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Review: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Premise: Four people have their lives shattered by drug addictions that spiral out of control.

What Works: Requiem for a Dream splits the narrative, working with different storylines of related characters. While this multiple narrative technique is very much in vogue at the moment, this film does it better than most because it limits the number of characters and the connections between them are more interesting. The story has been smartly constructed so that the narratives comment on one another, particularly in the comparison between Sara (Ellen Burstyn), a lonely older woman who begins to misuse diet pills, her son Harry (Jared Leto) who is hooked on heroin, and Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) who gradually begins prostituting herself to get drugs.  These stories are really about a search for an ideal and the character’s use of chemicals and self deception to try and fool themselves into thinking that they are on their way to achieving that ideal. As a drug film, Requiem for a Dream also is better than most because it identifies that the drug abuse is not an end in itself, but a symptom of greater psychological problems and dissatisfaction with life. These kinds of films are often plagued with the question, “Why don’t the characters just stop?” and many of these films end with characters living happily every after by simply going clean. Requiem for a Dream refuses that easy solution by giving the characters permanent physical and psychological damage and rooting their addiction in human frailty and their dissatisfaction with life.

What Doesn’t: Requiem for a Dream uses repetition as one of its key narrative devices. While this works through most of the picture, at times it seems as though the patterns are overdone, particularly in the climax. Requiem for a Dream is also one of the most brutal films about drug abuse ever made, and the picture refuses to glamorize narcotics or give the audience the consolation (and cop out) of an ending like The Basketball Diaries. While this is to the film’s credit, sensitive viewers might find it very difficult to take.

DVD extras: R-rated and unrated editions of the film are available. The Director’s Cut edition includes a making-of documentary, commentary tracks, deleted scenes, interviews with cast members, trailers, production notes, and The Anatomy of a Scene feature.

Bottom Line: Requiem for a Dream is one of the great drug addition films. Some recent biopics have taken on the subject in passing, namely Walk the Line and Ray, but where in those films drug addition is disconnected from the rest of the character’s personality, Requiem for a Dream places the drug addiction as a central component of the addict’s character. The film is not Reefer Madness, making the audience afraid of a boogeyman, but instead focuses on the reasons people turn to drugs and the personal cost of addiction on the user.

Episode: #121 (December 10, 2006)