They don’t make movies this powerful and impacting very often. That’s why “Requiem for a Dream,” an stylistic masterpiece by Darren Aronofsky, is the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.” I thought I couldn’t be scared by movies after having made it through several horror movies barely flinching. Yet along came “Requiem for a Dream,” and unexpectedly, I was screaming, shouting, and cowering in fear.
The movie follows four people over nine months as drug abuse affects their lives in profound ways. It’s a somewhat typical addiction story for Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) and Tyrone Love (Marlon Wayans) who are trying to earn enough money dealing drugs to open up a fashion shop for Harry’s girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly). But due to various unfortunate incidents, they end up having to go deeper into the drug trade to dig themselves out of a hole. Meanwhile, Marion has also fallen into a state of desperation to keep up their lifestyle of recreational drug use.
But easily the most powerful and heartbreaking storyline of “Requiem for a Dream” is that of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), Harry’s mother. A New Jersey widow who has confined herself to her tiny apartment, Sara becomes convinced that she has been selected to appear on her favorite infomercial after a fake phone call. Trying to make herself look attractive for a television audience, she visits an underground doctor to obtain pills that will help her take off some weight quickly. She gets what she wants out of the pills but winds up addicted. It’s tragic to watch the doctor turn a blind eye to her issues when she comes in, clearly unable to address her own problems. Because she didn’t intend for this to happen, it’s her unconventional addiction story that really captures our sympathy. We leave all four of them in a state of misery that no human being should ever have to endure. It is chillingly devastating to watch their lives spiral out of control, and even more so once we reach the unsparing conclusion.
There’s no way to talk about the movie without talking about the incredible acting, particularly Ellen Burstyn. A role like Sara is risky for someone of her age and stature, and she went all-in. The result is one of the most powerful performances of the decade, one that should have won her an Oscar. Jared Leto is scary good as her son, Jennifer Connelly takes her character to the edge just one year removed from winning her own Oscar, and Marlon Wayans isn’t bad!
The tension in the movie is amplified by Clint Mansell’s absolutely terrifying score. Usually, a film’s score is gravy in a best-case scenario or a distraction in a worst-case scenario. But “Requiem for a Dream” incorporates Mansell’s music into the very fabric of the movie, making it that much more effective. The main theme from the movie has become a cult hit, but it’s “Meltdown,” the song that plays during the climactic moments of the movie, that deserves to be worshipped.
But “Requiem for a Dream” really works because of the incredible vision Darren Aronofsky has for it. He makes addiction real for us and gets us into the minds of the addicts themselves. It’s the split-screen, the close-ups, and the time lapse sequences. It’s the quick cuts, the repetitive sequences when drugs are used, and the increased speed whenever the addiction accelerates. Most of all, though, it’s his willingness to give us the truth about addiction and his unflinching drive to take us where few movies can. The whole movie exudes his confidence in his vision, and his style leads us exactly where he wants to take us.
Really, if you ever want to scare someone out of doing drugs, you should show them this movie. There’s no one on this planet who could watch this movie and then want to go do hard drugs. Heck, it could scare the average person out of taking a pill. So by all means, if you think you can handle it, I strongly recommend “Requiem for a Dream.”