Director: Darren Aronofsky
Verdict: See it! (once)
Requiem for a Dream is an exercise in how miserable can you make your audience without making them want to walk out, and it does that, fairly flawlessly. This Darren Aronofsky tragedy succeeds through strong writing, directing and powerful performances from an ensemble cast.
Requiem For A Dream follows four Manhattan Beach characters; the son played by Jared Leto, (Dallas Buyers Club), his grandmother played by Ellen Burstyn, (The Exorcist, Interstellar), his girlfriend played by Jennifer Connely, (A Beautiful Mind, Blood Diamond), and his best friend played by Marlon Wayans, (White Chicks, Scary Movie). It follows them as they each build up their hopes and dreams, only to have it torn back down again by their own personal addictions. It’s like Of Mice and Men on speed, literally, and good.
I pitch this film to everyone as a must see, it’s a film you should definitely see once, and then never again! It’s based on a book by Hubert Selby Jr. who co-wrote the screenplay with Aronofsky, (Black Swan, The Wrestler), a writer famed for his understanding of that sort of low life New York culture and his skill in portraying it, and that really comes through in the film which is scuzzy beyond belief. The dialogue and syntax and slang of the characters really sell them as being in this world, an the grungy lighting, and subtly but meticulously crafted frames help. Subtle beauty, maybe Ang Lee can learn a thing or two.
The reason Requiem For A Dream works so well is that before it tears them down, it builds up your relationship with the characters, gets you to empathise with them and feel for them and like them, it builds up their hopes and makes their dreams seem wonderfully possible before their falls. In fact that’s literally the structure of the film, which is simple but genius, the three acts are denoted by the seasons; summer, fall, and winter. Our associations with each word complimenting the acts. This character involvement would’t work if it wasn’t for a collection of quite outstanding performances. Leto’s accent is a bit ropey but you get used to it and he does everything else really well. There’s one scene with a phone call that I nearly cried watching. I wanted to. Wayans gives an uncharacteristically serious performance and he does it really well. When people were wondering why on earth the man behind all these shit parody movies was being invited to join the American Academy I remembered Requiem For A Dream in which he is charismatic and empathetic. The real stand out though, is Elen Burstyn, who was actually Oscar nominated for this movie and boy does she deserve it. By far the most complex character she gives a powerhouse performance in which she is believable but just extraordinarily brittle. Again, there’s a scene where Leto comes to visit that’s by far the most memorable scene in the film and again I nearly welled up.
In the end it’s moments like those that are the key to understanding the hypnotic, mesmeric, enigmatic attraction of Requiem For A Dream, it has a lot of bleak imagery, and montages that will leave you traumatised but it’s interspersed with moments of pathos and emotional sadness that are much more subtle and give the more traumatic sequences weight that without it would just seem gratuitous, and worse, slightly immature, using these images without any understanding of the weight they carry. However, luckily, Aronofsky and Selby Jr. know exactly what they’re doing and they do it well. It’s carried off with a style, professionalism and maturity that belies that this is only Aronofksy’s second film, and first bigger budget one.
Also, I have to mention Clint Mansell’s beautiful, melancholy but perversely techno-influenced score, it’s truly amazing.