A full assault on the senses, "Requiem for a Dream" (IMDb listing) should be required watching for any addict or potential addict so they can see drug use does to the body, mind, and soul. It's a hellish vision brought to the screen by Darren Aronofsky, the appallingly overrated director of the irritating "PI." In fact, the very style and delivery of "Requiem" could qualify it as a kind of unofficial sequel to "PI." A bruiser of a film, "Requiem" has a saintly message that the world should hear. It's too bad Aronofsky has an almost unwatchable visual palette of which to deliver that message from.
A story about four addicts, one hooked on diet pills (Ellen Burstyn), the other three (Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans, and Jennifer Connelly) blasted on heroin. And that's it. Based on Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel (he co-wrote the screenplay with Aronofsky), "Requiem" is virtually plotless. A myriad of story threads that have no beginning and no end. "Requiem" isn't about the characters, it's about the addiction and the multitude of ways (buying, stealing, sexual degradation) the junkies will go to get their fix.
Like "PI," Aronofsky takes a simple idea and sends it through his spanking machine of a directing style. The camera swoops around, the screen splits in two, it speeds up, it slows down, the soundtrack blares, and the acting is unhinged. It never stops. Aronofsky is one of the few directors who would take the risk and follow up his Sundance and college campus hit "PI" with such an equally risky and dark project. However, with "Requiem," I say the emperor has no clothes on.
"Requiem" is shot in the same manner as "PI" and has the same impulses to overcompensate as Aronofsky's math-genius picture had. It also features a bleak and obvious climax like his first film. Heck, "Requiem" is even cut the same way as "PI." Every moment and sound beat into the brain repeatedly. It's as if Aronofsky has a fetish for the ritual of routine. "Requiem" is a better film than "PI" simply because it's a better idea for a film. There are more images to play with when your story features junkies. Lord knows Aronofsky leaves no stone unturned when it comes to thinking up ways to embody chemical addiction.
That very cinematic hyperactivity brings "Requiem" to its knees right away. I'm not sure Aronofsky wants the audience to feel much sympathy for his characters when he spends so much time burying them in his thick paste of camera tricks. We barely meet the cast before all of them are on the downside of their addiction. Of the four actors, Ellen Burstyn is the most game to slip into madness, but she soon is forced to look foolish as Aronofsky sends her into the blender of overacting. Wearing a fat suit in the opening act of the picture, the filmmakers forget to match the color of the suit to Burstyn's skin. It's distracting and unprofessional.
Certain scenes work in "Requiem," but none as well as the climax in which we find out where the character's fates lie. It's a work of bravura that rivals Paul Thomas Anderson's "Boogie Nights" in terms of "I never expected this" type destinies. It's a tightly wound culmination that is brutal to sit through, yet is a complete success as it never sentimentalizes drug addiction. The ending chooses to show true horror and destruction in place of typical Hollywood recovery montages. It's not pretty, and Aronofsky's style comes into play properly for the first time in the film. "Requiem for a Dream" is misguided and bombastic, but it stays in memory and actually should be seen by teenagers (regardless of the film's earned restricted rating) everywhere as a preventative tool for drug addiction.
Filmfodder Grade: C