Darren Aronofsky secured a reputation as a brash, intelligent filmmaker at the age of 29, with Pi, his 1998 feature directorial and screenwriting debut. A dizzying black and white odyssey, it tells the story of a brilliant mathematician (Sean Gullette) driven by his conviction that higher mathematics can be used to unlock the secrets of the natural world. Claiming such disparate influences as Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the visual and editing style of Japan's Shinya Tsukamoto (Tokyo Fist, Tetsuo), Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Rod Serling, Philip K. Dick, the chaos theory, and the Jewish Kabbalah, Pi garnered Aronofsky the 1998 Sundance Festival's Directing Award for Dramatic Competition.
A self-described "Brooklyn hip-hop kid," Aronofsky was born in the borough on February 12, 1969. His upbringing was marked by his Jewish heritage (although in an interview he once disparagingly referred to himself as a "classically hypocritical high holiday Jew"), painting graffiti art on subway cars, and filmgoing in Times Square. An alumnus of the New York public school system, he attended Harvard, where he studied live action and animation and met future collaborator and Pi star Sean Gullette. He received international acclaim for his senior thesis film, Supermarket Sweep, which also starred Gullette, and went on to earn an MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute.
After the critical success of Pi, which Aronofsky made with $60,000 borrowed from family and friends and what must have been half of New York City's abandoned computer equipment, the maverick embarked on his next major project. Entitled Requiem for a Dream, and developed at the Sundance Lab, the picture stars Jared Leto as Harry Goldfarb, a heroin addict intent on pawning his mother's beloved TV as part of a scheme that will allow himself, his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), and his best friend (Marlon Wayans) to score more smack. While the trio sink helplessly into a whirlpool of addiction, Harry's mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn) wins a spot on a game show, but nearly starves herself to death on diet pills and develops a serious dependency herself. Issued on October 6, 2000 Requiem drew critical raves from coast to coast from all but the most discerning of reviewers.
Meanwhile, Aronofsky worked on additional projects and pursued additional leads. In-between Pi and Requiem, he had co-authored (with David N. Twohy and Lucas Sussman) the screenplay to Below, a much more conventional screen vehicle. Aronofsky ducked out of the limelight for a few years, but made a return in 2006 with the much-delayed, much-hyped The Fountain, a mystical, reality-shifiting gloss on 2001.
In 2008 he enjoyed awards and box office success with the low-budget drama The Wrestler, reviving the career of Mickey Rourke in the process. Two years later he would direct Natalie Portman in her Oscar-winning turn as a psychologically disturbed ballet dancer in Black Swan. That same year he was the executive producer of a film that won two acting Oscars as well, The Fighter.