|Requiem for a Dream
An unrelenting portrait of addiction in its various guises,
Requiem for a Dream has to rank as one of the year's most ambitious and
disturbing motion pictures. Director Darren Aronofsky, whose debut film was
the much admired Pi, avoids the sophomore curse with this intelligent and
visually compelling adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel.
The main characters are Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a lonely,
overweight widow living in Coney Island, who indulges her son's oddball
behavior. Harry (Jared Leto) comes by his mother's home to steal her beloved
television and pawn it in order to have money to buy drugs. Soon after, Sara is
there to reclaim the set in order to catch her favorite game show. When she
receives a telephone call indicating that she qualifies to be on the TV series
as a contestant, Sara becomes galvanized into action. With the help of her
neighbor (Louis Lasser), she dies her hair fire engine red and begins a diet
in order to fit into her best dress. When conventional programs don't work
quickly enough for her, she turns to diet pills.
Meanwhile, Harry and his buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) plot ways
to get rich quick and settle on scoring some drugs that they will, in turn,
sell on the street. Falling into their scheme is Marion (Jennifer Connelly),
Harry's new girlfriend and an aspiring fashion designer. Of course, like Sara's
goal, their dreams of money and good times disintegrate into nightmares.
Working with Selby, Aronofsky has taken some liberties with the
material but the resultant film is the most unsparingly bleak, disturbing
psychological portrait of addiction perhaps committed to film. Although
originally slapped with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA (for content and a
sex orgy in one of the final scenes), Artisan Entertainment has opted
to release the film without a rating.
As in Pi, Aronofsky and his director of photography Matthew Labitique
have found visual equivalents for the inner worlds of the characters. Thus,
when Harry or Tyrone shoot up, there is an established motif -- quick cuts
of a needle, blood cells, an eyeball, etc. Similarly, as Sara struggles with
her food cravings, her refrigerator begins to take on a life of its own. These
hallucinatory sequences are chilling, but in overusing them, Aronofsky dilutes
their power to the point of invoking laughter from the audience. It cannot
be denied that the director possesses a singular eye and certainly has talent
but he has yet to find a way to fully shape the story in his films. To some,
Pi felt like an extended short; Requiem for a Dream is a giant leap forward
in terms of ability but as the film unfolds, Aronofsky cannot successfully
juggle the multiple storylines well. Some of the later scenes become
confusing as he intercuts between the principals; it may have been his
intention to make the audience as disconnected as the characters but
the ploy backfires.
In handling his actors, Aronofsky succeeds quite well. Since winning
the Best Actress Oscar for Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Ellen Burstyn
has been ill treated by Hollywood. One of the most gifted and versatile female
performers, she has relegated to little seen fare (Resurrection) or supporting
roles in vehicles unworthy of her prodigious talent (How to Make an American
Quilt). True, she spent many years away from the big screen while
concentrating on serving as artistic director of The Actors Studio, but she
also fell victim to Tinseltown's ageism and sexism. Here she has a meaty
role and she tackles it with gusto. In her hands, Sara Goldfarb emerges as
a portrait of the forgotten woman -- a female over 60, living alone and coping
with fear. In limning this character, Burstyn brilliantly crafts this character and
when she is onscreen, the film is elevated beyond its rather bleak confines.
There is one reunion scene between Burstyn and Jared Leto as her son Harry
that is so heartbreakingly acted it feels like reality. This is a showcase for
this actress and her work cries out for attention in the end of the year awards
Leto has never been better as Harry. In some of his other films he
has come across as miscast but in this film, he downplays his heartthrob
looks (he dropped some 25 pounds to achieve an emaciated appearance for
the role) and really seems to have dug deep into this character's psyche. In
his scenes with Burstyn, he rises to her level of professionalism and that
has somehow infused the rest of his work.
As his buddy Tyrone, Marlon Wayans is the surprise of the film.
Long known for his comedic roles on TV and in films like Scary Movie,
Wayans here displays heretofore untapped dramatic reservoirs. He offers
a memorable supporting turn as the real brains in their plan to score big.
In the least developed role, Jennifer Connelly (who is having a banner
year with this and Waking the Dead) displays her many assets. While
in the past she has not always been the most talented player on screen,
in her recent work Connelly has been giving richly nuanced performances
and this one is no exception as she makes what could have been a
two-dimensional part into a full-bodied characterization.
Requiem for a Dream is not for the squeamish; it is a brutal, frank
and downbeat portrait of the perils of addiction. Yet, it also is a visually
inventive, compellingly acted feature that ironically offers a glimmer of hope.
Undoubtedly, like Dancer in the Dark, it will have its champions and
its detractors. Audiences are therefore encouraged to see it and form
MPAA Rating: None
Running time: 102 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.