Requiem for a Dream
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Requiem for a Dream

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For the last forty years or so a staple of the film industry has been movies relating to drugs and addiction. Such films as ‘Panic in Needle Park’ and ‘the Trip’ bring to middle America what it means to be an addict, or at least what Hollywood thinks it means. With Requiem for a Dream, an independent film takes the audience deeper into this subject than ever before. It also contrasts the plight of the person addicted to illegal drugs with one addict to prescription medication. The story takes place not far from where I grew up, Coney Island, Brooklyn. At the center of the drama is a lonely older woman, Sara (Ellen Burstyn) and her junkie son Harry (Jared Leto). Whenever Harry needs money for his drugs he comes over to his Mom’s and steals her TV. She then journeys to the pawnshop and buys it back. Both know what is going on yet they never speak of it. Sara lives in one of the many older apartment houses in this part of Brooklyn. All her friends sit in the sun on beach chairs lined up in the sidewalk. Sara is not high up in this hierarchy and sits in a less than choice spot. Her only other activity to fill her bleak life is watching an infomercial on TV. One day she gets a call that she may be considered as an audience member and she starts to diet to fit in a treasured old red dress. To achieve this goal she begins to use and ultimately abuse diet pills. Harry is a heroin addict. His life is fixated on his next high. His best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connely) get high with him and help in his schemes to make one big score that will set them up. Tyrone and Harry make a large score and begin selling on the street. A cigar box is soon overflowing with cash. Soon, their addiction overcomes their plan and the cash goes into their arms. The film chronicles the parallel descent into addiction that mother and son are on. The movie makes little difference between whether a drug is legal or not, what is important here is the control it has over the addict’s life. It is like watching an accident, you are often disgusted but unable to turn your eyes away from the destruction. Perhaps because you are thankful its not you or your mother.

A story like this deserves a cast that can handle such a wide range of emotions. Looking at the cast you may not immediately think of the actors in this film. This is the wrong way to think, they are not only up to the task they exceed every expectation. Leto pops up in the strangest variety of films. From Fight Club, to Girl Interrupted his presence is always there, pushing the reality of the film. Here, he brings a degree of acting rarely seen. He is one to watch in future films. He makes Harry into a sympathetic character, one the audience may think they shouldn’t care about but they do. He has a full range of emotions, he loves his mother and his girlfriend, has a strong friendship with Tyrone ut all of this is eclipsed by the drugs. When he takes them he is somewhere else, when he comes down his thoughts are only on getting back. Connelly is at her best here. All too often such a beautiful actress are delegated to fluff sexy roles. Connelly is not afraid to take on a role like Marion. She is a girl from a well to do family. Perhaps her relationship with Harry was at first just to rebel against her family. Now, she does love him but once more drugs get in the way. She forces herself to do things she would never imagine in order to get her drugs. This was a risky project for her but it paid off big time. Wayans is best known for outrageous comedy. Along with his numerous family he is at home in such farces as Scary Movie. Here, he tackles something completely different. Hs role could have been little more than the black friend, the sidekick. Instead, Wayans gives true dimension to Tryone, a person apart from Harry with his own problems. Ms Burstyn also took a lot of risks here. The diet pills completely destroy Sara’s grasp on reality. The more her life is falling apart the less she is aware of it. With a lesser actress this would have come across as ridiculous but with Burstyn you can only sit back and be amazed.

You may not have heard of director Darren Aronfsky. This is a shame. His previous film, Pi, was a masterpiece of cinematography. With Requiem he takes his talent in new directions. Unlike fellow indy director Kevin Smith, Aronfsky uses the added funding for his second movie to continue to press the limits. In a typical film there are some 800 cuts. Here there are over 3000. The fast pace editing and unusual sound track keeps the audience off balance. When he shows the characters actually taking the drugs there are extreme close-ups of the eyes dilating. What is really interesting is the contrast he sets up between the heroin uses and Sara with her pills. Aronfsky also uses numerous camera angles and pans to allow the audience to see through the eyes of the addict. You get the sense of how brief the moment of drug induced ecstasy actually is, how demanding the need for the next fix can be. True to the director’s vision of this film there is an unrated DVD. Get that one.

The disc is superior in quality. The 5.1 sound will keep you disoriented. The sound field often seems uneven, more on the rear left then right front, it sweeps around the room mirroring the disorientation of the characters. The anamorphic 1.85:1 is pristine. Just what is required for a director like this that knows how to use different cameras and lighting. The extras are far beyond the normal. There is a director’s commentary, deleted scenes with commentaries (director and DP), an interview with the writer and a dissection of a scene in intimate detail. Add to this a documentary and several trailers and you got it all. Avoid the ‘R’ rated version and go for the full feature director’s cut.

Here is a comment made by the director concerning the release of both Unrated and R rated versions:

''When I first showed the film to Artisan we agreed that no matter what happened we would release the cut as is. Unfortunately, the MPAA gave us the ill-fated NC-17 rating. Since Artisan agreed to release the film as is, I agreed to deliver an R-rated edited version for the video output deals that demand an R film. Companies like Blockbuster will not release NC-17 or unrated films, and since this is a huge market for a distributor they have tremendous leverage. Artisan, in their kindness, agreed to clearly mark the film as the 'edited version.' I would of course encourage all film fans to buy or rent my 'director's cut.' Unfortunately, it is impossible to get the 'unrated director's cut' at Blockbuster or Hollywood because of their policies. You will need to go to other outlets to get the proper cut. By the way, the 'unrated director's cut' DVD has all of the extra features, missing scenes, behind the scenes, etc. while the 'edited version' has none of them. Another reason to seek out the director's cut.''

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