1001 Movies: Requiem for a Dream

Before we get started, a few little things to fill you in on:

I won’t be doing this series of reviews and articles in any kind of chronology, mainly due to the fact that the majority of the older movies I will need to buy and watch for the first time. Instead, I will kick off with a few from various decades that are all considered greats of cinema. These titles come from a book published in 2007, which is revised every year so I will, of course, be taking a gander at the revised versions to see which contemporary movies made the grade. And finally, every article will have a ‘Two Best Scenes’ section at the end to inspire you to give it a watch if you haven’t already.

I begin with a controversial film, one that I don’t actually particularly enjoy. It’s deep and dark, it portrays drug addiction in a brutal and uncomfortable way, but it’s a necessary watch for any film aficionado. Requiem for a Dream is directed by the eclectic film maker Darren Aronofsky and features a small ensemble of four: Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn. There are, of course, other characters, but they are minimally featured and not so important to the story. It is mother Sara, son Harry, girlfriend Marion and friend Tyrone who dominate this story with their downward spiral into recreational drug use to full-time junkie-dom. It was voted Empire magazines number one depressing movie of all time and it’s not surprising. But it’s pivotal and poignant (especially in a generation where drug addiction is so prevalent within the media).

connelly and leto in requiem for a dream

connelly and leto in requiem for a dream

Released in 2000, Aranofksy adapted the movie from the cult novel of the same name penned by Hubert Selby, Jr. With an 18 rating and painfully long run-time of 101 minutes of noir-ish visuals and hallucinogenic scenes, Requiem for a Dream is not a film you can enjoy. It is a film you can appreciate for its cinematic value and its promise to stay with you long after the final moments. Those final moments, in which we see four characters in the fetal position following imprisonment, limb amputation, and prostitution – all of which are the after effect of consistent drug use – are haunting. Played out alongside the spine-tingling instrumentals of Clint Mansell’s Summer Overture (which has been used many times since but doesn’t have the effect in which it does here), as a viewer you are left exhausted; emotionally and mentally. What have we just seen? Are these people going to be OK? They are characters in a fictional story, yet the tragic effect of drug abuse is so real and Aronofsky drums that into us during the feature.

While addiction is the focus theme there are myriad topics covered. From how Harry and co’ measure their lives based on the material objects they attain, to what success truly is and how it differs from one person to the next. Old women sit and commentate on the world that they see from their curb, Sara idolises her son and won’t let these observers forget it. We witness four relatively stable people go from the early stages of their want for drugs to the height of their need as it destroys them each in individual ways. Each character seeks a contentment, a true happiness, for they all have a demon and a void to contend with; whether that’s a dangerous issue with self-esteem or a woeful disposition towards love, director Aronofsky explores this through a scene-by-scene exploration of human behaviour. The fulfillment they each seek is attained through their high and lost through their sobriety.

Requiem for a Dream is fascinating in its unhinged exploration of what addiction truly is, and that lends to an uncomfortable watch. But, it’s naive to think this would be a rough ride finished with a rainbows and butterflies ‘they all got clean’ finale; this is Aronofksy and Selby, Jr’s outlook on life through the eyes of unstable, vulnerable people who have been sucked in and spat out by the consumerist world they live in. Get past that, and you’ll relish the film.

This is a must-see for any film fan, sixteen years old but as relevant now as it was upon release. Many believed, back in ol’ 2000, it should be screened in schools to warn young people of the effect of drug use, and if there’s any feature to do it, it would be this. Hard-hitting, undeniably moving and sickeningly real, Requiem for a Dream is one of a kind.

Two Best Scenes:

Ellen Burstyn as amphetamine-dependent widow Sara Goldfarb hallucinates as her fridge attacks her. Jumpy and canted camera work and an Oscar-worthy performance from Burstyn makes this scene emotional and distressing as the relentless fridge torments a lonely and addicted woman.

Jared Leto as the sweet but naive Harry gets doped-up in a green-lit den with pal Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). The camera sits unmoved in the corner of the room in a high-angle shot suggesting these two characters as lost young men during their journey to a drug-induce haze. Accompanied by Party, the scene explores the false happiness both Harry and Tyrone experience in this moment.

Let me know your take on this film in the comments box below!