Thursday, December 14, 2000
Is it possible for a movie to be depressing and thrilling at the same time? If that movie is made by a director as inventive as Darren Aronofsky, then the answer is a resounding yes. No matter how dark the subject matter may be ï¿½ and "Requiem for a Dream" is about as dark as it gets ï¿½ anyone who loves films will walk away from this one exhilarated.
The story is simple. Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a young Coney Island native who shares dreams of wealth and happiness with his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Unfortunately, their way of attaining those dreams is by selling drugs, always hoping for that one major score that will enable them to "retire." Before long, they're smoking, snorting and shooting up the merchandise, and their money runs out rapidly.
Meanwhile, Harry's widowed mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn) receives a letter promising a chance at a game-show appearance, and she starts taking diet pills to make herself look glamorous for the big day that never comes. All four characters spiral into addiction, entering that special hell where the only thing that matters is the next high, no matter what they have to do to get it.
And, like his characters, Aronofsky will do ANYTHING. This is a director who refuses to be hampered by conventional filmmaking techniques, and he uses everything from split-screen to repetitive editing to a nifty gadget called a Snorri-Cam, which attaches a camera to an actor's body. Like Aronofsky's 1998 debut feature, "Pi," "Requiem for a Dream" has a mostly linear narrative structure, combined with the no-rules creativity of an experimental film. Aronofsky is creating his own cinematic language, one that takes viewers right into his characters' twisted minds while keeping the basic story relatively easy to follow.
That doesn't mean it's easy to watch, though. Nearly saddled with an NC-17 rating (it is being released unrated instead), "Requiem" is unflinching in its depiction of the depths to which human beings can sink. People have gotten physically ill watching this movie, and that should be fair warning to anyone ï¿½ this is the very antithesis of a popcorn flick. It's worth every uncomfortable minute, however, and could easily take the place of any lame "Just Say No" campaign to keep people away from drugs. A movie like this could make even coffee look like a one-way ticket to rehab.
Despite the technical wizardry and shocking images, Aronofsky never forgets that "Requiem for a Dream" is fundamentally about the characters, and he has assembled one of the year's best casts. Leto ("Fight Club") and Connelly ("Dark City") have done interesting work in the past but haven't received much attention for it, and this could be the movie that finally pushes them into the limelight. Wayans shows a gift for drama that will surprise anyone accustomed to his dumb-comedy antics.
And, of course, there's Burstyn, whose dramatic skill should surprise absolutely no one. Her character is truly heartbreaking ï¿½ a woman so lonely, her closest friend is her television. The talk of a possible Oscar nomination is not far-fetched at all, even if there is better competition this year.
There are other impressive talents behind the camera, including Hubert Selby Jr., on whose 1978 novel the movie is based, and who co-wrote the thoughtful script with Aronofsky. Clint Mansell's score, performed in part by the Kronos Quartet, is mesmerizing, as is the rapid-fire editing by Jay Rabinowitz and the carefully controlled cinematography of Matthew Libatique that deliberately limits the color palette of the film, giving it a vaguely dreary look.
"Requiem for a Dream" occasionally goes over the top and comes awfully close to self-parody a couple of times (a homicidal refrigerator bit gets old fast). But Aronofsky is a truly exciting, original filmmaker who has surrounded himself with people who know exactly how to transfer his vision to the screen. The result is a movie that gives fans a better high than any drug could possibly produce.