Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream is intense, uncompromising, disturbing and depressing. It is a rare film that is emotionally fatiguing due to the unremittingly powerful portrayal of its subject matter. Writer/director Aronofsky deserves to be lauded for his representation of drugs and the consequences of addiction on everyday people. Aronofsky cuts no corners, nor does he dilute the material. Requiem for a Dream offers its audience no optimism, no respite and no escape. In fact the director is admirably not afraid to give its audience no pay-off at all.
The film is an adaptation of the mid-1970s novel penned by author Hubert Selby. Aronofsky tailored the novel to suit an updated agenda: this is a more contemporary re-imagining of Selby's dim and despondent world of drugs and addiction. Not much of Selby's novel remains; nevertheless there is the sense of malaise and the illustration of the highs and lows experienced by the characters as well as the dreadful deterioration into darkness that permeated Selby's original work. Aronofsky exercises masses of cinematic techniques to portray this decline into oblivion. He additionally utilises a sense of isolation to distance his characters in order that their cravings, which leisurely plague their inner core, discover no sanctuary in the sincerity of relationships. The subsequent collapse of reality consequently leaves them devastated and ravaged...they become shattered and measly shadows of their former selves. By no means is this a beautiful picture: Aronofsky cuts no corners nor does he endeavour to leave the viewer with any skerrick of compassion for these characters, yet you are compelled to feel penitence for their situation which is testament to both the actors and the intricate script.
Requiem for a Dream is primarily a tale that delivers a powerful message about the consequences of drug addiction. The four central protagonists are vehicles for conveying a message regarding different varieties of drugs and how they can have equally tragic effects on individuals. There are three segments to the movie that occur in different seasons as the story progresses: the first third is Summer, then Fall, then Winter.
Harry Goldfarb (Leto) and his buddy Tyrone (Wayans) become dangerously addicted to drugs. In order to feed their growing addictions, and to satisfy their waning wallets, they purchase drugs and redistribute them. Harry's girlfriend Marion (Connelly) shares a perilous addiction to drugs, and her descent into personal deterioration is far more profound. As her story progresses, she eventually sells herself into prostitution to pay for drugs.
Harry's mother Sara (Burstyn, in an Oscar-nominated performance) has a life revolving around food and television programs. When Sara receives a phone call inviting her on TV, she feels the need to lose weight. Eventually she becomes obsessed with losing weight, and ultimately purchases diet pills. An ostensibly harmless diet develops into a life-threatening addiction.
The disturbing stories are enormously difficult to watch, to say the least. Never does Aronofsky offer a glimmer of hope for the tragic characters. Requiem for a Dream was continually hailed as a masterpiece by many critics and audiences alike, but this masterfully-crafted tale isn't without flaws. Everything is incredibly depressing and commendably uncompromising for sure, however it's dourly predictable. Halfway through the film we realise that the consequences will be dire on the characters. It becomes systematic from that point forward. There are no unforeseeable twists or turns unfortunately: it's just an endless montage of misery that steadily expands the predictability.
Ellen Burstyn received numerous accolades for her performance as the troubled Sara Goldfarb. The role would have been extremely challenging due to the emotional depth and the profound transformation the character undergoes. At first so bright, colourful and exuberant...eventually she becomes drab and lifeless.
Jared Leto is equally impressive. His performance is wholly credible and engaging. He feels like any young male whose life is irrevocably and tragically altered by his craving for drugs.
Jennifer Connelly is another outstanding addition. Remember young Jennifer from films such as Labyrinth when she was a teenager? This is Jennifer like we've never seen her before. As her character is forced into sex shows and prostitution, her performance is unflinching.
Marlon Wayans is brilliant in a serious role. He could have made a career in dramas as opposed to comedy.
Overall, Requiem for a Dream is not a film for the faint of heart. The director wants an audience to feel overwhelmed by his graphic images of drug usage and explicit sexual activities. Originally the MPAA gave the film an NC-17 rating due to the content. The film was also released in a more dilute version to suit commercial purposes. This more watered down version was disowned by Darren Aronofsky who felt it made a lighter impact.
"Now we come to step three. This... drives... most... people... crazy."