Requiem for a Dream (2000)
By: Captain Red Eye on March 21, 2011  | 
Icon | Region A, B & C | 1.78:1 | English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 | 101 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald
Screenplay: Hubert Selby Jr, Darren Aronofsky
Country: USA
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Pasty Brooklyn tearaway Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is looking forward to an idyllic New York summer. Along with his aspiring fashion designer girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connolly) and jive-talking buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) he concocts a scheme to make a quick buck selling heroin, a drug with which the three are intimately acquainted.

At first the plan proceeds swimmingly. There's easy money to be made, a seemingly limitless supply of the drug on hand and a ravenous demand from their clientele. Harry dreams of opening a boutique store for his beloved Marion, and Tyrone will seemingly fulfil his ambition of escaping the streets in order to make his mother proud. While the trio of smacked-up protagonists are plying their trade Harry's own mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn), an elderly widow who lives alone in her shabby Brighton Beach apartment, spends most of her time holed up watching cheesy infomercials on television. Following a chance phone call informing her she's been selected to appear on one such program, Sara takes a friend's advice and obtains some weight loss pills from a prescription-happy doctor. After all if she looks her best on the television program, and even manages to squeeze into the red dress she wore to Harry's college graduation, both her wayward son and her dead husband will be ever so proud. Harry might even come to visit, bringing the girlfriend of whom she's heard so much about.

As summer fades into autumn, however, our quartet of protagonists begin to lose much of their former optimism. Following a drug deal gone bad Tyrone is arrested, and the shoebox full of cash which represents that summer's accumulated savings is blown on his bail. Next their supply dries up, and the threesome are barely able to scrounge enough smack to feed their own burgeoning habits, let alone to think of having any excess to sell. Meanwhile Sara has adjusted to the diet pills, which were of course little more than brightly coloured amphetamines. One day, desperate to obtain the same buzz she formerly experienced, she decides to take three pills instead of the usual one. Then the hallucinations start. Then winter comes, and things get really bad.

A visceral, confronting and highly potent study of addiction and the American Dream turned sour, two ongoing obsessions of Hubert Selby Jr, on whose 1978 novel the film is based, Requiem for a Dream is not for those looking for an evening's light entertainment. In fact it's almost savage in its intensity, assailing the viewer with scenes of escalating torment and debasement until finally we, like the characters in the film, abandon any sense of hope entirely.

This is my main problem with Selby Jr, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Darren Aronofsky; his works are predominantly concerned with the ugliness of life, awash with rape, violence, brutality and cynicism, without ever really offering anything in the way of a solution. It's an unusual approach from a writer whose childhood hero was Mahatma Gandhi, and who by his own admission was unable to comprehend man's capacity for savagery. I used to admire his ethos of presenting the reader with a problem and asking, in so many words, 'what are you going to do about it?,' but now I see it as laziness. Fourteen years divided Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream, yet nothing really changed stylistically or thematically in the intervening decade and a half, the prose still blunt to the point of callousness, the overriding thesis one of irremediable despair. Selby Jr seemingly imbues his characters with dreams only to deprive them of their attainment, and the central figures in both books mostly end up destroyed, be it by drugs or alcohol, gang rape, incarceration, disillusionment, violence or insanity.

At any rate Aronofsky has an obvious reverence for Selby Jr, clearly admiring both his aesthetic and his inherent sense of tragedy, and the project could not have been in more able or devoted hands. And there's no denying the film is a masterpiece of form. The control Aronofsky exerts over each scene is remarkable as he pulls out all the stops; split screens, smash cuts, time lapse photography, top shots, diffusion filters, cameras mounted to actors chests or nestled between their legs. Later in the film he employs a highly effective technique of tighter and tighter framing to emphasise the subversion of his characters' identities to that of their addictions. Clive Mansell's jagged score jabs away relentlessly all the while like a junkie looking for a vein, swelling to a hideous crescendo, and by this point nothing is allowed to escape the viewer's attention; we are privy to every wince of pain and droplet of sweat in excruciating closeup.

Those who make it this far into the film will likely be wincing right along, or at the very least exchanging wide-eyed 'what the fuck?' glances as Aronofsky piles horror upon ruin upon nightmare.

The final half hour in particular is an unrelenting descent into the circles of hell, as each of the main characters is unceasingly tormented by the consequences of their addictions. Rarely has a film been simultaneously so ugly and so beautiful, or so uniquely designed to induce disquiet in its audience.
There's no doubt the HD transfer is a big improvement on its DVD forbear. Image quality is significantly sharper, darker scenes more effectively graded, colours markedly more vibrant and the inventive use of chromatics employed throughout all the more potent for it. The intentionally grainy scenes, as when a reeling and nauseous Marion leaves her psychiatrist's apartment, also look much grittier in comparison.
Clive Mansell's score is almost without peer, having been appropriated for use in everything from The Lord of the Rings trailers to Superbowl commercials, and it sounds magnificent in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. It's appropriately lavish treatment for one of the most memorable film scores of all time.
Extra Features
Magna Pacific's 2001 Region 4 DVD edition of Requiem was laden with a cracking assortment of extras, including an audio commentary from Aronofsky, multiple deleted scenes, a highly technical commentary track with Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, interviews, a 35-minute Making Of Featurette and an amazing 20-minute interview with Hubert Selby Jr conducted by Ellen Burstyn towards the end of the author's life. The 2-disc UK Metrodome edition included most of the above plus a feature length documentary entitled Hubert Selby Jr: It'll Be Alright. Given this abundance of riches I'd been waiting some time to see just what would make it onto the local HD release. The short answer is: fuck all. Not a sausage. Remember that Monty Python fish-slapping sketch where John Cleese clubs Michael Palin with a halibut and sends him hurtling into the river below? That's what I want to do to the nitwits who decided it'd be a good idea to release a bare bones edition of one of the best films of the decade. Speaking of slaps in the face it's a pretty big f-you to fans of the work, and fairly inexcusable given the plethora of bonus content on the Region A Blu-ray edition which, incidentally, was released almost 18 months ago.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Requiem for a Dream is a first rate piece of filmmaking, in which the now-feted Aronofsky skilfully employs a vast range of stylistic and narrative techniques in order to ensnare the viewer's consciousness before battering it to a pulp. This isn't a fun film to watch, but it's certainly one you won't forget in a hurry. The aesthetic is fully-realised, the performances largely career defining. Aronofsky here pushes his actors to the brink, as appears to be his wont, and it's difficult to think of another film in which Connolly, Leto or Marlon 'White Chicks' Wayons have plumbed such raw emotional depths or been required to produce such heart-rendingly convincing depictions of despair. Burstyn, for her part, won multiple awards and garnered an Oscar nomination for her depiction of Sarah Goldfarb, and in the intervening decade has produced nothing like such a dextrous and multifaceted performance as she does here. A little levity wouldn't have gone astray on occasion, but then again it may also have dissipated the intensity entirely. At any rate the film is stunningly realised, hugely potent and quite unforgettable, representing perhaps the high water mark of Aronofsky's burgeoning canon. Shame about the piss-poor treatment from Icon though.

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