Sunday 23 August 2020

Movie Review: Requiem For A Dream (2000)

A journey into the abyss of addiction, Requiem For A Dream combines dazzling style with morbid subject matter for a triumphantly exhausting experience.

In Brooklyn, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is an elderly widow with not much to live for. She spends her days watching television, in particular a crass self-help infomercial. Her son Harry (Jared Leto) is into drugs, along with his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Sara is ecstatic to receive a phone call then a mail package promising her an appearance on television. She is determined to lose weight to fit into a red dress and look dashing on camera. 

She starts to diet, then resorts to a prescribed cocktail of weight loss pills. Harry and Tyrone go into business reselling hard drugs and start to make a lot of money, with Harry helping Marion start a small business and buying a new television for his mother. But the diet pills start eroding Sara's mind, and a turf war among drug gangs disrupts the street supply, forcing Harry, Tyrone and Marion into desperate measures.

An adaptation of the book by Hubert Selby Jr., who co-wrote the screenplay with director Darren Aronofsky, Requiem For A Dream is at once daring and depressing. Using split screens, rapid editing, hypnotically repetitive representations of drug ingestion and a dizzying array of camera tricks, Aronofsky visually portrays lives on the rollercoaster of addiction. In stark terms remarkably laced with dark humour, the film charts harrowing descents to obvious outcomes, and Requiem For A Dream is eventually terrifying in drawing obvious parallels to broader societal carnage. And while heroin, cocaine and diet pills are the obvious dependency sources, Aronofsky is also interested in broader themes of a society addicted to various self-destruction pathways.

Sara is hypnotized by trash television, which morphs into a weight loss addiction and an obsession with a promise of 15 minutes of small screen fame. The doctor who prescribes her pills is a victim of the all-consuming rush to profits: he barely looks at his patient before scrawling out his ruinous prescriptions. Meanwhile, Harry and Tyrone are inexorably drawn to the get-rich-quick lifestyle offered by unchecked capitalism. Later, sexual addictions crash through the door, money and sex interchangeable currency in the rush to satisfy here-and-now cravings.

In other contexts Aronofsky's flashy style would be deemed over-the-top and bordering on conceited. But here the restless editing, phenomenal sound effects, and masterful alterations of time and space capture the psychotic high and lows, the film's pacing mimicking the characters' wild rides. The seminal Clint Mansell music score is apocalyptically grandiose, amplifying the demolition of four small lives to Wagnerian tragedy.

All four of the lead performances are fully invested, with Burstyn a particular stand out. Enduring everything from fat suits to elecrtoconvulsive therapy, she combines the pathos of an old lonely woman with the trials and tribulations a chemical ride from hell.

Requiem For A Dream is ultimately exceptionally sad. Despite a society brimming with positive opportunity, for some the race to oblivion is unrelenting.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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