Requiem For A Dream
By Michael Dequina
Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream is less a film than a journey, a torturously exhausting one at that--and in this case, that's the highest compliment that can be paid. In his visionary adaptation of Hubert Selby, Jr.'s novel, Aronofsky doesn't merely make one bear witness to four characters' harrowing descents into drug addiction; he forces one to experience their euphoric highs and, above else, their shattering lows. This is, as Aronofsky himself calls it, a horror film--one that not only shocks, but scars.
Set in New York, Requiem follows two parallel storylines whose foundations are different but ultimately become more or less the same. One follows a trio of young people: Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Marion's goal in life is to become a fashion designer, and in order to finance the opening of a boutique, Harry and Tyrone become drug dealers--which intensifies their already strong habit. Meanwhile, Harry's mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn), after receiving a notice that she could appear on a TV game show, goes to dangerous lengths to lose weight, namely a steadily increasing intake of diet pills.
The narrative line is obvious as the film passes through the seasons: a sunny summer, an aptly named fall, and an even bleaker winter. But this isn't a film about the story so much it is about feeling. Aronofsky proved he can effectively unsettle viewers with his award-winning debut p, and he takes his ability to the next level in Requiem. Much has been made about the vast number of cuts in the film, but these are no superficial exercises in style; they immerse the viewer in the perspective and mindset of the characters. The hyperactive early stages of their addictions are especially captured well, and a split screen device that could've come off as overkill reinforces the subjective point of the view of the film. The sensory barrage also slyly sidesteps the explicit while ironically intensifying the feeling. For all the shooting up, snorting, and pill popping that occurs in the film, rarely are the acts ever graphically shown; Aronofsky instead employs the same quick-cut montages of heroin being cooked, straws taking in lines of coke, pill bottles being opened, and pupils dilating. Jarring and visually exciting at first, these images become rather boring through their incessant repetition--much like how the initial euphoria of drug use evolves into mundane routine.
When I say Requiem is about feeling, it should be noted that I mean that in terms of sensation and not emotion. The only character with much depth is that of the lonely Sara (superbly played by Burstyn), and even so she's still kept at the same arm's length emotionally as are the other three. This initially struck me as a flaw (especially in terms of the Harry/Marion romance), but it reflects the greater ideas that Aronofsky is trying to evoke. The film being told from the point of view of the addicts, the detachment is all but appropriate since they're not really concerned about others or even themselves, just the fix. Additionally, the distance also reflects the way outsiders generally look at drug addicts--as in, they don't, choosing to safely turn a blind eye. Requiem doesn't give the audience the option of complacency; as its last 30 minutes brutally detail everyone's raw ruin, the film seems to dare the viewers to look away. And it's a testament to Aronofsky that as difficult as it is, it is impossible not to watch.
There may not be a profound emotional connection to any of these characters, but the actors make them into convincing human beings, the destruction of whose lives we witness before our eyes. The resulting feeling with which one walks away from Requiem for a Dream is not sadness, but a heavier, emptier sense of loss--one that's even harder to shake.