If you’re hoping Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for A Dream will be as fiercely original and innovative as his mind-bending 1998 debut, Pi: don’t waste your time. Requiem showcases your typical plights-of-drug-addiction plot a la Drugstore Cowboy and Trainspotting. A voyeuristic view of a group of characters hooked on speed and smack, it details how their lives gradually fall apart. But what makes this film worthwhile is Ellen Burstyn’s great acting and a chillingly graphic visual nature.
The small group of friends who the film focuses on, slacker/addict Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), and his friend and drug dealing partner Tyrone Love (Marlon Wayans), manage to elicit very little sympathy from the viewer. No traces of Ewan McGregor’s likeable junkie motif are seen here…just a bunch of screw-ups who keep making bad choices and digging their respective holes deeper and deeper. It reaches the point where you don’t even feel sorry when you see Leto get his blood-infected arm amputated or when Connelly resigns herself to selling her body for heroin. Whether or not this was Aronofsky’s goal is uncertain, but judging from the overall bleakness of the film it probably was.
Leto’s performance is the only truly weak one…too often he sounds like he’s just reciting lines in a Brooklyn tough-guy accent. Connelly’s performance is a tad more convincing; at points, she makes Marion cold enough to set you shivering. Wayans’ deliverance of Tyrone is one of the film’s best performances. He brings comic relief when it is needed, melodrama when it is needed, suspense when it is needed…the only real disappointment on his end is a weakly developed character background. He has repeated flashbacks envisioning himself as a child being cradled by his mother, but the film doesn’t do a great job of explaining these flashbacks.
The real show stealer is Ellen Burstyn as Harry’s widowed old mother, Sara Goldfarb. She lives alone in a dingy apartment in Brooklyn where she spends her days watching TV and gossiping with her other old-lady neighbors. The film finds her obsessing over losing weight so she can be on television, and quickly becomes addicted to a shady brand of prescribed diet pills that are essentially speed. She is the one character that you wind up feeling for as the credits roll.
Stylistically, Aronofsky revisits many of the same tricks he used in Pi: long, tracking shots following characters down a hallway, intense bursts of bright light to fade between scenes, and the quick-cut pill popping/heroin shooting/pupil dilating montage (that loses its charm after the first 50 or so repetitions). Some might say Aronofsky hasn’t learned anything new and needs to go back to film school. But despite his reliance on old tricks, the film does have a different look and feel to it than Pi. Whereas that movie was filmed in punchy, polarized, high contrast black-and-white, Requiem, shot in color, has a warmer, more detailed appearance.
The biggest visual asset of the film is its overall quickness. Lots of spinning camera shots are employed and there is an extreme number of cuts. This quickness can make the film a headache to watch, but I can’t think of any better way of visually conveying the distress and intensity of the character’s deranged and sad lives.