|In this episode: Requiem for a Dream|
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
When the movie ended, I sat there. (As did Marcy and several other people in the audience.) And I'll tell you, if public propriety hadn't been in force, I would have been crying my head off. It was very difficult to stop the tears; part of me wanted to just let my emotions go and bawl like a baby, and the other part thought it just might be too much to do in the middle of a theater. I know it would have been more cleansing and liberating to let myself cry like I wanted to, so I regret my choice in hindsight.
You have to be ready for this movie. You have to be willing to accept whatever it throws at you. Requiem for a Dream explores a dreary, sad side of life in a harshly poetic manner. It grinds you raw.
Darren Aronofsky has, without a doubt, proven himself impossibly well-versed in the language of film. He directed Pi, which was a bleak but intriguing experiment that, despite its extremely rough look, worked your head over in new and creative ways. I liked it. In Requiem for a Dream, Darren takes a gigantic leap of faith in his craft. He makes choices that, on paper, might have sounded ridiculous or tacky. Thank God Artisan Entertainment left him well enough alone so he could create this overwhelming piece of art.
Briefly, the story is this: Harry Goldfarb (an above-adequate Jared Leto) is a junkie who spends a majority of his time with his girlfriend Marion (a fantastic Jennifer Connelly) and his buddy Tyrone (a surprisingly good Marlon Wayans). He sees his mother on occasion, mostly to leech off her to get drug money. The plot from there is quite pedestrian when you whittle the meat off the frail bones, but it has to do with the three youngsters wanting to make enough money to get out of the hellhole they live in. They want to pull off "the big one." Of course, everything goes wrong.
The emotional power of the movie, for me, came in a big way from Ellen Burstyn's performance. She plays Harry's mother, Sara. She is alone, her husband long dead and her son barely existent in her life. When her opportunity to shine arrives via a phone call from a man telling her she's been selected to be a contestant on a game show, she sees a hopeful, glamorous new life ahead of her. And, like Harry and his cohorts' similar attempt to improve their lives, Sara ends up letting her dream do her in. At first, I felt Ellen was pulling a simple dotty old woman caricature out of her acting satchel, but I was not prepared for where she takes Sara. It is such a gigantic yet believable arc, and the outcome is so shatteringly disastrous, that I had to take back my first reaction to her performance. You can skip ahead if you don't want details, but there was one shot in particular that haunts me. It's after Sara's addiction to speed (what she thinks are diet pills prescribed to her by a shady doctor) has snapped her mind, and she escapes from her dowdy, worn apartment. The shot, from a high camera angle, captures her wandering the street, addled and shaky. While she moves at normal speed, the people and world around her movie in fast motion. A stuttery look overlays the whole shot. It lasts all of a few seconds, but it's enough. You know you've seen people like this on the street, and you may have even wondered on occasion how they got to be where they are. Darren, right here, is showing us how easy it can be to get this way. While Sara's arc may be gigantic, it is also very simple, and that is part of its power. Humans can be very fragile creatures if we're not careful.
Drug dependency is the theme of the movie. The four main characters all ruin their lives because they rely on drugs for one reason or another. For Sara, it's her desire to lose weight so she'll look good on TV. For Harry and Tyrone, it's their belief that selling the drugs they themselves are hooked on will make them rich enough to start over. And for Marion, it's her reliance on cocaine to get her through her depression over being disowned by her parents and her desire to find success through her fashion designs. To try and describe all the visual tricks and treats Darren utilizes to tell this story would be impossible. But here's a sample of one clever and effective gimmick: Mini-montages used as signatures when each character takes his or her drug of choice. For Harry's heroin, it's quick close-ups of the drug being prepared, blood rushing through vessels, a close-up of an eye, etc. For Sara, it's the popping open of the pill container, the popping of the pill into her mouth, and the popping of the lid back on the container. There's even a little coffee montage for when Sara first starts her diet, a little demonstration that caffeine is itself a powerful drug.
As all the characters move down their doomed paths, Darren plays with reality more and more. The visions of life through the eyes of these drugged-up characters become bizarre, twisted, but not without context or connection. Everything means something, every strange film trick is used for a distinct purpose. (Darren could teach a thing or two to Michael Bay. Of course I had to work that dork into this review!) [Skip this if you want because it talks a little about the ending.] And as every bit of sensory overload hits you, it builds until, at the end, we see every character turn onto their side and curl up into a fetal position. That action would be, in any lesser film, a silly and cliché choice, but once again Darren knows what he's doing. Life has done these people in. They have done themselves in. And they have no choice but to curl up into themselves. It's each character's demonstration of surrender. They no longer have the energy or the power to fight. You could argue that the fetal position here shows that, since each character has hit bottom, they can do nothing now but be re-born and move to a happier place. But that's not what Darren has set up for us. These people are broken. These innocent people, these people who are not by any stretch of the definition bad people, got a little sidetracked, a little distracted, and were hit by a train they could do nothing to stop. And again, it is the simplicity of the story arcs that make this movie hit the gut.
If you think you can take this kind of movie, I urge you to see Requiem for a Dream. You may hate it for everything I like it for, but at least you will have experienced something incredibly daring and challenging. Very few movies do this today. I can now only wonder how Darren will take his moody, bleak style and transfer it to the world of Batman.
[NOTE: For another very good reason to see this movie, click here, please. 12/21/00]
|©2000 Steven Lekowicz|