Requiem for a Dream (2000)

2014 #136
Darren Aronofsky | 97 mins | DVD | 16:9 | USA / English | 18 / NC-17*

Requiem for a DreamOn Coney Island, the faded and decrepit one-time pleasure place of New York City, four people — Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), and his mother Sara (Oscar-nominated Ellen Burstyn) — find themselves accidentally drawn into a whirlwind of drug addiction. Not to put too fine a point on it.

A lot of people say that Requiem for a Dream is the bleakest or most depressing movie ever made, and you kind of think, “yeah well, we’ll see — how bad can it be?” For most of the film, that notion is indeed misleading. Not that it’s a happy-clappy affair, but it’s a very watchable drama, not a gruelling slog through misery. However, I’m not sure you can quite be prepared for what comes later. Even if you were told what happens, or see some of the imagery, or feel like you can see worse stuff on the internet without even looking too hard (which, of course, you can)… that’s not the point. It’s the editing, the sound design, the sheer filmmaking, which renders the film’s final few minutes — a frenzied montage that crosscuts the climaxes of all four characters’ stories — as some of the most powerful in cinema. It’s horrendous. It’s brilliant.

The rest of the film may not be its equal in terms of condensed impact, but it’s of course vital in leading you to that point. These characters lead relatively normal lives — not exceptionally bad, certainly not exceptionally good, but pretty humdrum and bog standard. They all try to better themselves in some way — Sara through diet pills, Harry and Tyrone by getting rich through selling drugs — and it all goes horrible awry.

It may be a descent into misery, then, but director Darren Aronofsky keeps it watchable through pure cinematic skill. The editing, camerawork, lighting, sound design, and special effects are all incredible throughout. There’s a surfeit of ideas and innovations from everyone involved. And yet they are never show-off-y for the sake of it — this isn’t a Guy Ritchie movie. None of the tricks or striking ideas are put there to render the film Cool, even in the way they are in some equally brilliant films (Fight Club, for example). No, everything that is deployed is done so in aid of emulating a real-life feeling or experience, or conveying a concept or a connection. At times it’s breathtaking.

I must also make special mention of the score by Clint Mansell. The primary theme is arguably most famous for being used in The Two Towers trailer a couple of years later (that’s certainly where I discovered it). Something that works fantastically on the trailer for an epic fantasy war movie might not sound like it sits well in a junkie drama, but it really works.

Requiem for a Dream may have a bit of a reputation at this point; one that might put you off viewing it, or possibly only deigning to attempt it in a certain frame of mind. While there is an element of truth to that, it is a brilliant film — not “enjoyable” in the easily-digested blockbuster sense, but as a mind-boggling and awe-inspiring feat of filmmaking, yes. Incredible.

5 out of 5

Requiem for a Dream placed 8th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.

It was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2014 project, which you can read more about here.


* After the film was given an NC-17, it was decided to release it Unrated — so, technically, it’s not NC-17, it’s Unrated. Ah, the quirks of the US classification system. (There’s also an R-rated version, which is the same except for some shot removals and replacements during the ending.) ^

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5 thoughts on “Requiem for a Dream (2000)

  1. Great post. I saw it quite a number of years ago and despite buying the DVD since then can’t bring myself to watch it again. The sheer lack of hope at the end makes it especially gruelling, but I agree it’s brilliantly done and Mansell’s score especially effective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s quite remarkable to end a movie without any glimmer of positivity for anyone, isn’t it? Even still, I was almost tempted to watch it again immediately, because the whole thing was so well done.

      It seems to me that movies like this and Fight Club were pushing boundaries, both tonally and visually, around the turn of millennium that no one’s touching any more. Could be I’m just watching the wrong stuff; could be studios not funding mid-budget pictures so no one’s got the money to do it. I don’t know if that’s better or worse than a lack of such inventiveness on the part of current filmmakers…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I was trying to think of anything like it from recently but can’t – Villeneuve’s PRISONERS looked like it was heading that way but pulled out at the end. As for Requiem the ending just kind of puts me off seeing it again, all awful and one character’s finish making me feel a bit ashamed (you know what I mean, I’m sure). Not sure I’m ready for a return trip even though it was a great and daring piece of work and I don’t recall Leto or Wayans doing anything better.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wayans did go on to multiple paragons of cinema, like Scary Movie, Dungeons & Dragons, White Chicks, NorbitRequiem really is a bizarre anomaly on his CV.

          Prisoners, meanwhile, is still on my ever-lengthening “must get round to” list.

          Liked by 1 person

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