Reviewed by: Matthias Shapiro
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans | Director: Darren Aronofsky—“The Wrestler,” “The Fountain,” “Pi” / Producers: Eric Watson, Palmer West, Scott Franklin, Randy Simon, Jonah Smith, Scott Vogel, Ben Barenholtz, Beau Flynn, Stefan Simchowitz, Nick Wechsler | Screenwriters: Darren Aronofsky and Hubert Selby Jr., based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr. | Released By: Artisan Entertainment
In the last couple years, there has not been a film like “Requiem for a Dream.” Here is a film that, in its short 102 minute screen time, tenderly destroys every character it focuses on. It is a film so powerful I don’t want to break it apart and look at each piece but instead step back and look at the whole.
The first scene shows a mother who has hand-cuffed her television to the radiator in order to keep her son from selling it in order to get drugs. In the end he prevails, but that first scene establishes the theme of the film: addiction. As it is propelled along, we are introduced to a core group of 4 characters: Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), the television thief and son of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), who is addicted to television. Joining us later are Harry’s girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and Harry’s best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans).
The beginning of the film stresses the dreams of these characters and the experiences and feelings that their respective drugs bring to them. What is fascinating about the drug scenes is the mode of delivery to the audience. They come in vivid, sharp, quickly edited scenes that stress the jarring nature of the drug and are then often followed by unconventional time-bending scenes that show both the glee of the drug and how quickly the bliss fades. The film follows each character as they fall deeper and deeper into the addictions they face. Because of the reality of the characters, the destructive power of these drugs is portrayed more vividly than I have ever seen. In particular, Ellen Burstyn’s performance stands out as overflowing with emotion and sad tenderness as she falls into a pitiable insanity. Also very strong is Marlon Wayans’ performance as a grown up inner city kid who just wanted to be good at something in his life. The cast is stellar, the direction is great, and the writing is unspeakably powerful. “Requiem” is one of the most powerful films to appear in a very long time.
Along with that power, however, comes a great deal of vivid and disturbing imagery. Although the edited version tones down the violent sexual ending, it still contains quite a bit of language and some difficult sexual scenes. This film and “Schindler’s List” have very little in common except this: they are both difficult to watch yet they both are essential to watch. “Schindler’s List” is essential lest we forget the past. “Requiem” is essential lest we forget the future. Addiction plagues our society and the common response is to ignore it or pretend it does not affect us. “Requiem” reminds us that it affects us all.
Note: “Requiem” gained a great deal of notoriety because of its initial NC-17 rating. Rather than accept that commercial mark of death, Artisan released it unrated and asked theatres to participate in excluding the younger audience. When it became available on video and DVD, it garnered more press because of Blockbuster’s refusal to house the unedited version. Instead, an R-rated edited version with a few shots removed has graced their shelves. The difference between the unedited and edited version is negligible, especially in light of the power of the rest of the film. The characters move this film, not the 2 seconds of sickening imagery that was deleted. Watch the edited version and you will miss nothing.