertainty and misery as they will.

To further drive home this point, Aronofsky will track a character from behind rather than in front. As in the Pi film, the audience paradoxically becomes both the emotional weight holding a character back, and the force trying to push them forward.

Darren Aronofsky Movies - The Wrestler

In Darren Aronofsky movies, audiences are dragged through the chaos. The Wrestler

It’s strategies like this that further elevate Darren Aronofsky films. Here, he shows that the tug of uncertainty, and the force of motivation often occur simultaneously. 

Darren Aronofsky puts his characters center stage

In the rules of composition and framing, centering a character highlights their importance. Sure, Darren Aronofsky abides by this practice as well.

But for the Noah director, character placement is also about highlighting personal desire.  In fact, let’s take a look at the moment in Noah when Methuselah is battling the forces of evil.  

Darren Aronofsky Movies - Noah 2

Center framing illustrates character desire in Darren Aronofsky movies. Noah

Yes, Methuselah is the focus of the scene, and it makes sense for his center placement. But the character is not alone in the frame. In fact, these are moments of revelation.

Here, characters are within reach of objects and ideas that they have long fought for. For Methuselah, it is the assurance of God’s power over the forces of darkness. For Tomas in The Fountain, it is the possibility of spending eternity with the one he loves.

Darren Aronofsky Movies - The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky films places objects of desire in the center. The Fountain

In both these cases, characters are in a constant struggle between life and death. They learn that survival is a complicated task. And more often than not, the elements of salvation and destruction are often intertwined. 

Ultimately, this kind of center framing helps to establish character desires. But also, whether these characters should continue to pursue them.

Extreme close ups in Darren Aronofsky movies

Traditionally, extreme close ups are used to emphasize supreme moments of emotion. Images such as Marion Crane’s scream in Psycho and the eyeball slicing of Un Chien Andalou, make the element of fear far more tangible and visceral. We’ve also seen this tool used by modern filmmakers such as Alejandro González Iñárritu

This tactic has become synonymous with Darren Aronofsky films. But unlike his contemporaries, Aronofsky uses this shot to examine the building blocks of matter.

A close-up generally eliminates the distraction of environment so that a viewer can focus on the character.

Aronofsky takes it one step further. He phases out the physicality of the protagonist, and dives into the molecules making up their reality.

A prime example is the now iconic drug-taking scenes from Requiem For A Dream
Darren Aronofsky Movies - Requiem for a Dream 2

Darren Aronofsky movies examine the building blocks of reality. Requiem For A Dream

Frequently in cinema, a character will inject a substance and stumble about in their drug-induced stupor. This is not enough for Aronofsky.

The Requiem For A Dream director wants to show the connection between the mind and how realities are created.

Everything comes from the human brain. The way we see colors, the way we love and the way we navigate the world. If something disrupts this nervous system, then reality as we know it changes.

There is a complex, yet fragile component to this existence. Here, when the mind changes, then all of a character’s reality changes.

Darren Aronofsky Movies - Requiem for a Dream 3

Darren Aronofsky films connect a person’s reality to their mental state. Requiem For A Dream

For director Darren Aronofsky, it’s not just about showing a character getting emotional. The filmmaker wants to understand the physical components behind this change.

With the extreme close-up, he can examine the relationship between the physical and mental. Between the unknown molecular galaxies giving us life

Wrapping up Darren Aronofsky’s shot list

As we’ve seen, Darren Aronofsky films explore the darkest, and most unknown corners of human reality.

The Black Swan director said, “I think it’s important as a filmmaker, and as any person working in the arts, that you’ve got to try new stuff and take chances.”

Aronofsky is aware that some of his creations will triumph, while others will fail. But his willingness to take chances will move the possibilities of the medium forward.

Want to create a shot list like the Requiem For A Dream director? Sign up for StudioBinder and start building your project for free.

And if you want to learn more, check out our Mastering Shot Lists video series!

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