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Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky's controversial and critically acclaimed 2000 film adaptation of Hubert Selby, Jr.'s novel.

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Many many have come before, this is my hay-penny opinion

  • Dec 17, 2007
Pros: Performances, cinematic style, and story line despite the mood

Cons: None for me, but the very bleak nature of it will turn many off

The Bottom Line: There are films with unpleasant things to say but that need saying. Requiem should be near the top of this imaginary list.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.

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.


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More Requiem for a Dream reviews
review by . January 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
***1/2 out of ****     Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" asks the question: what is a drug? After watching this film, I just don't know how to provide a proper answer. Such an intense experience leaves you feeling drained; and I've been finding that a lot lately with Aronofsky's films in particular. Don't worry; it's a good kind of drained that I'm feeling; the kind you get from staring too much at too many things. "Requiem" has so much going on that it's almost overwhelming, …
Quick Tip by . May 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I can see what all the fuss is about, and why this movie still gets talked about more than a decade after its release.  Aronofsky pulls out all the stops, and this is one of the most relentlessly directed movies I've seen in a long time.   It's effective, but in a weird, kind of converse way.   Addiction looks terrible, yes, but getting a haircut would look pretty hellish if Aronofsky filmed and cut it the way he did the final twenty minutes of this film.  It made me …
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
Schools should drop the D.A.R.E. program and just show this film to fifth-graders. They'd never do drugs.
Quick Tip by . July 26, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
One of the most terrifying and provacative stories I have seen about the destructive power of addiction, and the many forms that that can take when we give ourselves over to pleasure and abandon purpose.
Quick Tip by . June 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
An absolute masterpiece of the modern cinema, Darren Aronofsky's dark meditation on themes of addiction, desperation, and self-destruction is one of the most important films of the new millennium. A brilliantly directed and acted film with an incredible score by Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet.
Quick Tip by . July 06, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Shows how addictions can appear in many different ways, and how it can affect your life. Such an amazing and powerful film.
Quick Tip by . July 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Wow. Powerful. Disturbing. And proved Marlon Wayan can do more than just crappy movies w/ his brothers.
Quick Tip by . January 21, 2010
A stark film that looks deep into the human psyche and really shows the downward spiral of addiction with an unflinching eye. Terrific film!
review by . November 13, 2008
Requiem For A Dream
Requiem is one of those little known movies, quietly powerful, that will leave you reeling with emotion in its wake. Even unfeeling husks like myself will not escape unscathed.     This is a beautifully mastered film about drug addiction, but not in standard, drugs-are-bad format. Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a junkie who dreams of being a better person but still regularly hawks his mother's battered TV set for fix money. He and his friend Tyrone Love (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend …
review by . June 29, 2007
Remember the anti-drug commercial where a girl points to an egg, says, "this is your brain," and then screams, "this is your brain on drugs!" as she smashes the egg with a skillet and proceeds to demolish the entire kitchen, screaming, "and this is what drugs do to your family, this is what they do to your future..." and so on? We'll this story does give you that indication but it's so much more.    After watching this I thought it was the most harrowing, unsettling, and yet …
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Employing shock techniques and sound design in a relentless sensory assault,Requiem for a Dreamis about nothing less than the systematic destruction of hope. Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., and adapted by Selby and director Darren Aronofsky, this is undoubtedly one of the most effective films ever made about the experience of drug addiction (both euphoric and nightmarish), and few would deny that Aronofsky, in following his breakthrough filmPi, has pushed the medium to a disturbing extreme, thrusting conventional narrative into a panic zone of traumatized psyches and bodies pushed to the furthest boundaries of chemical tolerance. It's too easy to call this a cautionary tale; it's a guided tour through hell, with Aronofsky as our bold and ruthless host.

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...

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Director: Darren Aronofsky
Genre: Drama
Release Date: October 6, 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 1hr 42min
Studio: Artisan Entertainment
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