'Requiem for a Dream' - Movie Review

Updated on April 13, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

From its first second, the rhythm of Requiem For a Dream doesn't slow down. No shot lasts more than five seconds and the cuts just keep coming. It's addictive.

It's Darren Aronofsky's way of narrating four stories destined to be destroyed by their addictions to different drugs. A music video aesthetic in an MTV era, starring dream boy Jared Leto (Fight Club), funny boy Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie), dreamgirl Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth) and horror legend Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist). A sure shot.

The stories are relatively simple, and therefore easy to reach their horrendous destination.

Harry (Leto) and Tyrone (Wayans) are two friends trying to make money trafficking drugs. They share their time between dealing, using, and partying at home. They start their business pawning the TV set of Harry's mother but slowly and progressively they get good economic results. Unfortunately, they also will, along with Harry's girlfriend Marion (Connelly), develop a strong addiction to the same heroine they sell.

Harry's mother Sara (Burstyn) is a lonely widow, who spends her time watching her favorite TV show (a kind of eternal delirious infomercial/TV Game Show hosted by Christopher McDonald) and worrying about her weight. After receiving a call from the network informing her that she has been shortlisted to participate in the TV show, Sara gets excited. Determined to look like her old self again, she starts trying to lose weight so she can wear an old red dress.

Unfortunately for Sara, she will fall into the hands of an unscrupulous doctor who'll prescribe her a cocktail of strong pills to lose weight in record time. Sara becomes addicted in a few days.

Every second that passes in Requiem For a Dream advances the rhythm. Each time the story moves from one character to another, a transition of about 10 cuts (sometimes with a split camera) of the character using their drug of choice is used, which gives the film a really unstoppable rhythm. An average 100-minute film contains 650 cuts. This one contains over 2,000.

For the first 40 minutes or so, the directing of Requiem For a Dream is like a hip-hop video, even flirting with humor.

Until the last act.

That's where everything goes to hell and the audience understands that they've been tricked into watching a nightmare.

Harry and Tyrone's business suffers a supply drought thanks to a gang war. Unable to maintain their business and their addiction, both decide to make an impromptu chaotic road trip to Florida. In the process, Harry's arm literally begins to rot by the constant consumption of heroin.

They end up in a hospital and then arrested. Harry's arm is amputated. Tyrone suffers racist attacks in prison. It's hard out there for a junkie.

Marion, completely addicted and in withdrawal, decides to prostitute herself with the only person in the city who has access to drugs (what?) but who only exchanges his merchandise for "pussy". Marion is then completely sexually humiliated and used (even participating in a degrading private party) but her addiction is so huge that she comes home with a smile, drugged.

Sara's outcome is the most tragic of all. Completely disoriented and addicted to the pills, Sara tries to go to the doctor's office, where she is irresponsibly dispatched. When she goes to the TV station to complain about not being called back, Sara ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where apparently it's still 1910 and electroshock is a to-go treatment.

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That climactic sequence is still a masterclass in rhythm and editing. Aronofsky unleashes all his talent and achieves a true nightmare that the viewer, in equal parts, cannot stop seeing and wants to stop. Clint Mansell score, performed by Kronos Quartet reaches truly epic levels, blending perfectly with the story.

It's in this last act that Requiem For A Dream truly becomes an epic musical. An infernal rock opera about the dangers of addictions. For the first time, Aronofsky probably managed to get both ultra-conservative parents and super-liberal teens to end up loving the same scene.

Because, in the end, and especially for 2018 standards, Requiem For A Dream looks like an edgy High School Anti-Drug AD. An ultraconservative and Catholic high school, that is. The situations are plausible, yes, but really absurd. Harry is the world's stupidest junkie, who doesn't shoot the drug in other parts of his body because "it doesn't blow" (false!) and ends up losing his arm. And what about that instant electroshock therapy? Come on. It feels forced.

In retrospect, Aronofsky looked like a-very talented-good clean-cut boy who knew nothing about drugs and wanting to be edgy and cool, ended up making the most moralist, fallacious anti-drug pamphlet in recent cinematic memory. It is my third favorite addiction movie and rightly deserves that place in my list.

But boy did he know how to direct that thing.

Movie Details

Title: Requiem for a Dream

Release Year: 2000

Director(s): Darren Aronofsky

Actors: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly a.o.

4 stars for Requiem for a Dream

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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