What a completely f***ed up, crazy, hallucinatory, amazing story is Requiem for a Dream. My weekend project has just changed : I want to find director Darren Aronofsky’s first feature, Pi from the video shop.
Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), mate Tyrone (Marlon Waylans) and girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) are all drug users and believe that they are just one deal away from securing their futures and living their dreams.
Harry’s mother, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely, widowed retiree who spends much of her life watching TV and a particular game show especially. When she responds to a marketing cold call, she believes she could be the next contestant on the show. She begins to take diet pills so that she can fit into the red dress she wore at her son’s graduation, a dozen years before.
During ‘Summer’ the air is full of hope and the drugs give a buzz that makes everyone carefree and happy. Aronofsky uses fast edits, distinctive sound effects and tight close ups of the pills, the dilating pupils and the rush into the blood stream (not dissimilar to Dave Fincher’s stylistic close ups) to demonstrate how quick a hit can get you high … and how quick it ends.
The downside in ‘Autumn’ shows the drug supply dry up, the cash run out and the extreme measures they take to score a hit. Sara (the mother) complains to her doctor that the “pills don’t work so good anymore”, as her addiction takes hold. She starts to double up her pill intake, just to get the same feeling and her physical appearance disintegrates. We all know where this is headed.
Finally in 'Winter', Harry and Tyrone take a car trip south to Florida. There, Harry’s infected arm (from one too many needles) is amputated, Tyrone is arrested and thrown in jail, Marion is forced to use her body to raise funds and Sara is effectively lobotomised from the electro-shock treatment given to cure her habit.
So why would you want to watch such a ‘down’ story ? As already stated, the style of the piece is first rate. Secondly, the acting is uniformly excellent. Ellen Burstyn is unrecognisable as Sara and lost the Best Actress Oscar to Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich. Erin Brockovich she ain’t. “Aronofsky brings a new urgency to the drug movie by trying to reproduce, through his subjective camera, how his characters feel, or want to feel, or fear to feel.”1 This is first rate film making : provocative, accomplished and with stylistic flourishes that have you riding the edge of the first high.
1 Roger Ebert