Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Director:  Darren Aronofsky
Cast:  Ellen BurstynJared Leto, Jennifer Connelly
Plot:  The drug-induced utopias of four Coney Island individuals are shattered when their addictions become stronger.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actress
Runtime:  102min
Rating:  R21 for intense depiction of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence.

This is hands down director Darren Aronofsky’s best film to date.  I cannot express how powerful and potent Requiem for a Dream is.  It is no doubt a masterpiece, an absolute standout in a year of standouts including Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Lee Ang’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love, Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, and Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark.

With Requiem, only Aronofsky’s second feature, the director has cemented his place as one of the great modern American filmmakers, a tremendous talent who would continue to enthrall audiences with the unique but underrated The Fountain (2006), and the brilliant dramatic and psychological character studies in The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010) respectively.

Contrary to popular belief, Requiem is not entirely a film about drug-taking and its dire effects, though it works perfectly as an anti-drug feature.  It is actually a film about the perils of addiction, and it so happens that drug-taking is one of many forms of addiction portrayed in the film, albeit one that is depicted most forcefully and tragically.

Starring Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb, who is addicted to a television show 'We Got a Winner!', and who gets a telephone call one day informing her that she has won a chance to be featured on that very same show, Requiem depicts to extraordinary extent how she uncontrollably takes diet pills to shed the kilos that would allow her to fit beautifully in her favorite red dress.

Sara has a son, Harry (Jared Leto), who is a drug trader and a drug addict.  Harry has a girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who sells her body to get cash to buy drugs, and a good friend, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), who is also a drug abuser.  Centering on the lives of these four characters, Aronofsky intercuts their interactions with each other as they fall deeper into the psychological and physical hellhole caused by the hallucinatory and painful effects of drug abuse.

I am shocked that Requiem was not rewarded with any Oscar nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Sound Editing.  By employing nearly every editing trick in the arsenal, Aronofsky has fashioned a MTV-styled film, accompanied by a throbbing original score by Clint Mansell.  The director effectively uses quick cuts, split-screens, fast-forwards in a long take and other editing techniques to bring out the nauseating quality of the entire film.

In particular, there is a long take scene in which the camera is attached to Connelly’s body as it captures her pitiful face while she walks along a corridor, into a lift, and out after performing a sexual service.  It generates an uncomfortable feeling that is a mix of voyeurism (of Connelly’s sexualized body) and sympathy (of Connelly’s character not being able to escape the 'eye' of her voyeurs).

Requiem is then a very challenging film to watch, not only because of its uncompromising portrayal of its theme of addiction, but also the raw, in-your-face techno-visual style – its startling primacy creating a flurry of kinetic images that continue to affect us long after the film has ended.  Much of the film’s hypnotic power is also consolidated in Sara; she becomes the emotional core of the film by performance, extending it out to Harry, who in turn, extends it out to Marion and Tyrone.

Aronofsky also sets the spatial elements out in what I would call the hallucinatory prison, in this case, of Sara’s apartment, in such a manner that it invites a false sense of normalcy but with an undercurrent of suspense and dread that grows stronger as her character breaks down mentally in spectacular fashion in the final quarter of the film. This 'hallucinatory prison' notion is repeated in similar ways in The Wrestler (in Randy’s trailer) and Black Swan (in Nina’s apartment) and has become Aronofsky’s signature directorial touch.

In a nutshell, Requiem for a Dream is indisputably a modern American masterpiece, a provocative cinematic response to the perils of popular culture (i.e. the influence of media) and the drug sub-cultures, and an indirect commentary on the dangerous lengths people would go to have a shot at the American Dream, inviting audiences to thoroughly question and debate the destructive cycle that is addiction.  It is also a film that features arguably the scariest refrigerator anyone would probably ever see.


Click here to go back to Central Station.




daniel said…
Have you seen Trier's Dancer in the Dark? Funny how you mention that it was one of the year's highlights... It actually sucked... big time.
Eternality said…
No, I haven't seen it. But I included it in because I need an European representative. And it seemed from most authoritative sites on film and annual lists, and major awards won, DANCER IN THE DARK seemed like a decent objective choice.

I hope to catch it one day to see how good (or bad) it is.

Popular Posts