Requiem for a Dream (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner19/01/2001

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 101 mins

Brilliantly shot, uncompromising film, with career-best performances from its stars – the ‘feel-bad’ movie of the year, this demands to be seen.

Requiem For A Dream, adapted from Hubert Selby Jr’s novel by Aronofsky and Selby himself, is set in the Brighton Beach area of New York, though the exact year is unclear. We first meet the characters when Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) comes round to his mother’s (Ellen Burstyn as Sara) for his regular habit of pawning her huge television in order to buy drugs. Swiftly afterwards, we meet the other two main characters: Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, barely recognisable from Scary Movie).

The movie then follows its inspired three-act structure of ‘Summer’, ‘Fall’ and ‘Winter’, as the characters chase their various dreams and obsessions. Harry, Marion and Tyrone are all hooked on drugs and they dream of being ‘on Easy Street’ – to that end, they conceive a plan to buy, cut and sell heroin, but they soon get a little too fond of their own product.

Sara, meanwhile, is also addicted, to her daily routine of coffee and television, specifically a show that is part infomercial, part game-show. So when she gets a routine junk-mail call that appears to promise her a place as a contestant, she starts to obsess about fitting into an old red dress, and becomes hooked on diet pills (amphetamines) as a result. (There’s a great scene with her and Leto in which he recognises the symptoms of speed-addiction in her: suddenly, he’s become the parent). From then on, as the absence of ‘Spring’ in the chapter titles hints, it’s a spiralling descent into hell for all concerned!

As he proved with Pi, Aronofsky is a very visceral film-maker, and here he pulls out all the stops to create a truly hypnotic experience. For example, he repeatedly shows us the various junkie ‘routines’ of cooking, shooting up, or of making coffee and popping pills, shot in close-up and edited together rapidly, with super-exaggerated sounds on the soundtrack. When added to Clint Mansell’s superb score, this has the intended effect of conveying the sudden rush the characters are experiencing, as indicated by the repeated shots of dilating eyeballs that end each montage.

Similarly, Aronofsky’s final sequence, that repeatedly cuts between each character is nothing short of masterful, forcing you to look even as what’s onscreen becomes unbearable. Aronofsky also proves himself to be a great director of actors, coaxing career-best performances from all concerned. Neither Jennifer Connelly nor Jared Leto (to say nothing of Wayans) have done anything in the past to prepare you for their performances here, and they make you genuinely care for the characters.

However, the stand-out is Ellen Burstyn, who gives a haunted, heart-breaking performance as her sweet, somewhat naïve, lonely old woman gradually becomes a babbling lunatic, terrorised by her fridge (the film’s scariest, most surreal moment), and finally turning up at the studio in her dress, shrieking to be allowed on the show. To say what happens to the other characters would be unfair (and might put you off), but be warned: it isn’t pretty.

Nevertheless, the film demands to be seen for its sheer hypnotic power, and for Burstyn’s astonishing performance - if she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination, there is officially no justice. Highly recommended.

Requiem for a Dream has been reviewed by 1 users
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Content updated: 23/10/2017 23:18

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