Review: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #700

Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 14, 2000 (Cannes)
Sub-Genre: Psychological Drama
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $4,500,000
Box Office: $7,400,000
Running Time: 101 minutes
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Producers: Eric Watson, Palmer West
Screenplay: Hubert Selby, Jr., Darren Aronofsky
Based on Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby, Jr.
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Score: Clint Mansell
Editing: Jay Rabinowitz
Studios: Thousand Words, Protozoa Pictures
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, Mark Margolis, Louise Lasser, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Sean Gullette, Keith David, Dylan Baker, Ajay Naidu, Ben Shenkman, Hubert Selby Jr.

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Alice In Chains “Fear The Voices”

[2] Clint Mansell “Hope Overture”

[3] Clint Mansell “Summer Overture”

[4] Clint Mansell “Marion Barfs”

[5] Clint Mansell “The Beginning of The End”

[6] Clint Mansell “Meltdown”

[7] Clint Marshall “Summer Overture (Reprise)”

What’s the first thought that comes into your head when you hear the word addiction? Before watching Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, mine would likely have been a street junkie in a back alley, with a leather belt around the arm and hypodermic needle hanging out of whatever artery was most accessible. “Slamming”, “banging”, “shooting up”, “digging”, “mainlining” – just some of the names given to the intravenous injection of this particular recreational drug and it’s generally the go-to image when speaking of dependency. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder characterized by the compulsion for stimuli, regardless of adverse consequences and, while it tends to be linked to substance abuse first and foremost, it’s really not all that fussy.

You see, junkies are everywhere we look, and not just in the slums either. Addiction doesn’t state a preference when it comes to age or social class and can strike wherever it spots a potential recruit. Whether your drug of choice is morphine, cocaine, cannabis, sexual intercourse, nicotine, food, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, gambling, videogames or daytime television; the one common thread is our desire for instant gratification. Like any habit, it thrives on familiarity, recruiting repeat offenders by flooding their brain’s reward systems with dopamine, sneaky little fucker that it is. We all host voices inside our heads and their powers of persuasion are not to be taken lightly. Failure to adhere to their polite requests and they’ll scream bloody murder until you come around to their way of thinking. As a just about functioning addict; I know only too well of their skulduggery.

We live in a world where pretty much anything our hearts desire is freely accessible. While certain drugs are outlawed, numerous others can be acquired with the minimum of fuss, often without leaving the comfort of our own living room. It matters not whether young and dumb or old and bored; only that its subject is open to suggestion. I’ve met over-sixties totally enslaved by addiction and, though I’ve never stumbled across a pensioner chasing the dragon or shooting up, their imprisonment has been every bit as all-encompassing.

Should you approach a shady street vendor and make your unlawful purchase, then you should be more than aware that you’re rolling the dice. However, stock up on dried fruit because you believe each serving provides 1 of your daily 5 and you may not be quite so privy to the hidden sugar bombs going off inside you. Fancy meeting a bona fide junkie right now? Then I suggest we head on over to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, and pay a house visit to Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) as she could sure do with the company.

I know what you’re likely thinking right now. The old girl seems happy enough right? I mean, it’s not like she’s tweaking like a nutbag or preparing to rob a grocery store just to raise funds for the next fix. By all accounts, Sara’s your average sixtysomething widow. No longer the head turner she once was and feeling a tad disillusioned since her husband’s death, she consoles herself with a few menial creature comforts, none of which are prohibited by law. Watching harmless infomercials is never likely to earn her a stint in rehab; neither are the prescription diet pills her physician has recommended. After all, who can you possibly trust if not a qualified doctor? Besides, things are actually looking decidedly rosy for Sara Goldfarb and there’s one reason in particular to be ever so cheerful.

You see, as luck would have it, Sara’s managed to secure herself a spot on a television game show and has it all mapped out in her head in advance. The fancy red dress she used to wear with her beloved husband may not fit now but, thanks to her new slimming regime, those pounds will fall off in no time. Naturally this will take a certain degree of dedication on her part as you are what you eat and there are certain dietary no-no’s for those looking to drop a dress size or three. As the old saying goes – a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips – and Sara knows precisely what needs to be done in order to reach her target.

Purple in the morning, blue in the afternoon, orange in the evening. And green at night. Just like that. One, two, three, four. Who knows, with Sara thinking thin and the diet pills going to work in such an efficient manner, she may yet be able to afford herself the odd sin or two.

