REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Darren Aronofsky (2000)

I’ve been recovering  some very good titles I’ve adored since the first time I saw them and, unfortunately hadn’t enjoyed in very long time. It’s true, however, that the fact that it took me so long to review them, made the experience delightful.

When Requiem for a Dream saw the light, the director, Darren Aronofsky, was only 31.  It might not be an important detail to you, but for me it makes a point. Responsible not only for the filming, but also being in charge of the script, really makes me think of a genius. Perhaps, his filmography is not to extent, but all the movies have made a huge impression, not only on the critics, but also on the audience.

Everybody knows Aronofsky, thanks to his last two praised and rewarded films, The Wrestler and Black Swan, no doubt outstanding, and both commented on previous posts. This time I’m very pleased to talk about my favorite, the one that left me speechless and in shock from long time.

Situations recreated by Aronofsky are not standard at all. We witness  the way characters have to deal with their own Hell and demons, ending overwhelmed and devastated by the whole process and the tragic of their lives. These stories are perhaps too extreme, and we might think ourselves too far from them, but changing certain details and social surroundings, we’re subtle to experience something similar, and it’s really scary.

To approach Requiem for a Dream, we should first mark a division between Marion and Harold, and his friend Tyrone on one hand, and Sara Golfarb, Harry’s mother, on the other.  Rising and fall is depicted in 3 stages, everything starting in Summer, or the season of hope and happiness, Fall, things starting to get messed up, to finally collapse in Winter.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a widow  whose only son is a drug addict. Their closest contact consists on the young man, Harry (Jared Leto),  visiting his mother for borrowing her TV set, the only thing that keeps her company and her most loyal friend, to get some money at the pawnshop for dope. As part of the cycle, Sara, will always end up visiting the pawnbroker, in order to recover the TV, as part of the routine, without complaining.

Harry and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are in search of the magic trick that will ensure them money to afford to make their dreams come true. They seem to have found the score, by buying, cutting and dealing heroine.

Harry is deep in love with beautiful Marion (Jennifer Connelly), aspiring to become a fashion designer, and also very in love with substances to enhance her creativity. Marion seems to come from a wealthy family, as she has her own flat, and from time to time, in order to avoid her parents cutting her short, she dates her former shrink, Arnold, ensuring he won’t advise them of her habits and behavior.

On the other hand, Sara, hooked to infocomercials hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald), receives a phone call, announcing she’s been selected to take part in one of these quiz shows on TV. For a lonely woman, such an invitation is the best that could happen to her, and standing in front of the audience means she must be stunning. Thus, Sara starts trying strict diet in order to fit in the red dress she was wearing at Harry’s graduation, but she can’t bear starving, and will eventually succumb to a magic diet someone suggests, based on these magic color pills, what we know as uppers and downers.

For a short period of time everything seems to be working for all them, the guys dealing in Coney Island and making good money, and Sara getting fit for the TV show, but of course, when all the grounds are unstable and based on dreams out of reality, eventually the world collapses, and things change radically in a nick of time.

The business has to close due to lack of dope to deal with, money runs out,  and all the happiness and perfection vanish instantly, because the reality for these addicts is that they only care for a fix. Just the opposite, Mrs Goldfarb gets so hooked to pills, she starts taking more than prescribed, developing a constant state of paranoia, dreaming of herself introduced by his beloved Tibbons to the set, having Harry by her side…

No need to  point out that the end of this voyage, is, to say the least, shocking and terrifying.

All the plot and issues related to the three young characters does not differ from many other stories related to junkies. Their behavior is a standard pattern, if there’s money everything’s perfect, they get on well, trust each other, love is strong… as soon as there’re no drugs on the street or money in their pocket, relationships quickly decay, allowing suspicion, disrespect, and tension to rise, causing chaos. Of course, despite the events to follow are quite predictable, it doesn’t imply the intensity of this downward spiral has to lessen.

Nevertheless, what I think the big deal in this film is, has to do with  all the way to madness Sara Goldfarb has to pass through to end completely demented.

Starting from the general assumption any intake pill is a drug (forget about natural stuff), prescribed by a doctor, we must think of ourselves as potential users, depending on illness or requirements. As patients we are not walking Vademecum’s either, thus we have to trust what we are advised, considering doctors are professional.

What happens to Sara is a combination of many factors, all mixed up, results into an exploding cocktail.

