Requiem For A Dream

Requiem For A Dream (2000)
Artisan Entertainment
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Marlon Wayans, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly,
Extras: Commentary Track, Behind the ScenesFeaturette, Deleted Scenes, Trailers and TV Spots, Talent Bios, Interviews

Ever wonder how it feels to be a junkie? If so, I’m tickled to announce there’s a movie out there that will fill this void without the risk of death or disease nor the high street price of today’s "score." That movie is "Requiem for a Dream", director Darren Aronofsky’s ("Pi") adaptation of Hubert Selby’s novel, brought to us on DVD from Artisan Home Entertainment. As successful an imitation of what serious drug use is like as I’ve ever wanted to know, the question remains: is there anything else there?

"Requiem for a Dream" tells the tale of four Coney Island natives and their struggle with the inherent problems that arise when addiction rules one’s life. Though not the typical main character in terms of plot, the film is centered around Harry (Jared Leto), a twenty-something kid with apparent street smarts and a voice that would make Vinni Barbarini proud. Harry’s addiction of choice is Heroin. His friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend Marriane (Jennifer Connelly) share Harry’s tastes. His mother, Sarah Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is addicted to television, food, and the popularity of her neighbors. Her addiction changes when she wins a chance to be on television. Determined to fit in the red dress she wore to Harry’s high school graduation, she is tipped to diet pills by one of her neighbors, therefore making it "all right" to pursue herself. In the meantime, Harry and Tyrone have come across an opportunity to deal that which they live for and in turn satisfy their wallets as much as their cravings. Their plan is novice, simple. The money they make will go towards opening a fashion store, with Marianne the talented clothes designer. The store will make money. They will no longer need drug money, yet will still be able to feed their urges. The ultimate result of all this, naturally, is true happiness. Of course, we know better than this. Things don’t ever work out as planned in these kinds of movies.

Sarah Goldrafb’s wait to be on television is killing her. She’s losing weight and gaining hallucinations. Soon, one pill per meal isn’t enough. Uh oh.

Harry and Marianne find their store. Tyrone is on the verge of landing a major score that they can distribute for mucho profit. Soon, their empty shoebox becomes filled with cash. Uh oh.

The final act is a descent I’m not going to try and describe. It’s not for the squeamish, there’s no heroic rescue, and there’s images that will tattoo your brain with the very needle Harry sticks into his blackened veins. "Requiem for a Dream" is not a film you will forget.

I’ll be the first to admit I like a lot of depressing movies. What that says about me, I don’t know, but there it is. Typically, however, the depression people seem to relate to is almost always coupled with potential. The reason the depression hurts so much is because the potential has been squelched. In "Requiem for a Dream" we are not privileged to even a glimpse of potential for Harry and the gang. They exist only as extensions and chemical reactions of their addictions. Without the element of potential, does it mean depression can not exist? Absolutely not. This movie is depressing as hell. But without potential, I was never really leveled or floored by these people and their circumstances. When they hit rock bottom, I kind of just shrugged my shoulders and thought "yep, that’s what I figured was gonna happen." The movie is more or less a character study of four addicted people. It’s detailed and hard not to watch, yet I found it nowhere near as powerful or enjoyable as a film like "Traffic" or "Trainspotting." Not all films need to have a message or strong familiar plot, this one just didn’t float my boat. The story is too thin for my tastes. I will say that the performances from the entire cast are very good. Ellen Burstyn is quite powerful in her performance as the glory-seeking mother, though much of that power lies solely in the physical transformation of her character. I have to give her credit for agreeing to portray a character who looks as nasty as the child she mothered in "the Exorcist," but I honestly can’t think of one line of hers that really left a mark in my mind. Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans do well with their characters, but it was actually Jennifer Connelly who impressed me most in this film. Subdued and quiet, she creates a character that to me was the most sympathetic in this film. I got the feeling she was the only one of the four who was aware of the fact that she is unable to stop her addiction. Director Aronofosky draws a lot of attention to himself in this film. He uses a ton of camera tricks such as split screen, time lapse, quick montage, repetition, and light all to full effect in the creation of the film. At times show-offy, other times intelligently warranted, the problem I had with all of this direction is that none of it felt authentic. You’ve seen the same shots in countless music videos, commercials, and films. "Boogie Nights" and again "Trainspotting" quickly come to mind. I have no doubt, however, that this guy is a talented filmmaker. But this is only his second feature length film. Right now I’d say he’s trying too hard to be cool. Hopefully he will develop fingerprints all his own, and perhaps use them to create something a bit more stylistically unique than "Requiem for a Dream." Time will tell.

