Requiem for a Dream
- Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb
- Jared Leto as Harry Goldfarb
- Jennifer Connelly as Marion Silver
- Marlon Wayans as Tyrone Love
The hopelessness and destructiveness of drug addiction and shattered dreams is brought to chilling and startling life in Requiem for a Dream. Darren Aronofsky directs this harrowing movie that is never easy to watch, but totally hypnotic and devastating in his it captures the lows of drug abuse and addiction in general.
The film concerns four characters in Brighton Beach, New York and in the shadow of Coney Island. Sara Goldfarb is a kind, middle-aged widow who is hooked on television shows and sweet foods. Though she has friends, she is lonely and her only real visitor is her son Harry. The trouble is Harry, while at heart a good young man, is hooked on heroin and other drugs, which prompts him to regularly pawn her television to feed his drug habit. He and his best friend Tyrone, who also takes drugs, want to make some money from dealing so they can make it big and not have any worries at all. At the start, their drug business goes pretty well, yet goes sour as darkness sets in. Also present in their lives is Harry’s rebellious girlfriend Marion, who has a flair for fashion designing and wishes to open her own store. She is from a privileged background, but has distanced herself from it and hangs frequently with Harry. Marion regularly starts to consume heroin and other drugs as much as Harry and the once artistic and loving girl resorts to prostituting and degrading herself to get the next fix. This really becomes prominent as Harry and Tyrone’s plans implode and they are all left scrambling for the drugs they crave so much. Meanwhile, Sara receives a call that she has been selected to appear on television. Thrilled by the prospect as it has become a sanctuary for her, she sets about cleaning up her blowzy image. Yet she become extremely fixated on her appearance for television and in particular getting into a red dress from her younger days. Now older and having put a bit of weight on, she attempts to diet but can’t help her hankering for sweet foods. Finally, she goes to a sleazy and corrupt doctor who prescribes a collection of diet pills. Sara begins taking them and while the weight falls off, her increasing dependence on them results in a horrifying mental breakdown. Quickly, the drug addictions worsen and the lives of the quartet are irrevocably altered into darkness and desolation.
Darren Aronofsky masterfully crafts this shocking and hard-hitting movie, unearthing a desolate wealth of broken emotion in the desperate situations of the characters and how their dreams are ultimately crushed by addiction. His restless camera and variety of techniques, such as time-lapse, exaggerated sounds and split screens that throw us into the dangers of addiction and the brief moment the characters feel any hope are mesmerising as well as horrifying. He truly makes the movie a painful but necessary experience that leaves your stomach churning and your head spinning. While Aronofsky is chiefly a visual director of the highest order, he can also expose the sadness of individuals grasping for something just beyond their reach. His screenplay, co-written with Hubert Selby Jr., the author of the book from which the film is based, discovers the lost hopes and pipe dreams of the four people and how they go about it the wrong way in the end. One stand out example is the revealing and very tragic monologue from Sara to her son, as she speaks of how her pills have helped her be someone again( when in reality, the sad irony is that her mind has been broken and she continues to slip). The manic sincerity and deluded belief with which she speaks of how she feels like she matters again is just so devastating to watch and heartbreaking in the extreme. Cinematography and editing immediately out you in the mindset of these tragic characters looking for the next gig, spinning and often in extreme close up so there’s no room to hide. What most stands out is the scenes of drugs being consumed as they offer escape, high or buzz that everyone craves. The high is temporary and fleeting, but enough for the characters to get by for that moment, while it erodes away their self-respect and sense of reality. It’s all illusory in the end as their cravings grow and their lives are destroyed by their habits. Routine and repetition feature heavily throughout the psychological drama, almost another form of addiction in itself for everyone involved. There’s no big happy ending to Requiem for a Dream, and neither should there have been because it would have cheapened it. What we are left with is a shattered and bleak picture of just how far these four people have fallen in chasing what they thought would be the answer to their prayers, but became a nightmare. As a movie, Requiem for a Dream leaves you shaken and floored with just intensely it depicts addictions of every kind and the dark, grim outcome of them. I mean, the last half and hour is a visceral descent into personal hell for the characters and we are pulled in too and forced to witness the degradation of it all. And of course, there is the iconic and memorable score for Requiem for a Dream that lingers in the mind. Composed by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet, the throbbing, humming pulse, haunting strings and electronic design of the music provides hypnotic listening and deep horror in equal measure.
Ellen Burstyn heads the cast with the best performance in the movie. The rest of the small cast are extremely fantastic, but Burstyn is the real glue of it all. She is simply heartbreaking and mightily powerful in her portrayal of the sweet, widowed and obsessed mother whose life spirals into oblivion once she gets the call to say her biggest dream will come true(eventually at the expense of her mind). It’s a completely vanity free performance as Burstyn throws her body and soul into Sara; hauntingly displaying insecurity, deluded dreams and a quivering vulnerability that continues to unravel as pills ravage her. An impressive Jaded Leto, sporting a gaunt face and withered physique, finds a deep desperation within Harry, who is inherently a good person making the wrong choice. He’s a dreamer at heart, much like his best friend, but one whose life continues to crash as his habit worsens that Leto plays splendidly and convincingly. Jennifer Connelly contributes a fearless sense of debasement and drowning as the initially rebellious and crazy in love Marion, who gets more hooked on heroin than her boyfriend and resorts to desperate measures for it. A surprisingly effective and largely serious performance from the usually funny Marlon Wayans is what rounds out the tragic quartet of characters. At first he is jocular and filled with wonder, but over time his dreams go up in smoke and Wayans subtly embodies that feeling of loss and sadness. What is admirable about all the performances is how far they are willing to go to depict the hardships and horror of addiction, which they all do to a massively skilled and shocking degree.
Grim and unrelenting, but intentionally so, Requiem for a Dream is a haunting film in every sense of the word as envisioned by the highly skilled Aronofsky. Bolstered by a wholly committed cast, in particular a heart wrenching Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream is challenging and horrifying, but you’ll never forget it once you’ve seen it.