There have been more than a hundred reviews of this film. This is part of the December 2007 dollar dealie—my protest is to write reviews of things I like but have already been heavily reviewed before; hey I’m not against gaining a little extra cash even if the manner is less than what I would prefer (perfect for this review). But I’ve also looked at this as an opportunity to write reviews I’ve always wanted to but that would get lost among the many other reviews. So this is my weigh in, for what it is worth (hehe—a buck I guess).
Until It was supplanted by Mirage (http://www.epinions.com/content_401706225284), Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream held the perhaps dubious, but not altogether bad title of “bleakest film I’ve ever seen.”
Simply put, Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a heroin addict. His mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), is in denial about this, despite having the television locked to the floor—she gives him the key when he begs enough (this way he can pawn it again for enough for a bump). Harry spends almost the entirety of his time with Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Their entire existence is driven around heroin: using it, how to get it, what to do when they can’t get it, and so on. In this respect it is no different than, say, Clean and Sober or The Days of Wine and Roses or any other movie about addicts you want to consider. Here is where things take a bit of a turn.
Sara is obsessed with a television guru, Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald) who seems to scream success, but not in any real way. He claims to have answers, but whatever answers he has really have no solid questions behind them. Sara receives an open notice that she is going to appear on the show. She sits on her Brooklyn stoop with her other friends and insists that she has to lose weight and perform other beauty enhancements for the time when she will be called to appear. Sara is told of a doctor who will prescribe medication that will take care of the weight issues. The pills do just that. What heroin does for the son, ephedrine based (or worse) diet meds do for the mother.
Hubert Selby Jr. (novelist and screenwriter) is an odd sort of character (there is an interview with him on the DVD). He doesn’t seem to like to write, but does it anyway because he believes himself to be good at it. For the most part he is. But what he writes about isn’t something that many would turn to for true enjoyment. You have to like the darker elements (what I like calling the worser angels) just to get into the story, let alone get to the end.
What makes Requiem watchable are two factors. The first is the way Mr. Aronofsky expresses through some, in my mind rather simple but extremely effective special effects (also covered on the DVD). The most impressive is the overwhelmingly fast way Sara cleans her apartment in a frenetic obsession. I can’t think of another film where the director decided to show the effects of medication/drugs so effectively. Usually you have to rely on the strength of the actor to pull that off. Here Mr. Aronofsky makes the second factor by being able to do marry how the scenes were shot and the strength of character that Ms. Burstyn brings to her role.
The way heroin influences the lives of the three principles is not covered so well. Trainspotting did a decent job of this; but let’s face it, heroin is an experience of euphoria that involves a state of near coma—that would not only be difficult to film, it would be supremely dull.
There is not a weak performance in this film. It isn’t a true ensemble piece—more on that in the plot spoiler section if you like—but it is a film where no one tries to steal a scene; and absolutely no one chews the boards. I’ve said, in other reviews, that it looked like the cast probably really liked making the movie. I cannot imagine saying this about Requiem. I have no doubt that all were challenged by her or his role, but enjoying it . . . that is going just a wee bit too far.
Before delving into the deeper analysis that will give too much away, I highly recommend this film, but either have a really good walk in a good park or have a second, very happy movie at your side.
Plot spoilers the plot is probably well enough known, but if this is your first read . . . I don’t want to ruin what is really a superb film.
All of the other movies I mentioned had somewhat happy endings. You can point to Leaving Las Vegas I suppose as a film where the ending is pretty sucky, but it is all individual pathos and not the near tragedy that Requiem approaches. Michael Keaton is clean; a sober Jack Lemmon leaves Lee Remick, still a drunk, behind; Renton steals a bit of cash that was arguably his in the first place and leaves the film clean.
Requiem has no such ending. One character in the other film may have been able to escape and see the stars, but Harry, Sara, Tyrone, and Marion are stuck, mired, unable to escape the inferno. These four main characters have one thing in common, but cannot share it. Addiction is something others around you may suffer due to the effects on the sober; however, the addict him/herself has the condition—it cannot be shared.
This becomes clear as heroin becomes difficult to get and Sara starts to feel the physical effects of what amounts to slow overdosing. Each have an addiction, but it cannot be shared. In the end, they have no friends because the only friend they can afford to have is what they shoot up or swallow.
I think this is the unique facet of the film and what makes it so bleak. In the other films, the characters were either in the same situation and had enough of the drugs to share, or they were trying to get clean with help (not always succeeding). Requiem shakes off that moral crap and says: “Addiction is an ugly thing, putting lipstick on this particular pig will not work; if you want a view of what happens when obsession becomes full addiction—this is where to look.”
There is no other way to put it. The end is horrific. Harry’s arm becomes terribly infected, turns gangrenous and has to be amputated. Sara has to be force-fed through a tube inserted up her nose. She looks like an only slightly heavier version of any of the women coming out of a death camp.
The worst, however, is something far harsher. Losing an arm can gain you pity and attention if you can get a fake limb because of the physical therapy. You have to accept this, but you can always lie about the reason. Sara’s case is closer to what I’m approaching, but she still has the support of her friends. They will never forget it, and may never let her forget it, but there is nothing at this time to indicate they will abandon her.
The worst is Marion. What she loses is something that cannot be replaced with real pity (not pity for something lost but pity for having something like leprosy) nor can any number of friends remove you from the muck that is now your life. She doesn’t become a prostitute—that would be too simple and too common for either Mr. Selby or Mr. Aronofsky. Of course she could become a prostitute, that’s what most of the women do that for anyway, right? I’m not totally sure of that, but it would perhaps make sense given the circumstances.
No, Marion becomes something like a performance slave. Men pay to watch her and other women perform any number of acts that their cash demands. For this, she is rewarded (if you can call it that) with heroin.
A health teacher of mine, decades ago, described the pattern of addiction like this: small amounts get you high, then it takes a little more, then a little more, then it requires a rather large amount to make you feel “normal.” What Marion does in order to get her heroin requires heroin in an odd tautology—except for maybe methadone, heroin is the only “medication” strong enough to erase any need for self-esteem.
And we see her at the worst possible time. If you see a formerly pretty woman ravaged by heroin or crystal meth, you see something awful, perhaps, but you only see the after. What did they look like the day they made the special deal with their little Satan? We see Marion at the very beginning of what is probably going to be a very short career. There would be so little impact if we saw her even just six months later—seeing the look in her eyes performing her first act would freeze saltwater.
What did you think of this review?
The film focuses on a quartet of doomed souls, but it's Ellen Burstyn--in a raw and bravely triumphant performance--who most desperately embodies the downward spiral of drug abuse. As lonely widow Sara Goldfarb, she invests all of her dreams in an absurd self-help TV game show, jolting her bloodstream with diet pills and coffee while her son Harry (Jared Leto) shoots heroin with his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and slumming girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly). They're careening toward madness at varying speeds, and Aronofsky tracks this gloomy process by endlessly repeating the imagery of their deadly routines. Tormented by her dietary regime, Sara even imagines a carnivorous refrigerator in one...