A Review of Requiem for a Dream

00:00 Sun 12 Nov 2000. Updated: 19:49 03 Dec 2006
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Requiem for a Dream is Darren Aronofsky’s second feature. He made a significant mark with Pi, a visually brilliant, demanding and stylish film about an obsessive mathematician getting mixed up with schemes to find patterns in the stock market. (Terrible synopsis, that, but if you want to know more go see it!) From focusing on the nature of compulsion in Pi, he moves to the nature of addiction in Requiem, which chronicles three seasons in the lives of four characters: Harry Goldfarb, Marion Silver, Tyrone Love (all heroin users) and Sara Goldfarb, Harry’s mother. The first part of the movie shows them all on the rise, with Harry and Tyrone breaking into lucrative dealing, Harry and Marion in love and setting up a fashion store, and Sara gaining direction. Sara’s hopes are the most obviously problematic, as they focus on a phone call she receives that promises her she will be on television.

If the title didn’t give it away, then seeing the name Hubert Selby, Jr. as a screenwriter makes it clear that this will be no happy film. Most famous for Last Exit To Brooklyn, Selby excels at depicting hopelessness, self-delusion, downward spirals to destruction, drug addiction and sexual exploitation in an urban setting. Selby wrote the novel upon which the film is based, and his touch is evident from the beginning, with the scenes of sunny escapism in Brooklyn that are shadowed by addiction and the unhappiness of Sara.

Aronofsky continues to display his excellent sense of visual style, and the film is visually fascinating throughout. He also continues to use sound extremely well, and both score and sound effects play critical parts. The rhythm of certain scenes is very affecting, and significantly enhances the drama of the events. Particularly well done, and crucial to the success of the film, are the hallucinatory or high-intensity episodes that the characters experience. Aronofsky (as one would expect after Pi) directs these almost perfectly and they are extremely compelling, doing an excellent job of bringing the viewer very close indeed to the character’s perspective.

Television is an important part of this film, primarily in Sara’s story. This could have been a tired and uninteresting aspect, given how many times it’s been done before, but Aronofsky uses it fantastically, particularly in one scene where Harry is watching a shopping channel and trying to fight off unwanted images, eventually resorting to a combination of the shopping channel and heroin to escape.

One of the more powerful aspects of the film is the way in which the characters’ slides are presented with a sense of inevitability. There is one dramatic scene in which Tyrone’s connection with a drug supply is severed, but apart from that everything seems to flow naturally downward for all of them, without single events of causal significance.

One difficulty I tend to have with films focusing on drug addiction is the possibility for the audience to feel safe and smug (because, after all, they’re not heroin addicts) rather than be truly affected by the events depicted. In Requiem for a Dream, I think that examination will reveal it’s not quite so easy, particularly in the case of Sara. The characters all suffer from being trapped by their habits, with addictions being a stronger kind of habit, but the process of certain actions becoming habitual is the key to the downfalls in the film. In other words, habit is a dangerous thing, and can lead all of us, not merely drug users, to unpleasant ends.

(This review, in very slightly different form, was originally posted to Cached when I was a Quake 3 Arena columnist for that site.)

One Response to “A Review of Requiem for a Dream

  1. Liv Says:

    I am desperately looking for the first and final drafts of the Requiem for a Dream screenplay. I am studying screenwriting part time and want to do a script analysis on the films as it is seriously my favourite film. There are few copies available over the net but not sure what versions they are, I am happy to pay to receive them.

    If you could help me, that would be great.

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