Resurfaced: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

In this series of articles, I’ll be posting reviews that have recently resurfaced. A number of the reviews I wrote in the past I thought had been lost to time, but after coming to a realization that they might still exist on the Wayback Machine, I was able to relocate many of them. I believe there are still some that are lost and they may be lost in perpetuity, but I will periodically search for that data or re-write those reviews that I have never found or which I never wrote to begin with.

For now, this series will be extensive with over 300 regular (400+ words), short (400- words), and quickie (1 to 2 paragraphs) reviews. I will attempt to combine them as best as I can. Reviews written in early 1998 or earlier, no date of creation exists. I will post the original writing date where known, otherwise the date will be listed as “unknown.” These reviews were written between the date of my site’s founding in 1996 through much of 2002. It was only after this period that I settled on the standard format and length of reviews as well as posting each one to its own individual page, which is why the old data was ultimately lost.

All but the review content has been replaced to match my current formatting guidelines, which are a bit more thorough than they might have been in those early days. Please note that I am attempting to retain as much of the original editing integrity as possible, so spelling and/or grammar errors may still be present. This may also mean that some factual data is not there as IMDb was not as ubiquitous as it is now. So, let’s get on to today’s review.

Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream

Rating

Director

Darren Aronofsky

Screenplay

Hubert Selby Jr., Darren Aronofsky

Length

1h 42m

Starring

Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, Louise Lasser, Marcia Jean Kurtz

MPAA Rating

R

Buy/Rent Movie

Soundtrack

Poster

Review

The American dream has never included drowning your miseries in chemical abuse. The problem is that millions of people across the country feel it necessary to chase their dreams away with a few choice drugs. “Requiem for a Dream” focuses on the lives of four people who have made drugs a regular part of their daily lives.

Comedian Lily Tomlin once said that “reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle drugs.” For the characters in this film, reality is as much a dream as their drug-induced fantasies. Hollywood legend Ellen Burstyn plays Sara Goldfarb, a Coney Island hausfrau whose life is turned upside down when she becomes a potential contestant on a bizarre infomercial-style game show. In an effort to fit into her prom dress, Sara seeks assistance from a disreputable doctor who gives her loads of uppers and downers to stay her unwieldy appetite.

Her weight-starved son Harry (Jared Leto) hocks Sara’s television several times in an effort to feed his drug habit. Realizing there must be a better way, he sets off with his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) to go into business selling drugs. Success is fleeting as he, Tyrone and his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) waste the stash they’ve purchased for their own recreational use. Poor again, they become desperate to feed their habit. Tyrone and Harry go off in search of better drug-buying opportunities while Marion attempts to sell her body for the money to feed her habit.

Every character in “Requiem” has a selfish motive for their pursuits, becoming slaves to their own addictions. Darren Aronofsky whose previous film, “Pi” was also his debut. He proves that he has a masterful style and enough talent to sustain a potential pointless film. There are no illusions of grandeur and what you expect to happen never does. Novelist Huber Selby Jr. teams up with Aronofsky to translate his book to the screen. Such translations are often difficult, but they manage to deliver a thought provoking and emotionally devastating film.

The performances are exceptional. Wayans proves that unlike his brothers, he has a modicum of talent. Not to be outdone, Connelly, the innocent protagonist of the rock fantasy “Labyrinth,” emerges as a talented starlet-in-the-making. She won’t win any roles for her gritty portrayal, but is sure to win critical notice. Leto, whose good looks and teen appeal won’t draw audiences to “Requiem,” will certainly expand his chances of more courageous jobs.

However, the film belongs to Burstyn. In a successful career that spans four decades, Burstyn has managed to play many varied roles. Most of them have been as the devoted mother who sacrifices sanity and safety for her children (e.g. “The Exorcist” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”). In “Requiem,” her motherly character sacrifices sanity for selfish reasons, weight loss, financial survival and emotional fulfillment. Burstyn casts glamour aside and plays Sara with putrid zeal, a feat that will surely net her a coveted best actress nomination, exactly 20 years after her last.

“Requiem” isn’t a pretty film. It’s dirty and realistic, all the things necessary for a brilliant drug movie. Along with the grime, Aronofsky delivers a unique take on the process of shooting up. Every time one of the three young characters shoots up, we are exposed to quick cuts of pupils dilating, liquid boiling in spoons and needles injecting accompanied by asynchronous sound. The effect is most unsettling and impressive.

Adding to the disturbing realism is an effective and haunting musical score. The underscore, which remains hidden for most of the film, makes its impact at the end where its simple, sad refrains help perpetuate the film’s hopeless desperation.

“Requiem for a Dream” is incredibly difficult to watch. Released unrated to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating, its graphic nature is inherently explicit and disturbing. To say that “Requiem” is a success would be an understatement. In two short hours, we see the glossy underbelly of the drug world and its disastrous impact on those stuck in its seductive web.

Awards Prospects

Ellen Burstyn is guaranteed a nomination and is a good bet for a win. Others are likely in the categories of Editing and Original Score. However, the uphill battle will be fought for Picture, Supporting Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Cinematography.

Review Written

December 27, 2000

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