Requiem for a Dream (2000)

reviewed by
Robin Clifford

"Requiem for a Dream"

Darren Aronofsky made an indelible splash with his debut film, the unique science-fictionesque mathematical thriller called "Pi." That black and white film, written by the director, is a stylish, intellectual flick that left a deep impression on the viewer. Now, Aronofsky gives us his sophomore effort based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr. in a story of drug addiction that crosses generations in "Requiem for a Dream."

Ellen Burstyn is Sara Goldfarb, a lonely, aging Jewish matron who lives for the chance to appear on her favorite TV game show hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Chris McDonald). Recently released from a mental care facility, Sara also lives under the delusion that her junkie son Harry (Jared Leto) is a successful young man with a beautiful fiancee who he plans to marry and produce a grandchild for Sara.

Harry is on a fast track to disaster with his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Harry, the man with the plan, has the idea that they should pool their cash, make a big score of smack, cut it up and sell it for a profit, continuing the process until they have enough money to buy a corner grocery store and live happily ever after. One problem. They make the deal and agree to "let's do a little taste. It's business." One taste leads to another and the downward spiral continues.

Meanwhile, poor, deluded Sara learns that she has been selected as a possible candidate to appear on her beloved game show. Convinced that she is going to be on national TV and loved by millions, she further fools herself that Harry is doing fine and will soon marry. Gazing at a photo of her and Harry when he graduated high school, she vows to go on a crash diet until she can again wear the slinky dress from the picture. Normal dieting doesn't work, but a friend tells her that a local doctor can take care of the problem easily. Sara takes the advice and begins a legal amphetamine addiction that rivals her son's illegal heroin needs.

While "Requiem for a Dream" is a finely crafted film that benefits from good acting, especially Burstyn, a well-written script by Aronofsky and the novelist, and confident direction by the second-time helmer, it is, in a word, a bummer. I don't mean that it is a bad film, but the subject matter and the depiction of uncontrolled addition, especially of the aging Sara, are gut wrenching in display and detail of the despair. As things spin out of control for the four addicts there is a palpable feel of hopelessness permeating the movie.

Things start off pretty shaky from the beginning and deteriorate fast for all the principles, reminding me of the early Al Pacino film, "Panic in Needle Park." In the 30-year interim between the 1971 film and "Requiem for a Dream" there has not been any changes in the world of drug addiction. Now, as then, drugs, whether legal or not, can destroy lives and filmmakers like Aronofsky seem to revel in the depravity of this subject.

The helmer gives weight to each of his characters' stories. Sara is sadly sympathetic as we watch this lonely lady cling to the false hope of fame, while falling prey to legally sanctioned addition in the form of prescribed diet pills. Burstyn gives a solid, harrowing character study that is also an indictment against the incompetent medical industry that permits the legal creation of such hapless victims. The actress deserves acclaim come year's end.

The youthful trio led by Leto are pathetic in both their needs and their desires. Their united front to become heavy-hitting drug dealers soon falls apart as the need to shoot up overrides all else. Harry ends up losing his arm to dirty needles, Marion debases herself sexually for a fix and Tyrone ends up doing hard time for dealing. All in all, these folks are not poster children used to extol the use of heroin. The ending, with all of the victims curled into the fetal position, pretty much punctuates the powerful anti-drug theme of "Requiem for a Dream."

Aronofsky makes no bones about dealing with unconventional film fare in his first features, displaying a dark, educated intelligence in filmmaking and storytelling. Neither of his films is compelling from a mainstream sense and "Requiem" delves into the darker side of human existence and waves it before us like a flag, daring us to watch. His depiction of the addictions and the treatments that our society provides to its addicts is hard stuff to watch and should not be approached blithely.

"Requiem for a Dream" is not for the average movie-going bear and is geared for the hard core film nut who relish addiction flicks such as the aforementioned "Panic in Needle Park," "Lost Weekend" and, even, "Trainspotting" (though the latter is almost lighthearted in its treatment of substance abuse). The demographic target for "Requiem" is focused on a extremely tight viewing audience with a specific agenda. I doubt if it will get beyond the art house/film buff exposure. It's a harsh film but with excellent technical attributes and fine performances by Burstyn and all. Think about it but be prepared to be shocked. I give it a B.

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