Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/14/09 w/ Additional Edits & Expanded Content.
After the success of his 1998 debut film Pi, Darren Aronofsky had arrived as a new director on the rise. His debut film was a low-budget sci-fi thriller that captivated audiences for his high-octane, intelligent take on mathematics and the mysteries of life. Following the success of Pi, Aronofsky was approached to take over the Batman franchise following the poorly-received 1997 film Batman & Robin. Though he would go back and forth into the development through the years along with attached projects for Ronin and Watchmen. Aronofsky instead focused on a novel by Hubert Selby Jr. about addiction of all kinds that would become the basis for his 2000 based on the novel of the same name entitled Requiem for a Dream.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky with a script co-written with novelist Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream tells various different stories of addiction from various characters. An elderly woman dealing with her addiction to pills that altered her state of reality while her son, his girlfriend, and a friend deal with their own escape through drugs that would collide with harsh realities. A study of addiction, the mind, and alternate realities, it's a film that explores the psyche of individuals dealing with drug addiction. Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, Keith David, Louise Lasser, and from Pi, Mark Margolis, Sean Gullette, and Ben Shenkman. Requiem for a Dream is a harrowing, surreal, and mesmerizing masterpiece from Darren Aronofsky and company.
It's summer in Brighton Beach as Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) spends all day at her apartment watching an infomercial hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald). Alone and widowed, her son Harry (Jared Leto) only visits to take her TV so he can sell it to Mr. Rabinowitz (Mark Margolis) who often gives the TV back to Sara. One day, Sara receives a phone call that she's going to be on TV as she is excited but needs to lose weight to wear a red dress. Harry meanwhile, is a dealer/heroin addict along with his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) where they hope for some big scores. With Harry's girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), also an addict, the money made in the summer brings some hope as Harry and Marion hope to open a shop for Marion's fashion designs while Tyrone hopes to use the money to get out of the street and make his mother proud.
With Sara desperate to lose weight, she turns to her friend Ada (Louise Lasser) who suggests getting a prescription from a doctor. Sara takes prescription pills that allowed her to lose weight but her behavior has become strange as she starts to have weird imaginations of herself on TV. During a visit, Harry notices his mother's strange behavior and the pills she's been using as he is horrified by what happened. Then as the fall arrived, Tyrone gets caught by the police following a shootout between dealers as the money he and Harry made were spent on Tyrone's bail. With little money and dope for them to feed their addictions, Marion makes a move to get money from her family shrink Arnold (Sean Gullette) that would cause a rift between her and Harry.
With Sara's behavior becoming increasing erratic as she has weird visions in her head, her confusion between reality and fiction increases as she's desperate to be on TV with her pill dosage increasing. With Harry, Tyrone, and Marion desperate for dope as the winter arrives, Harry and Tyrone decide to go to Florida to get some dope in hopes to make some money again. With Marion left behind, she decides to engage in prostitution to feed her addiction as she has become a regular client for a rich man (Keith David). With Harry's health suddenly deteriorating and Sara's state of mind becoming increasingly troubled, it becomes clear that whatever hope they're all latching on seems far away.
The film can be described as an anti-drug film in terms of its message but that seems too easy to say. The film is really about people latching on to dreams and hopes through drugs only to be betrayed by them. With each main character hoping to reach for that goal, it becomes crippled by reality or an alternate reality in the case of Sara where their addiction to drugs, whether legal or illegal, takes a toll on all of them. The film's title alone is about the death of dreams through various states of substances. Novelist Hubert Selby Jr. and co-screenwriter Darren Aronofsky do an amazing job in exploring that theme of the lost dream as well as creating a unique structure for the film. The first act in the summer represents hope, the second act represents failure and the collision of harsh realities in the fall, and the third act in the winter is about the culmination of the downward spiral for all of the characters. The script overall is truly unique with its stylish dialogue and harrowing themes.
Aronofsky's direction is truly mesmerizing from start to finish as everything he had done in Pi has the director stepping up his game. Instead of going for the grainy, black-and-white minimalism of Pi, Aronofsky uses everything he's given to create a film that is truly atmospheric and haunting. With the use of split-screens, slow-motion shots, weird angles, spinning cameras, and striking compositions. It's clear that Aronofsky is trying to go into the mind of the characters as they deal with harsh realities or alternate realities with scenes that range from the bizarre to the harshest moments of realism that it's often ugly. Particularly some scenes with heavy sexual content, in its director's cut version of the film, that are very heavy to show the sense of desperation and struggle. Some of the scenes were Sara's state of mind becomes increasing troubled are done at times with very claustrophobic shots in its framing device. Overall, Aronofsky makes a film that is hard to watch yet engaging in its surrealism and harsh realities.
Cinematographer Matthew Libatique does an amazing job with the various colors he's given for the film's unique structure from the yellowish-look of the summer scenes in the first act from its exterior look to the a wonderful interior scene between Harry and Sara. For the second act, the look becomes more tinted with blue to display the mood of the characters while the third is darker, more intimate, and more surreal to display the grittiness and struggle of the characters. Libatique's work is truly phenomenal in its display of mood and atmosphere. Editor Jay Rabinowitz does superb work with the cutting to give the film a sense of repetition in the use of drugs along with some fast, rhythmic cutting and speedy moments for the film's atmospheric approach to what the characters are doing. With some jump-cuts on some sequences, Rabinowitz's editing is brilliant in creating speeds and slow movements to convey the sense of surrealism in the mind of Sara.
