Over a decade on since its release Requiem For a Dream still manages to pack a mighty punch. Focusing on the interweaving lives of its four main characters it taps into the workings of addiction and provides a disturbing glimpse into the world of drug abuse.
Sporting a recognisable cast, Requiem For a Dream defies conventions and ultimately makes for harrowing viewing. With Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto)’s heroin addiction leading to a strained relationship with his mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn), he finds his life slowly moving away from social norms and instead becoming devoted to the pursuit of another high. Helped along by friend Tyrone (an uncharacteristically straight-faced Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) his addiction peaks at the end of the film only to be met with disastrous consequences.
Based on Hubert Selby’s 1978 novel of the same name, the film makes heavy use of Darren Aronofsky’s cinematic style. Visually immersive, Requiem For a Dream extensively uses split-screen shots (notably at the very beginning of the film when Sara watches her son through a keyhole) whilst also using the dizzying SnorriCam to intensify the characters’ disorientation. Add into this heady mix the fact that Aronofsky’s film utilises roughly 2000 cuts (as opposed to the usual amount of around 700) and you are left with a confounding portrait of drug use that manages to visually impress.
The singular storyline that the film opens with slowly fractures into four separate ones mirroring each character’s mental degradation. Any hope that is offered to each of them (with Sara being promised a stint on television whilst Harry and Marion hope for riches) disappear only to be replaced with consuming drug circuits, rape and a rather terrifying fridge. Whilst her son loses himself to heroine, Sara becomes addicted to weight loss pills after becoming infatuated with the idea of entering the tv world she immerses herself in daily. Watching each character’s mind and life unravel makes for rather distressing viewing and this is only heightened by the frankly eerie soundtrack. Vaguely reminiscent of surreal worlds created by Charlie Kaufman in films such as Synecdoche, New York and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the film is given light relief in the dream scenarios imagined by Harry and Marion (Marion’s imagining stabbing a particularly slimey man in the hand with a fork being the more notable of the two) but both centre on either humiliation or mutilation.
Requiem For a Dream taps into the drug-fuelled psyche only to find tense depression and paranoia through examining hopes and desires and the inevitable addictions and dependences on such. Although it balances the delicate relationships that form around such dependences with great cinematography, the film is nonetheless dishearteningly bleak. As one critic quite rightly pointed out films are for entertainment and, for the large part, this film doesn’t entertain. Yes the cinematography is hypnotic and the film offers some enthralling performances but, and this is quite a big but, its disturbing nature distances it from the viewer. Many have commented on how stirring a vision of drug addiction it provides and admittedly it does delve deep into the drug-riddled minds of its central characters. The world it creates however is so bleak it’s doubtful many people would willingly re-watch this any time soon.
Despite such criticism, the film manages to have an unquestionably dramatic impact and Aronofsky’s efforts behind the camera are applause-worthy. Just don’t approach the film hoping for a happy ending.
Worst fate: None of them fare well, but it’s a toss up between Marion and Harry.
Best line: ‘Your mother needs you like a moose needs a hat rack’.