Having narrowly survived his harrowing brush with mainstream Hollywood filmmaking, Darren Aronofsky is back in bonkers tortured-artist mode with this allegorical freak-out about poetry, celebrity, and the act of creation. More impressive than the density of metaphors running through this plainly Biblical yarn is the ferocity of Aronofsky’s execution. No matter what happens, he keeps the camera close to Jennifer Lawrence; for the bulk of the film, any shot she doesn’t actually appear in is a point-of-view shot. So we experience events as she does — her property trespassed upon, her authority disrespected, she remaining in good-wife mode longer than is healthy. And Aronofsky directs the hell out of the film’s third act, which unfolds with a disorienting kind of dream logic that belies the fundamental absurdity of events on screen. I don’t find the central metaphor(s) so compelling in itself, but I think the film works on an emotional level as long as it’s fundamentally Lawrence’s story. She is the dreamer, and this borderline surrealist frenzy is her nightmare, and it’s spooky and scary and richly suggestive and I’m completely on board. But then the film establishes its continuity with the Aronofsky Cinematic Universe, which is kind of a bummer. Once the creator presents his revelation — God’s love for humankind, eternal recurrence, etc. — it becomes clear it’s not really her story. It’s Aronofsky’s story. It’s always been Aronofsky’s story. And I just can’t relate.

The Ossuary and Other Tales: Jan Svankmajer


If you have a real interest in animation, sooner or later you need to make the acquaintance of the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, one of the last true surrealists working in the cinema. There are several DVDs collecting his short films, but this newest one, from a Brooklyn-based outfit called Kim Stim, may be the most rewarding. The title film is a 10-minute black-and-white documentary shot in Czechoslovakia’s forbidding Sedlec Monastery Ossuary, which contains the skeletal remains of some 40,000 people. Amazingly, the mountains of bones were sorted and rearranged as sculpture by a live-in artist at the end of the 19th Century. “The Ossuary” is not animated, but Svankmajer’s approach to the material includes graceful camera moves, surprising jump cuts, and an occasional rapid-fire montage that brings his subject to visual life. His great, wry humor is evident in another short, “Historia Naturae (Suita),” which illustrates the food chain in a series of vignettes, set to jazzy music, that involve anatomy and mastication. But the funniest, and most recognizably capital-S surreal short here has to be the clay-animated masterpiece “Darkness Light Darkness,” a comedy about the human body — the hand with eyeballs and the butterfly made of ears are only the beginning.

Originally published in the White Plains Times, October 13, 2006