“Harold, I’m gonna be on Television”

At any rate, Harry (Jared Leto) will no doubt drop in any time now and she can’t wait to spill the beans about her big break in television to her Harry. Such a sweet, thoughtful son he is. Going places too. Sara can’t recall exactly what it is that he does for work but, whatever his chosen vocation, it’s always presenting fresh opportunities for advancement. If this hot streak continues, he’s promised to buy his dear mother a brand new television and deliver it to her personally, which is no surprise to Sara as he’s always been a resourceful boy and so considerate. One thing’s for sure, his father would be so proud of him.

So he occasionally dabbles with recreational drugs, big whoop. It’s not like Harry’s selling that shit just to fund his own addiction; it’s just a handy little earner, a means-to-an-end while he figures out how to finance those bigger dreams. I’m sure he could knock the smack on the head the very moment it was required of him to knuckle down as it’s not dependency if you just so happen to enjoy the buzz right? It would be a whole different matter if Harry was a one-man band but he has his own business associate and the pair share a rather glorious synergy. You could say it’s DY-NO-MITE!

“C’mon baby let’s do this… naturally”

That there is Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans) and a more loyal partner in crime you’d be hard pushed to find. He’d have Harry’s back in a fix without hesitation, wouldn’t dream of selling his brother from another mother out for his own selfish ends, and is more than willing to weigh in with a short and punchy motivational speech whenever supplies run short.

Harry may be easily persuaded to tap the mainline so to speak but, in Tyrone, he’s never without a spotter just in the unlikely event that shit gets real. Speaking of which, Harry need never feel alone with the love of a good woman available on tap. And in Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), he appears to have well and truly struck white gold.

“I love you, Harry. You make me feel like a person. Like I’m me… and I’m beautiful”

Isn’t she breathtaking? A vision of such effortless beauty cannot help but supply natural high all by itself. Better yet, Marion’s dreaming just as big as her soul mate. She has grand designs on launching her very own clothing brand and would likely make a million simply selling her patterns door-to-door, regardless of whether or not they’re actually any good. That said, while her goals in life are sizable, it’s the living out loud part that she struggles with. Like Harry, Marion is all about the finer pleasures in life, and you only need look at the street price for scag to know it qualifies as one of life’s little luxuries.

“Somebody like you can really make things all right for me”

It’s not all about those impulse buys though as the greatest rapture for Harry and Marion comes through basking in one another’s light. Their relationship breaks down into far more than simply sharing a few common interests; it’s a wondrous thing, a spiritual thing, a natural thing. It would take a lot more than an unexpected dip in fortune to separate these two puzzle pieces as their destined to stick together like glue right through to their ultimate requiem. Right now they’re simply living the dream and neither one has the faintest desire to wake up.

Can I level with you? Okay so currently business is down on last month and it may be necessary for Marion to do a little moonlighting, just to help make ends meet you understand. It’s only fair with Harry out there busting his gut night after night; just a few extra bucks for the coffer. There are plenty of ways to generate a little additional income, especially when you’re so well qualified.

I’m not speaking of a degree in fast-food preparation here; that kind of minimum wage enterprise is way beneath one gifted in other far more lucrative ways. You tell me, if you were a potential employer and Marion showed up for her interview looking like this, would you leave it until Monday for her to start?

If you can hear a faint pitter-patter, that’s just me tapping my vein by the way. I wonder if her boss would object to a little work shadowing, for the purpose of risk assessment naturally. Should things not pan out in her current position, then I’m sure she could expect a glowing reference. You tell me, does Big Tim (Keith David) look anything over than thrilled to have Marion as part of his workforce?

“I know it’s pretty baby, but I didn’t take it out for air”

And I guess that’s why they call him Big Tim. On the upside, at least Marion’s being personally trained on the job, and who knows where else the skills she acquires from Big Tim will come in handy further down the line. Granted, certain things expected of her can appear a tad demeaning but, then again, is it really that dissimilar to punching in 9-5 at a job you loathe and sucking corporate cock for a measly monthly allowance. We’re talking commission here bitches and no need to liaise with human resources when her pay check’s light; all for a mere throatful of minutes making the sucking cock part literal. At least she can afford some mouthwash.

In all this recreational fun and games, I almost clean forgot about dear old Sara. I wonder how she’s getting on with the whole slimming deal. By my estimations, Sara should be a mere pinch away from fitting into that red dress she loves so much and I hear she even got her hair done so expect something glamorous when we show our faces. Since we left her last, Harry dropped in just as he said he would and you should see the television he brought with him, just for her.

