Requiem for a Dream Review


Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky’s sophomore effort and his best film to date, is an unshakable cry in the dark, a stern and impassioned warning about the dangers of addiction and the depths one will go to for another fix. It’s an extreme film, but it’s also as powerful as any you will ever see. From a filmmaking standpoint, it’s impeccable, and the four principal actors give brave and extremely moving performances. But the star is Aronofsky, who shows he has as much courage as any other director working today, sacrificing any sense of happiness for a more powerful and resonant message. You won’t be able to move after it ends.

The film follows four seemingly ordinary people as they fall deeper and deeper into the world of drugs. Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) doesn’t have much, but he does have his dreams. He wants to open a shop one day. He wants to marry his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly). And he wants to take care of his mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn). Rather than work an honest job until he can fulfill his dreams, he sells drugs with his best friend, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). But they use more than they sell. Soon, they are short on money and badly in need of a fix, so they decide to do whatever is necessary to get one.

Sara is also an addict, but not to drugs (at least at first). She’s addicted to television, and when she gets a call saying she’s been selected to go on one of her favorite shows, she decides she must lose some weight in order to fit into the beautiful red dress she wore to Harry’s graduation. She goes to a doctor who puts her on some pills. Sara doesn’t know what’s in them, but she’s losing weight and has more energy than ever. It takes a drug addict like her son to point out she’s on speed, but she’s too happy and excited to do anything about it. And so begins her descent into madness.

There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe just how well-made this film is. Absolutely everything is done to perfection. The score, by Clint Mansell, is perhaps the finest, most moving, most inventive of any film in history. It’s haunting and appropriately conveys the tragedy of these four characters’ lives. The editing is almost sickening, both in how fast the cuts are (especially in the final ten or so minutes) and in the content of the shots. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t a pleasant film. It’s meant to probe into the depths of addiction, and it uses every aspect of the production to do so.

The acting is also incredibly courageous. The best of the bunch is Ellen Burstyn. Unsurprisingly, the Academy did not take to this extraordinary film. Anyone who follows the Oscars would agree that Requiem for a Dream isn’t an Academy film by a long shot. But, thankfully, they could not look past Burstyn’s heartbreaking turn as Sara Goldfarb. She’s a pitiable woman. At the beginning of the film, she makes excuses for her son’s behavior (he pawns her television in order to get some money for a fix). Later, he lies to her and tells her he is a successful businessman. This draws us into her story more than any of the others. We want good things to happen to this woman, and when she continues to spiral out of control, it’s upsetting. In her story, though, the film finds its greatest source of emotional power.

The rest of the actors aren’t afraid to go all out for their respective roles. Jennifer Connelly does things most A-list actresses wouldn’t dare do on screen. Jared Leto sports a disgusting, decaying arm. And Marlon Wayans completely sheds his comedic persona to play Tyrone. All are perfect for their roles. Aronofsky should be applauded for casting outside the box and hitting four home runs.

The final ten minutes are absolutely brutal, some of the most difficult-to-watch footage committed to celluloid. These scenes show the characters at their absolute lowest points. As I stated earlier, the editing and sound in these scenes are especially good. The fast cuts and chaotic music underscore the sickening content to make for a truly difficult, but rewarding experience.

Of all the films I’ve seen, none has stuck with me as long as Requiem for a Dream. I remember where and when I first watched it, and I remember the horrible feeling I had in my stomach after it was over. But I also remember how in awe I was of what I was watching, how Aronofsky refused to neuter his product, and how brave the actors were to go to such extremes. Whether you are an addict, a former addict, a family member or friend of an addict, or someone who has no experience with addiction, this film will hit you—hard.

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