The video on this DVD is presented in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and looks quite nice, despite being a very dark film. There are moments of extreme light such as Harry’s reoccurring dream on the pier and the shot of Marianne staring up at the rooftop of an apartment complex, and these all look great, sharp, and detailed. The colors are very strong when used and suffer no bleed or lack of separation. It is darkness, however, that overwhelms the film and the black level here is deep and delivers the gloom appropriately. There’s a particular scene where Harry and Tyrone set off on their road trip, that save for the occasional passing car light is almost pitch black. The scene looks very good on DVD and does not suffer from the grain that typically ails such dark films. The print itself is absent of blemishes or artifacts, and deservedly so considering the stylistic nature of the film. The visuals (for better or worse) are crucial to "Requiem for A Dream" and Artisan has done justice to them with this transfer.

Sound is presented in <$DD,Dolby Digital> English 5.1. It’s a very active track and sounds great. The score by Clint Mansell is an interesting mix of strings and techno beats, that not only fits the nature of the film but stands on its own as a great listen. This is a very fun track to pump through your subwoofer, with nice surround imaging as well. If you can’t take the disturbing visuals in the film, just turn off the tube and rock out to the score! Dialogue is treated well, sounding better than many independent flicks and coming through crisp and distortion-free.

Another pleasant surprise is the wealth of extra features Artisan has included for this "art house" flick. I’d first like to applaud their imaginative and completely original menus. Mimicking a TV commercial selling a cheap and useless product, the main menu actually caught me off guard and made me double check that I wasn’t watching part of the film! Aside from the menus, we also get rolling with two running audio commentaries. The first is by Aronofsky and is pretty interesting if not a little amusing. He does a good job explaining some of the technical issues and pointing out the nuances of his actors’ performances. Yet, when he tells me that the reason Tyrone says the word "dynomite" is to create a timeless feeling, I just have to laugh (nice try Darren, but I ain’t buying it!). The second commentary is from Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, who does an excellent job covering the visual side of his Independent Spirit Award Winning photography. Naturally more technical than the other, it’s a great listen if you have any interesting in cinematography. Next up is a making of that runs about a half an hour. It has some good footage of some of the more challenging shots in the film, such as the 30-minute time lapse shot and the cutting into a prosthetic. Not a bad little featurette, but basically plays like a second commentary from Aronofsky as very little on-set audio is included, with the director’s recorded voice-over dominating the short. Also included on this disc are nine deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary. Some of these are basically alternate takes, but it’s interesting to watch and pick up on the different lines some of the actors’ (i.e. Wayans) tried as opposed to those that were used in the final film. There’s also an extended glimpse at author Hubert Selby’s cameo as a prison guard. Speaking of Selby, he is featured in an interview by Ellen Burstyn in a featurette titled "Memories, Dreams, and Addictions." It’s always great to meet the source of something as bleak as the film (and no doubt the novel) and Selby does not disappoint. Aging and a bit awkward, Selby is nonetheless very much full of life and displays a command of his subject and thoughts. An interesting little feature. Next up is something called "Anatomy of a Scene," which is sort of like another little commentary, specifically breaking down another one of those technically challenging shots with Burstyn. Finally rounding out the disc, we have a teaser, the theatrical trailer, and two TV spots, along with talent bios and brief production notes.

"Requiem for a Dream" certainly earns its’ spot as one of the more controversial and challenging films of the past year. It’s a bleak, grim, often horrifying view of life that paints an image of addiction that is unshakable despite your opinion of it. Artisan deserves high praise for supporting such a film with this very packed terrific DVD.