Requiem for a Dream

Director: Darren Aronofsky

2000

Requiem for a Dream follows four characters – Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), his mother (Ellen Burstyn), his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), and best friend (Marlon Wayans) – through the nightmare world of drug addiction. Each has their own way of handling their addiction, and they all end up in different situations, but these addictions are all caused by the same thing, the failure of the American dream” (891, Mikel J. Koven, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) Again this is a film that will ensure that I will never in my life touch drugs! There is a dark humor running throughout the film, yet it does little to lessen the tension. And it is tense – it’s one of the most difficult viewing experiences I’ve had!

“The real reason to see Requiem for a Dream, beyond its intelligent ideas, amazing use of narcotic subjectivity, meaningful stylistics, and magnificent performances – is the films remarkable balance of horror (the final sequences of drug madness are some of the scariest movie moments in recent  years) and great Jewish comedy.” (891) I totally agree with Koven especially about the horror element – those scenes towards the end of the film are just plain disturbing! I thought the hallucinations Renton has during detox in Trainspotting were bad yet the images of what can happen to someone through addiction in Requiem are even worse. The sequences towards the end are nothing short of brutal with the electro-shock therapy Sara goes through and the amputation of Harry’s gangrenous arm, the result of all the times he injects.

“Visually, Requiem owes much to both Danny Boyle‘s Trainspotting (1996) and the films of Spike Lee; but unlike Boyle, whose own drug movie included sequences of hallucinogenic subjectivity, Aronofsky resists grounding the audience in any kind of objective position.” (891) The film has a washed out and muted feel much the same way as Trainspotting does. There are some fabulous contrasts with dark shadows and blinding white patches. I especially like the hazy sepia tone that is employed in a number of scenes. There is a disjointed feel to the entire film – essential in visualizing the state of addiction. Aronofsky uses extreme close-ups of the process every time someone gets high, split screens so we get both perspectives, fish eye lenses to create a warped image, and sped up footage, all of which creates “a hyperkinetic visual sensibility” as Koven says. The disconnected visuals are tied together through the soundtrack which is repetitive and surprisingly familiar (I think it reminds me of the soundtrack for Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet, 1996)

The performances are magnificent across the board but the two that really stand out for me are Jared Leto as Harry and Ellen Burstyn as his mother, Sara. Burstyn’s performance highlights that anyone can become an addict and the dangers of prescription drugs and diet pills. I mean everyone knows about the dangers of Class A’s like Heroin, Speed and Cocaine yet they overlook the more innocuous drugs you can buy over the counter or get from your doctor.

Leto is magnetic in his performance partly due to his incredible eyes. You get drawn into him through those enormous baby blues creating an instant connection to his character. The hypocrisy of Harry once he discovers that his mum is on uppers – he warns her about the dangers of taking those pills and yet he routinely pumps poison into his veins or up his nose without a second thought. I love the Labyrinth (1986, Jim Henson) … which admittedly sounds like a bit of a random aside yet it all makes sense when you remember Jennifer Connelly played Sarah … so it makes her performance of the drug addled Marion all the more disturbing for me. Like Trainspotting there doesn’t seem to be any judgement on the lifestyles the 4 central characters have chosen. It’s left up to the audience to put their own view on the events as they unfold and the actions the characters take. However unlike Trainspotting there doesn’t appear to be any attempts to clean themselves up and lead a straight life.

I like the way all 4 characters stories end with them lying in the same position on their respective beds, Harry in hospital minus an arm, Marion on her couch with her prized hit, Sara in the psych unit listening to a phantom television show in her head and Tyrone going through withdrawal in prison. It creates another visual connection between them all. The film is pretty short at just over an hour and a half yet it makes one hell of an impression. Even long after it’s finished you keep thinking about it.

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