Requiem for a Dream
(United States, 2000)
I like dark movies – films that plumb the depths of human ruin and depravity. Let me explain that statement before it gets me into trouble. I find that grim, gritty films tend to reach me on a deeper, more visceral level than any other kind of movie. Certainly, one of the reasons why Requiem for a Dream ended 2000 as my #1 picture is because its views of a certain segment of humanity are bleak and uncompromising. It doesn't pull punches, and, when I departed the theater after seeing it for the first time (at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival), I felt somewhat dazed. I ended up blowing off a late-night screening and instead returning to my hotel room to think about what I had just seen. That's a big concession for the whirlwind, see-all-you-can atmosphere of a film festival. Requiem for a Dream can be viewed as an anti-drug movie, but this is in no way propaganda. It's cold-blooded, clear-eyed, and realistic. If you have known or loved anyone whose life has been destroyed by drugs or alcohol, you'll understand what I mean. Before attending the festival, I heard this was a movie that I could not miss. I took that advice and was rewarded. I still believe Requiem was the best film of 2000. I also believe it is one of the most powerful movies of all-time.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The movie starts slowly, introducing each of the characters and establishing their relationships. Visually, director Darren Aronofsky tries for something a little different here, employing a split-screen approach that neither enhances nor detracts from the narrative. (It isn't around long enough to become distracting.) The central figure is Harry (Jared Leto), a young man who lives hand-to-mouth because nearly every cent he saves, earns, or steals goes towards buying something he can inject into his veins. His best friend and business partner is Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, playing it straight and doing so effectively), who shares many of Harry's aspirations. His girlfriend is Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who, like Harry and Tyrone, is an addict. The fourth significant player is Harry's widowed mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), who is as addicted to television as Harry is to drugs. When she learns that a marketing company may be able to offer her a spot in the studio audience of a live TV broadcast, she decides to lose weight. Following a visit to the doctor's, she is on her way to dropping 30 pounds and becoming hooked on the uppers and downers that comprise her diet. For these characters, drugs gradually take the place of everything else - food, sex, aspirations, and even the day-to-day impulse to live. They become the sole sources of pain and pleasure. They form the core of relationships.
To call this movie a cautionary tale would be to apply a label that is too tame -- Requiem for a Dream presents the darkest take imaginable on a story of hopes and dreams shattered by drug addiction. There's no preaching or sermonizing here, just an almost-clinical depiction of lives laid to waste. Requiem for a Dream certainly isn't the first recent motion picture to offer an unpleasant picture of what happens when an individual becomes hooked on drugs, but its quadruple character study is unsparing. This is in large part because of the brilliant final fifteen minutes, which is a tour de force of direction and editing. Employing hundreds of cuts, director Darren Aronofsky careens back and forth between his four main players, showing their increasingly dire circumstances and allowing those to escalate to a brutal climax. This is easily the most startling and memorable extended sequence in any film this year, and, for raw power, it exceeds any scene I can recall from other films about addiction. Don't be fooled by the passively poetic title; there's nothing serene or restful about this motion picture. Requiem for a Dream gets under your skin and stays there.
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