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REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

Synopsis:
It’s a hot summer on Coney Island, New York, and Harry (Jared Leto) has just stolen his mother’s television again to sell it in order to feed his drug habit. But mom Sara (Ellen Burstyn) is an addict herself – to television – namely a sensationalist talk show called Juice. The show even phones to say she’s been chosen as a contestant, sending her on a wild diet that begins with coffee and grapefruit and ends with diet pills which Harry discovers is speed. But Harry has drug issues of his own. He’s become a successful dealer with his buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), dealing and using until his arm looks like a relief map. Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) becomes a "powder" girl and prostitute. Each character, in fact, spirals out of control until they are overtaken by ultimate degradation.

"Requiem For A Dream is the first great film of the year. If it had been made 25 years ago it would be a front-runner for Oscar glory but its dark and non-trendy subject matter (ecstasy's OK in film these days, heroin isn't) will probably negate its chances at this year's awards. Not since 1984's Last Exit To Brooklyn (another adaptation of a Hubert Selby Jr novel) have the sad lives of desperate New Yorkers been so vividly realised on screen. And 31 year-old director Darren Aronofsky's vision of the downward spiral into hell is a potent one because these the nightmare visions of drug addiction seem like they're leaping from the screen and spiking into your own cerebral cortex. There's style to burn here which goes beyond the flashy sights of carnivorous refrigerators and the machine-gun montages which arrive like bullets when Harry, Marion and Tyrone are about to bliss out. Consider the use of split screen in scenes between two characters in the same room. The two images make an almost perfect whole but not quite - a subtle signifier of the real dislocation of this quartet whose lives are rapidly disintegrating. Aronofsky has also extracted sensational performances from his cast, particularly Ellen Burstyn who plays the role of her life as the frumpy, frizzy haired desperado who wants something to live for so badly she's willing to risk dying for it. Jared Leto (who fled to a monastery in Portugal after the shoot to straighten his head out) is equally impressive as a loving son/dope fiend whose come-uppance is truly frightening. As a story of love and lives gone horribly wrong and the craving to fill emotional voids there are few films that can touch this. Punctuated by a superb score by former Pop Will Eat Itself main man Clint Mansell (with additional contributions from The Kronos Quartet), Requiem For A Dream is an unforgettable phantasmagoria into the darkest realms of the human condition. It deserves its R rating but if ever there was a film which deserves special dispensation for screening in high schools to show teenagers what it's really like once the rush is over, this is it."
Richard Kuipers

"Darren Aronofsky makes films about obsessions, but obsessions without content. His first film, Pi, was about a genius who was trying to discover the mathematical secret of the universe. But obviously Aronofsky knew little about mathematics and cared less; he just needed an excuse for the film to whip itself into a paranoid frenzy. His new film is about drug addiction, which provides another handy excuse for meaningless thrills: Aronofsky uses every trick he knows to give the viewer a pounding pulse and a buzzing head. Adapted from a '70s novel by Hubert Selby Jr, Requiem For A Dream alternates between the distorted perceptions of several of its characters, while tightly controlling its overall form: the pace is set by the rhythmic electronic score and the staccato editing in cyclical patterns, as though Aronofsky were riffling through a pack of flash cards at high speed. This style is often punchy and inventive, though the basic ideas remain pretentious and dumb. The parallel editing persistently equates shooting up with other addictive habits like drinking coffee, fantasising about success or watching TV. Clearly drugs are being used as a metaphor for a larger problem - but what exactly? The delusiveness of American consumer culture? The ultimate futility of all dreams and ideals? Are the characters just born losers? Does the film even care? If it weren't for the emotional substance supplied by his actors - Ellen Burstyn especially - Aronofsky would probably look as heartless as, say, Guy Ritchie, whose gangster comedies run on a similar nihilistic fuel. Like Ritchie, Aronofsky is a flashy pop operator who favors high-speed telegraphic storytelling (compare the repeated montage sequences in Requiem For A Dream with those in Ritchie's Snatch) and abstractly paranoid plot systems. But while Ritchie's stratified criminal universe can always be transformed by an unstable element (like Brad Pitt in Snatch) Aronofsky favors the closed worlds of solipsism or addiction, where everything is automatically doomed to go horribly wrong. Ritchie's films are chain reactions, or computer programs that continually modify themselves; Aronofsky's are circuits that can only speed round faster and faster until they burn out."
Jake Wilson

"It’s amazing that sex between women, as seen in the graphic climax here, still warrants an R-rating over, say, violence toward women in The Cell (MA), race-hate crimes in Shaft (MA), or even cock-sucking grandmas in The Nutty Professor 2 (M). That’s not to say Requiem doesn’t deserve an R – it does - but it also indicates what the censors deem more offensive in film. Nonetheless, Darren Aronofsky's devastating second effort shows no sign of sophomore syndrome after Pi, his mathematical masterstroke. He fills Requiem with visually stunning depictions of addiction, lost happiness, morbidity and wonderfully interchangeable blurs between fantasy, dream, reality, and nightmare. His co-adaptation of Hubert Selby’s novel with the author himself is as increasingly painful to watch as it was to read the notorious "Tralala" chapter in Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, when a teenage hooker (played in the film by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is brutally gang-raped. Perhaps Aronofsky takes narrative cues from Selby, but he does put his own stamp of directorial flair on the film. There’s split screens, weird camera angles, and rapid-fire editing with especially tight dieting and drug taking scenes. It will be interesting to see what comes of Batman: Year One if Aronofsky accepts the helm. But Requiem is harrowing and memorable. Its themes of dependence in all its forms are delivered subtlety while the visual imagery knocks you for six. Jared Leto said in an interview to Mr. Showbiz, "this film is saying F… You! It’s telling you to F… Off!" That’s extreme. It’s daring you to confront your own subtle dependencies – coffee, drugs, loneliness, television, food, sex – and see their soul-destroying ends. Unfortunately, by the end of Requiem, all we can do is flinch and look away. We don’t empathise with these characters as much as want to be rid of them, and that’s a cardinal sin in filmmaking. Even Hannibal Lecter had his allure. Still, Requiem is a mature, deeply intelligent film that deserves a look – even if from under a pillow."
Shannon J. Harvey

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1

Alistair Harkness talks to DARREN ARONOFSKY

Brad Green reviews the SOUNDTRACK

TRAILER

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (R) (US)

CAST: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans

DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky

PRODUCER: Eric Watson, Palmer West

SCRIPT: Hubert Selby Jr.

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Matthew Libatique

EDITOR: Jay Rabinowitz

PRODUCTION DESIGN: James Chinlund

MUSIC: Kronos Quartet, Clint Mansell

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 8, 2001

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Home Video

VIDEO RELEASE: August 22, 2001







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