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Requiem for a Dream   A

Artisan Entertainment

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Darren Aronofsky (based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr.)
Cast: Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, Louise Lasser.

Review by Michael Scrutchin

This film is brutal. Requiem for a Dream is the most harrowing of nightmares, a film so unbearably bleak and wrenching that it's probably the cinematic equivalent of torture. It's painful to watch the film's merciless villain -- addiction -- slowly tear apart the lives of the four principal characters, sending them on a downward spiral to a place colder, more desolate than they could have imagined. These are people who had hopes, dreams of love and happiness, but addiction rips that all away. And, a warning to the weak of heart, it's not pretty.

When we first see Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), she's pleading with her son (Jared Leto) not to take her TV again. She locks herself in the closet while he makes off with the TV, which he's going to pawn for drug money. Right from the start, Sara Goldfarb isn't exactly a happy camper. She's a lonely widowed mother who wastes her time away watching television in her drab Brooklyn apartment. One day she gets a phone call promising that she'll soon be a contestant on a TV game show and that the required forms are on their way. She finally has something to look forward to, so she decides to diet in hopes of fitting into that ravishing red dress she wore when she was younger. After all, she has to look good on TV. She starts taking diet pills and loses not only a lot of weight, but also her sanity. Just wait till the refrigerator starts acting up.

Meanwhile, her son Harry -- who seldom visits unless he's coming to snatch the TV set -- is becoming a heroin junkie. So is Harry's girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Harry and Marion really love each other and might have a promising future together. But the three of them hatch a scheme to score some kill for a low price, then sell it to make big money. This works out for a while, but things get bad when their drug habits start dipping into their profits. It's painful to watch these characters mess things up so terribly. They're just trying to find love and happiness, but don't know where to look.

Sure, we've seen movies about drugs and addiction destroying lives before. It's an oft-told story, but rarely has it been pulled off with such breathtaking cinematic virtuosity. Director Darren Aronofsky (who made 1998's indie hit Pi) goes all out on style here. Much has been said about the "getting high" montage that occurs occasionally -- a few seconds of rapid-fire editing culminating in the dilation of an eyeball's pupil -- but it doesn't stop there. Every scene is an exercise in style. The way it's shot and edited enhances the emotional experience and, at times, makes it seem as if we're feeling exactly what the characters are going through. This film is beautifully made, even if the picture it paints isn't pretty.

Requiem for a Dream also has an amazing soundtrack scored by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet. The music is absolutely beautiful and unbelievably haunting. When fused with the incredible images, the result is nothing less than a work of art.

I could discuss how good Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans are here, but Requiem for a Dream is Ellen Burstyn's show. The physical and mental transformation Burstyn's character goes through is almost unbearable to watch. Her heartbreaking performance is truly gut wrenching; if it doesn't haunt you for days afterward I don't know what will. I get chills just thinking about her saying, "I'm gonna be on television."

The film's climactic montage is probably one of the most harrowing sequences in the history of cinema (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). I remember when I first saw Requiem for a Dream: I stumbled out of the theater not able to speak. I had to sit down to regain my composure before I was okay enough to drive home safely. Yes, it shook me up that much. I think director Darren Aronofsky described the film best. When pitching the movie, he said that he wanted the movie to be like jumping out of an airplane and realizing that you forgot your parachute -- and the film ends five minutes after you hit the ground.

Like I said, brutal. And, ultimately, heartbreakingly sad.

Review published 05.22.2001.

Follow Michael Scrutchin on Twitter or Letterboxd.

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