Some critics, I won’t name names, accuse Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream of being the same old story of drug addiction with a bit of flashy editing to tart it up. Their main problem is that the film’s source novel by Hubert Selby Jnr. is dated. They have a point: Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) are heroin addicts who dream of making it big as dealers. The typical problems arise: they get out of their depth, the supply runs out and life starts to get very difficult. It is Leto, Wayans and Connelly’s remarkable performances which bring these characters to life rather than the script itself.
However, the second plotline, which centres around Harry Goldfarb’s mother, Sara (Ellen Goldstein) stops this film from becoming just another anti-drugs statement. After being told she has been chosen as a contestant for her favourite TV game show, she begins a regimen of diet pills to fit into her old red dress, but the destructive effects of the legal drugs soon become obvious. Her descent into insanity mirrors her son’s and his friends’ ruin, each situation becoming steadily more and more desperate. It not fun to watch.
Sara is the strength of Requiem. Her suffering extends the film’s focus from illegal drug culture to wider issues of addiction and dependency in American culture. To get to the crux of ‘what this film is about’ you have to pay attention to the title: it puts paid to the idea of dreams, more specifically the American Dream. All the characters have obvious dreams: to be on TV, to open a fashion boutique, to get rich dealing heroin, essentially ‘to be somebody’. Each aspiration has their own significance, but more than anything they point towards a lack of… something. Aronofsky and co-scriptwriter Selby don’t spell it out for us exactly, but they point generally towards a flaw in the fundamentals of modern Western society. It’s all frustratingly vague.
However, what puts Requiem on the top 100 list is Aronofsky’s direction rather than the ideas the scriptwriters explore. As the addicts take their respective drugs the shots shorten and follow each other in quick succession: we see needles break skin, blood flows quicken and eyes dilate, all in less than 2 seconds. This occurs often and with an urgency which represents the characters’ desperation; Aronofsky’s not just tarting it up. Like drug use needs to be. He also makes frequent use of extreme close-ups and split-screen shots, which serve to isolate the characters from one another, even at their most intimate, making the whole thing remarkably depressing.
If I’m honest, I do not recommend watching this film, particularly if you can’t boast a strong stomach. You might fancy yourself a film geek, in which case you should check out Requiem for its powerful cinematography and general style if you haven’t already. It’s effective in its purpose and is not heavy handed, the redeeming feature of what is essentially a repulsive movie.