Sara is alone, living a boring life based only in watching infocomercials and spending sometime chatting with her neighbors. Her son is a drug addict she doesn’t turn in because is the only next of kin she has, thus she allows him to steal the TV set, once and once again. In certain way, she’s supporting his addiction, by recovering it afterwards.

She’s not a very enlightened woman either. As soon as she receives the phone call seeding the idea of making her dream of appearing on TV come true, and bringing her the possibility of projecting  a successful and fulfilling image of her life, to the audience, she’s 100% convinced it is for real, thus she starts setting personal targets for a date not yet confirmed.

And yes, same as usual, vanity comes always the first, when dealing with such events. She wants to fit in the red dress. She thinks it’s only a matter of losing weight, but she’s not considering also years pass by. She’s so narrow minded as to associate this red dress to happiness, just because wearing it before everything was just perfect: her soon graduated, her husband still alive and by her side, and she looking younger and stunning. She wants to be popular and feel loved by her neighbors.

Surprisingly, Sara lacks of will power, so she can’t bear a strict diet program, consisting on reducing not only quantity of food, but also erasing sugar, salt and other fattening additives. The solution is to invest into these wonder diets you don’t feel hungry and weight loss is immediately noticeable, you only have to take series of pills on a daily basis. Although Sara feels the alterations, she assumed them as normal because the pills have been prescribed by a doctor, who is always right. Both her physical and mental states are soon disturbed by the pills, feeling anxiety, euphoria, hyperactivity … Everything is fine as long as she reaches her goal, the red dress.

Her weight loss is directly linked to her developing tolerance to pills. she starts suffering from hallucinations and paranoia, and in order to get going she starts increasing the dose, in order to keep balanced, to eventually lose total control, becoming completely hooked to the pills, unable to establish a drug pattern, being high 24/7, up to a point she’s a unable to differ reality from imagination, turning completely insane.

All this told, enhanced by many shots, crazy close-ups and these cameras showing oneself views, sound effects, and other technical aspects, makes an impression. Montage is super elaborated.

This last time I watched Requiem For A Dream, I had the same feeling as the first time, didn’t matter I was already acquainted with the story. As Sara’s addiction is stronger, and consequently the sequence of images is more disturbing, I started feeling uneasy. Perhaps this time it affected me even more, as I’m quitting smoking. Fact is that as Sara’s sanity is slipping, the rhythm of the film is also mental.

Not sure whether I could refer to the conclusion as a lecture, but somehow there’s a message in this film. In fact there are many, and are quite frightening. I can’t stop thinking of these two:

First one has to do with what I mentioned earlier. Everybody is a potential victim of drug abuse. You might not try cocaine, but you can be prescribed with Valium, or extasis, and depending on your physical and mental condition you could get hooked without the proper monitoring. I’ve met people hooked to relaxants to get some sleep, others playing with laxatives to lose weight. People think as junkies, they are focused on immediate pleasure or results, forgetting about side effects or extended usage consequences. And there’s the real danger.

The philosophy of achieving a goal no matter what, can easily turn against you and ruin your life. You have to be realistic, and work within your limits. Last night a close friend of mine said something about ambition, more or less the idea was that you have to set and renew targets in order to improve but always on a real scale.

Thus, divided into 3 stages, we witness the stories of four people who have dreams of a better life, and how, succumbing to their addictions, they end up hopeless and their lives ruined forever.

Requiem For A Dream is one of the most shocking and impressive films of the past decade, and one of my favorites. The subject is tough and the story is definitely one of a kind, and depending on your sensitiveness, you might find it hard to endure. Aronofsky here, reconfirmed his role as a director wasn’t going to be ignored.  And believe me, if you get to see this film, you will positively want to dig more in his work. Excellent!

One Response to “REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, Darren Aronofsky (2000)”

  1. Joaquín Says:

    One of my favorite movies of the last decade, although not a movie to watch all the days. I don’t know what to say more about it, because Toi has really perfectly explained what goes through my head. Maybe I will insist on a couple of things:

    The way Aronofsky filmed the movie… For the viewer is shocking, uncomfortable, unsettling… it even can make you feel (physically) ill.

    In most drug films there are very similar characters. “Requiem…” share some of the recurrent topics, but it’s different. The four protagonists have a very different background, in particular the mother has nothing to do with the usual junkie. But maybe they are not so different. They don’t like their current lifes, but make plans for better futures. All share the ambition for unrealistic dreams that will “fix” everything and be “happy endings”. All of them are looking for love or want to be loved. Mmmmm, not unlike many of us…

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