Production designer James Chinlund along with set decorator Ondine Karady and art director Judy Rhee do fantastic work with the looks of Sara's apartment and the place that Harry and Marion stays. One fantastic sequence involving the recreation of Sara's apartment as a set is wonderful for all of its bizarre qualities and movement of the refrigerator. Costume designer Laura Jean Shannon does wonderful work with the film's costumes from the street clothes that Harry, Tyrone, and Marion wear to the red dress that Sara wears for her TV appearance. Visual effects supervisors Jeremy Dawson and Dan Schrecker do an excellent job of creating the distorted looks of Tappy and Sara in one of Sara's weird, surreal dream sequences. Sound editor Nelson Ferreira and designer Brian Emrich do brilliant work with the film's sound for the banging of the refrigerator, location settings, and the use of objects to create an atmosphere about addiction and Sara's own surreal world.
The music by Clint Mansell with contributions from the Kronos Quartet is truly intense and atmospheric with Mansell's haunting arrangements of beats and electronics to convey the world of Harry's addiction and journey. The contributions of the Kronos Quartet features some dramatic, eerie pieces to convey the world of Sara and her surreal state with string scratches and stuff. Along with pieces from Paul Oakenfold and conga pieces remixed by James Murphy of the DFA label. The film's music and soundtrack is truly mesmerizing in its mix of electronic music and string quartet pieces.
The casting by Ann Goulder, Anne McCarthy, and Mary Vernieu is truly superb with cameo appearances from several actors from the film Pi like Ajay Naidu as a mailman, Samia Shoab as a nurse, Ben Shenkman as a doctor, Mark Margolis as a friend of Sara, and Sean Gullette as Marion's family shrink. Other appearances from Dylan Baker as a doctor, Denise Dowe as Tyrone's mother, Aliya Campbell as Tyrone's girlfriend, Darren Aronofsky as a man at a party, Keith David as a customer of Marion's, novelist Hubert Shelby Jr. as a prison guard, Aronofsky's parents in roles as a man on a train and a friend of Sara, and Louise Lasser as Ada, a close friend of Sara are truly excellent in their small roles. Christopher McDonald is great as Tappy Tibbons, a man from an infomercial who is trying to sell a product with a lot of gusto as McDonald's performance is truly memorable in every scene he's in.
Marlon Wayans is excellent as Tyrone, a young drug dealer with hopes to get a better life despite his addiction, shows Wayans in a rare dramatic role where he plays it straight and with a bit of optimism until he gets into trouble while dealing with Harry's deteriorating health. While Wayans get to say some funny lines, his dramatic performance proves that there's more to him than just being silly. Jennifer Connelly is brilliant as Marion, a young woman with hopes to her run her own fashion shop that is forced to succumb to prostitution. Connelly's performance is truly haunting as a woman whose addictions and desperation leads her into a downward spiral. Jared Leto is great as Harry, a young, irresponsible addict who has hopes for a life outside of drugs despite his use until he discovers what his mother is doing. It's a performance where Leto is restrained and engaging as he creates a sympathetic character who really cares for his mother and friends despite his own mistakes.
Finally, there's Ellen Burstyn in a phenomenal performance from the actress who, prior to this film, was relegated to TV movies and small film roles. Burstyn's unique, complex, and mesmerizing performance is really the highlight of the film. With her body language from being still to nerve-wracking as her character succumbs to erratic behaviors, Burstyn displays all of the troubles of a woman looking for a dream to be on TV. Yet, her surreal mind even has her playing a crazed, comical double with weird hair and make-up that proves how much range she can bring. It's a powerful performance from the veteran actress who got nominated for an Oscar for this role.
***Additional DVD Content Written on 12/2/10-12/7/10***
The 2001 Region 1 Director’s Cut DVD of Requiem for a Dream presents the film in the 1:85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio for 16x9 widescreen televisions plus 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The DVD features two audio commentary tracks for this special director’s cut of the film. The first is from director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky talks about the novel and the changes he made with novelist Hubert Selby Jr. for the film. Notably the character of Tappy Tibbons which was a new character made for the film. Aronofsky reveals that a lot of the locations came from his own childhood memories growing up while revealing that some of those landmarks of Coney Island were destroyed after filming.
Aronofsky also goes into detail about the cast as he has a lot of praise towards Ellen Burstyn. Even as she had to put on some prosthetics to make herself look heavier while giving her all with the role. Aronofsky also praises Leto and Connelly, the latter of which he was a fan of since her debut in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America. Aronofsky also was surprised by Marlon Wayans who managed to play his role quite straightforward throughout. Aronofsky also goes into many of the film’s technical details and cameos, many of which were in Pi. He also goes into the issues the film had with the MPAA, notably scenes involving drugs and some sexual content in which he was forced to make cuts. The overall commentary is engrossing but also witty as Aronofsky tries to keep the viewer interested while adding some humor.