She’ll be inside that screen soon, no doubt alongside her favorite TV host Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald), dishing out the prizes. When her big moment finally arrives, she’ll be sure to mention Harry and his father, let the whole world see what a proud and lucky lady she truly is. I mean, look at her. Don’t they say a smile can speak a thousand words? How many do you reckon this grill spills?

“Juice by Sara, juice by Sara, juice by Sara oh, Sara’s got juice, Sara’s got juice, ohhhhhhhh Sara!”

Screaming in silence you say? Well Mr. or Mrs. Smartypants, if her smile looks at all like a grimace, then perhaps that would have something to do with the damn refrigerator going on the blink. You know how it is, there’s always something; this week it’s the turn of the one household item she depends on the most, outside of the goggle box of course. Those infomercials are simply electrifying. The fridge however, well it appears to have arrived at the conclusion it should practice exactly what it preaches.

Don’t panic Sara, whatever you do, don’t let it get to you. Easier said than done when you’re tweaking for amphetamine I know, but how was you to know that those pills contained a dash of speed? Yours are merely the symptoms of the customary withdrawal and nothing another quick fix won’t soon level out. Don’t forget to feed the monkey Sara. Don’t forget to feed the monkey Sara. Sara? Feed the monkey!

Harry appears to have hit something of a snag also and, while Tyrone has his back at all times, that arm may well require a second opinion. Like any other Class-A drug, Heroin is all about rinsing and repeating and perhaps he skimped a little too much on the former. With places to go, people to meet, and deals still to strike, he could always slap on a Band-Aid and swig some gin to take the edge off the gradually worsening dull throb.

Naturally this is all going to be somewhat distressing to his other mother brother but I’m sure a strong black man like Tyrone C. Love can handle it. That said, the thing about DY-NO-MITE is that eventually it’ll go off in your hand and sometimes all a brother like Tyrone really needs is to be held.

Meanwhile, Marion’s appears to be getting herself in a state too, something to do with the perks of her job not being quite what she was expecting or the fact her true love’s arm is rotting faster than a peach on a sun-lounger. We all go through rough patches in life but hers appears particularly abrasive. Constant money worries certainly don’t help but it’s not that unknown next meal or the roof over her head she’s tweaking hardest for.

Most of all though, it’s poor Sara I feel positively wretched for. She used to have a reason to get up in the morning. A reason to lose weight, to fit in the red dress. A reason to smile. Now she’s alone. No one to care for. What has she got? She’s lonely. She’s old. She’s developed a little blight by the name of amphetamine psychosis and is tripping her tits off as we speak. Quick, shove a sponge in her mouth and fire up the juice.

Feeling distressed yet? Strung out even? If so then I’ve administered the correct uppers and downers as Brooklyn born filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 sophomore feature, Requiem for a Dream, is all about those peaks and troughs, particularly the latter. Based on Hubert Selby, Jr.’s 1978 novel of the same name (and co-written by the man himself), Aronofsky’s film administers each high via rapid cut montages in extreme close-up just to replicate the intimate buzz in every last hit.

Meanwhile, each subsequent low is honed in on and lingered upon, way beyond the point where we feel vague discomfort. We stride through Summer without a care in the world, feel the chill during the Fall, and wind up paralyzed by its long and decidedly cold Winter. It’s constantly intensifying, its characters spiraling ever deeper into the void, and relief is as swift as it is no great consolation.

One thing it’s not is a date movie as the themes of helplessness, isolation and steady fragmentation it explores really couldn’t be farther from romantic. The habitual transition from sobriety to intoxication and back again is exhausting and many will have had more than enough long before we’re finally granted some serenity. Even then, our dreams aren’t sweet as Aronofsky juxtaposes them with portraits of the four shattered lives we have just witnessed taking a thumping.

While all four of the central performances are exquisite, the woman of the hour just has to be Sara and quite how Burstyn’s turn missed out on an Academy Award, only the Academy will know and they’re sure as shit not telling. Every facial muscle combines to create what is essentially a road map for sorrow and your heart aches for Sara until it breaks. It may not be pretty to watch this kind of human deconstruction when presented in such a bleak, suck it up kind of way, but it also perfectly demonstrates both the power and black magic of provocative cinema. Call me an addict and I’ll roll up a banknote, but then again, aren’t we all?

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

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Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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