Darren Aronofsky is neither a prominent nor a prolific director, but after the masterpiece that is Requiem For A Dream, he needs nothing more to commemorate him. Hubert Selby’s 1968 novel makes for a gripping, disturbing, even horrifying a movie that will stay in spectators’ minds long after the initial viewing.
The plot revolves around the development of four characters as they are caught up in the spiraling abyss of drug addiction in the streets of Brooklyn. Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) and his lover, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) share a dream of setting up a store and living together, in love and independent of everyone else. Their need for capital starts them down grey paths that only darken as the movie progresses. Harry keeps pawning his mother’s television and she, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a lonely old woman addicted to a surreal game-show keeps replacing it, mimicking the cycle of drugs and crime the former later falls into. Sara’s doctor gives her diet pills, which, as she increases the dosage, trap her in crazed hallucinations depicted by jump cuts, split screens and jarring, distorted images. Harry’s cohort also comprises of an intelligent hustler named Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), who completes the foursome, but with a relatively minor role.
Leto’s indubitable dedication is manifest in the fact that he lost twenty-five pounds to fit the role of gaunt, troubled Harry, delving deep into his consciousness to give us a true-to-life depiction of the horror of drug abuse. Silver masterfully portrays a well-meaning young girl who ensnares herself in self-destructive drug obsession, while it is Tyrone’s apparent rationality that highlights the senselessness of his actions. The most deeply and terribly disturbing performance is Burstyn’s – Sara’s raw unbearable derangement- particularly in the refrigerator scene and also the depiction of a disheveled Sara wandering the streets in her red dress, which is truly harrowing.
The movie has been criticized as being a flat interpretation of drug-use that ignores the complexities of the situation, Marion’s final acts in particular. This is unsurprising, as the movie is a harsh, searing indictment of the effects of drugs, allowing no-one watching to lie to themselves any more. It is an unrelentingly bitter nightmare, one that will jolt the most lethargic of minds out of its lassitude into sharp awareness of the cynicism and horror the director has so skillfully imbued the film with. The complete lack of hope is something that will leave Requiem unpopular with the masses, but it will have the most powerful impact, forever deterring even experimentation with drugs, which is something perhaps our generation requires.
Clint Mansell’s chilling soundtrack deserves a special mention, as the perfectly orchestrated score matches the mood, and rise and flow of emotions in the film. In an industry where loud sounds and sudden movements have taken on the mantle of fright, refrains as haunting and evocative as this one are rare.
Requiem For A Dream is a must-see for its riveting performances, technical innovation and dark message, but it is not something everyone will be able to stomach. Love it, or hate it– it is like nothing else you will ever see.