The second commentary track is from cinematographer Matthew Libatique. While it’s mostly a technical-driven commentary, Libatique reveals the numerous lenses and film stocks he used throughout the film. He also comments on why the film in three different palettes for the three seasons. Even with the lighting schemes while he credits production designer James Chinlund for helping him to create sets so he could move the camera around. Libatique also comments on the film and the performances while he had a hard time shooting Ellen Burstyn because of how good she was. The commentary is a relaxed yet informative in how the film looked the way it was.
The 35-minute making-of documentary shows an in-depth look into the creation of the film. Shot by Brian Costello with commentary by Darren Aronofsky, the documentary reveals how a few scenes are made including Sara cleaning her home in a speedy presentation and how it was shot which took 40 minutes in one entire take. Other scenes created were Sara’s nightmare scene, Marion having dinner with her shrink, and the stuff involving Harry’s arm. Aronofsky also showed scenes where both Ellen Burstyn and Marlon Wayans got to wear the Snorricam for their scenes. The latter of which was able to run very fast with 40 pounds of camera equipment, though he was out of breath. The last thing shown on the documentary is Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet working on the film’s score at Skywalker Ranch, which was a big deal to Aronofsky.
The deleted scenes section features nine deleted scenes and alternate takes which also feature optional commentary tracks. The first five deleted scenes revolve around Harry, Marion, and Tyrone all trying to stop using drugs. The first deleted scene is Marion suggesting they should stop using for a bit while the next two scenes are alternate takes of the three watching the Home Shopping Network as they try to resist as all three scenes use multiple split screens. The fourth scene is a very short clip of three multiple screens on top of another of the characters’ eyes. The fifth scene is the pay off where they all realize that stopping is not that big of a deal. The sixth deleted scene revolves around mothers as Tyrone confesses to Harry about his love for his own mother prompting Harry to call Sara. Yet, she is trapped in a closet afraid of the refrigerator as she pleads to come to the apartment but is unable to.
The seventh deleted scene is an outtake of Marlon Wayans doing Jar Jar Binks of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace where he says all sorts of funny shit. The last two deleted scenes involve the film’s original novelist Hubert Selby Jr. The first is him reading excerpts of the book to Ellen Burstyn in her hospital scenes while the second is an extended scene of Selby as the prison guard taunting the character of Tyrone. In the commentary tracks, Aronofsky reveals that the first five deleted scenes were all part of a sequence of Harry, Marion, and Tyrone trying to quit. The reason he cut those scenes was because he felt it slowed down the entire film. The sixth deleted scene was cut because of pacing issues while Marlon Wayans’ Jar Jar Binks impression scene was really Aronofsky allowing Wayans to be funny. The other two deleted scenes feature no commentary from Aronofsky.
The six-minute Anatomy of a Scene special from the Sundance Channel has Aronofsky talking about a few scenes where Harry wants to give his mother a present while it would go to a scene of her manically cleaning her apartment. Aronofsky reveals how long it took to shoot. The 20-minute Memories, Dreams, and Addictions featurette is an interview with Hubert Selby Jr. that is conducted by Ellen Burstyn. Selby talks about his experiences as a writer and meeting various famous people. Burstyn and Selby also talk about how much motherhood is important which was a key inspiration of Selby’s writing, notably in Requiem for a Dream. The interview is a very interesting piece where Selby brings some humor to his own experiences while talking about his writing process. Even as he wants to give readers something to experience when they read his writing.
The special features include a section of trailers including two theatrical trailers and two TV spots plus a look into the film’s website. Also included are cast and crew information for the people involved in the film and production notes where Aronofsky talks about the film and the book. A special Easter egg feature is the full infomercial of Tappy Tibbons. The DVD booklet includes two essays. One from Darren Aronofsky about Hubert Selby Jr., his book, and how it changed his life that would lead to him making the film. The second essay is from Ain’t It Cool News film critic Harry Knowles who gives the film a wild, glowing review while predicting that Ellen Burstyn would win the Oscar for Best Actress (Julia Roberts won that year for Erin Brokovich). The DVD is truly one of the best for its special features and presentation of the film itself.
***End of DVD Content***
Released in 2000, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival to rave reviews as it would later be released in the U.S. to a limited release that fall. The film would eventually become a modest hit as it gave Ellen Burstyn a comeback along with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. The film also gave Darren Aronofsky some creative power as he was given the chance to do whatever he wanted while being attached to the development of the Batman re-boot franchise.
Requiem for a Dream is a haunting yet powerful film from Darren Aronofsky featuring a superb cast led by Ellen Burstyn's radiant performance. Fans of Aronofsky will no doubt consider this his best work as well as great place to start for his films. Along with great supporting work from Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Christopher McDonald. It's a film that has strong themes and messages that reveals something far more as it's a faithful yet unique adaptation to Herbert Selby Jr.'s acclaimed novel. In the end, for a film that is haunting yet intriguing to watch. Requiem for a Dream by Darren Aronofsky is the film to go see.
Related Review: The Auteurs #2: Darren Aronofsky
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