Movies about drug addiction usually follow the same arc: the initial hit, addiction, optimism, more addition, failed attempt at quitting, and then finally a decent into horror. Darren Aronofsky’s second film, “Requiem For A Dream”, follows those familiar curves, but does it with an intensity rarely seen in films, let alone films of this nature.
The movie opens with Harry (Jared Leto), once again stealing his mother?s television so he can pawn it for drugs. With Harry and his friend, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), that initial hit, which is so common in these kinds of films, was long ago. And, although they are not yet “strung out” they are well on their way, their habit growing stronger and stronger with each hit.
Meanwhile, Harry’s mother (played by Ellen Burstyn), buys back her television from the pawn shop and settles in for a night of her own addictions, infomercials and sugar. Alone, she finds solace in a particular infomercial called “Juice By You”, where everyone is a winner and the host is more than happy to explain why.
Marion (Jennifer Connelly) is introduced a little later and we quickly learn that she is Harry’s girlfriend, a former daddy’s girl who has been trying to make it on her own, but just doesn’t seem to believe in herself. It is only when seen through Harry’s eyes that she feels she has any worth or beauty. Like Harry, she has been experimenting with drugs, and her appetite continues to grow before us.
The film begins slowly enough, but the pace quickens rapidly, and soon the story is racing before our eyes. Harry and Tyrone get into dealing in order to make money to support their habits, as well as to support Marion’s dream of opening a fashion store. It doesn’t take long for the money and hopes to build, and whether we mean to or not, we begin to feel that maybe things will be all right for the characters. Unfortunately, things rarely are for people like these, and the spiral downward begins.
Harry’s mother, Sara, gets a phone call explaining that she’s been selected to be on a television show. Enamored with a red dress she wore to her son’s graduation, she finds herself dieting so that she can fit in it again when her chance to be on television comes. When dieting seems to be too difficult, she turns to pills, and with barely a word of caution from her doctor, she is quickly tangled in the same path of addiction her son is caught in. Her dependence on television and chocolate quickly turns to an addition to diet pills.
Things disintegrate quickly and old clich�s about drug addicts are visited and revisited, but in ways so striking, they somehow seem fresh.
Darren Aronofsky uses a hyper kinetic montage to show the effects and processes of his characters’ addictions. In the span of only five to ten seconds, we see the heroin being cut, boiled, and injected. But, rather than just see the mechanics of it, we see the blood stream speed up, the eyes dilate, and hear the breath draw in with expectation and surprise. The mother’s pill addiction is shown with the same kind of hurried editing, with bottle caps being ripped open with an almost childlike glee, and pills dropping into open hands in perfect doses with each shake of the bottle. When she drinks down a sip of water with the pills, she lets out the same kind of breath that her son and his friends draw in, filled with satisfaction and hope.
Some scenes are shown in split-screen, cutting people into their own worlds, even while they are embracing each other. Although a little distracting at first, you quickly come to accept the splits, basically seeing the same story through different eyes.
It is this kind of energy that seems to keep the clich�s fresh and rescue “Requiem For A Dream” from being just a new millennium version of “Reefer Madness”. Addiction really doesn’t offer much in terms of story, so its the details that can make or break a film, and in this case, make this film more memorable and exhilarating than any of its peers.
What surprised me most was the acting. The performances of all of the leads were so strong that it became nearly impossible to see the actors beneath them. As a matter of fact, Jared Leto, who I’ve seen in several movies, completely disappears in his role, so much so that I didn’t even know it was him until the final credits. Jennifer Connelly is chilling in her portrayal of Marion, and you can almost see the thoughts running through her mind in her quiet scenes, as she struggles alone. Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in this film and its easy to see why. Her acting ability is uncanny in how realistic and familiar she makes Sara, and there are pieces of her performance that will remind you of the people in your life. And finally, Marlon Wayans is surprisingly good as Harry’s best friend. I had no idea that Wayans had this kind of talent and I am very much looking forward to seeing him again in a serious role.
If I can fault “Requiem For A Dream” for anything it’s the brutality of its ending. Some would argue that the ending fits the film, and I can agree with that to a certain extent, however some of the scenes are almost cartoonish in how shocking they are meant to be. Perhaps it is intentional, but I was disappointed when an otherwise realistic film allowed itself to sink into depths that were simply shocking rather than real, and I feel that the last few steps of “Requiem For A Dream” are more stumbles than confident strides. It’s unfortunate, because otherwise, this film was about as close to perfect as I have ever seen.
Fans of “Requiem For A Dream” should also try to see the movie Pi, Darren Aronofsky’s first film. It has a much tighter story and seems to slip into a surreal mindset with much more graceful moves, but for sheer exhilaration, it falls slightly behind Requiem. If we are taught anything by these two films, its that Darren Aronofsky is an amazing talent, and a director to watch.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Dir. Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, Jebbifer Connelly, Ellen Burstyn