Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream" (IMDb listing) is the best film of the year. It's also the most disturbing movie or better yet, disturbing work of art in human history. If America ever got serious about the so-called "war on drugs," this film would be shown to every middle school student in the country. I guarantee we'd see a mammoth drop-off in the number of teenaged drug addicts.
"Requiem" is a rare combination of great directing, acting and writing that weaves captivating imagery together with grotesque horror like no other film before it. Aronofsky's film plunges itself inside addiction, and not just drugs Ð television, food, dieting, sex, sunbathing. Where most "drug movies" are content to focus on the drugs' effects and hallucinations, Aronofsky goes much deeper and artfully traces the path of addiction in each of his characters to its roots. Drugs take center stage, but the film is about relationships that, already fragmented, break down to a point of no return.
The movie begins with Sarah Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a lonely, retired woman living in Brighton Beach, NY. The only person in her life that matters, besides a self-help guru she watches obsessively on TV, is her son Harry (Jared Leto). Harry sells drugs with his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), and all three are addicted to heroin (interestingly, the clinical names of any of the drugs are never uttered in the film in order to not make drugs the central issue). All four characters are yearning for affection and attention, and drugs just seem to be a way to subdue that yearning. They want to feel important and be successful, and in four different ways, drugs soon become the perceived answer.
But as the addictions grow, the characters become further isolated from one another, increasing the root of the misery. To show the disjointed relationships, Aronofsky cleverly uses a split screen in a few scenes where the characters would normally be shown in the same frame. The director also speeds up scenes when the characters get high, showing how quickly the escape wears off and leaves them searching for a new fix.
As each character falls into his or her personal hell, each situation is unique to further illustrate how far the characters have drifted from one another. The end of the movie, where Aronofsky jumps quickly from Sarah to Harry, Marion and Tyrone, is absolutely horrifying, and it's presumably what got "Requiem" a ridiculous NC-17 rating from the continually incompetent Motion Picture Association of America. (Kudos to Artisan Entertainment, which released the film without an MPAA rating and had theaters impose their own 17-or-older policy.)
I knew "Requiem" was excellent early on. Aronofsky moves the camera with dynamic power and deft care, as if every shot were a Matisse. I knew "Requiem" was a great film when the horrific scenes piled on and I found myself unable to turn away. This film holds some of the most gut-wrenching, stunning images I've ever seen, and yet it's not an exercise in shock for shock's sake. Aronofsky skillfully finds a way to make the images not only relevant and integral to the movie but exquisite and strangely attractive as well. The best examples are the drug delivery scenes where Harry and his friends shoot-up heroin. Aronofsky repeats the same repulsive close-up images again and again in a rhythmic pattern, becoming almost hypnotic. (The trademark scenes of the movie are nicely juxtaposed with the similarly repeated pattern of Sarah grabbing her remote control and turning on her television.)
I haven't seen Aronofsky's first film "PI" but the knock against that movie was, although ripe with an original style, it lacked competent acting and dialogue. If "Requiem" is any indication, Aronofsky has conquered that filmmaking flaw, and then some. The dialogue could well be attributed to Hubert Selby Jr.'s novel, which Aronofsky adapted for the screen.
Aronofsky coaxes excellent performances from Leto, Connelly and Wayans, who all prove themselves to be surprisingly solid actors. The movie's real treasure, however, is Burstyn. She sets a new standard for actors aspiring to capture the manic hopelessness of a character slowly going insane, and she holds the movie together as the only truly innocent character. She is entirely genuine as both a naive old woman with unconditional love for her son and a desperate, frazzled junkie fighting for her next fix. It's a powerful and depressing performance.
Other achievements in the picture include the work of editor Jay Rabinowitz, who flawlessly ties the film together, and composer Clint Massell, who constructs soulful, haunting music that matches Aronofsky's film perfectly. It's the best score I've heard in years.
People see movies to be entertained, whether it's to laugh, cry, cheer or jump out of your seat. Just to be clear, "Requiem" is not entertainment. While it is a great film, it is not an enjoyable one. It is an assault on your senses and emotions that is designed to disturb you and pull you into hell. If you're not ready for the trip, don't see "Requiem For A Dream."
Filmfodder Grade: A+