Requiem for a Dream

January 28, 2012 13 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Once in a blue moon, a movie comes along that is truly original. It has all the right elements and isn’t the same old thing that so many of us are used to forcing ourselves to watch…and enjoy. In my modest opinion, Requiem for a Dream may just be one of the aforementioned movies. Like so many other groundbreaking movies before it like Pulp Fiction, Sex, Lies and Videotape and Trainspotting; Requiem for a Dream focuses on the lives of four individuals and their addiction to drugs. Note that this movie is promoting an image, like every other work or art out there, but it doesn’t force it down our throats. Or does it? Based upon the book by Hubert Selby Jr., Requiem for a Dream is directed by Darren Aronofsky (and they make no secret of the fact that he is the genius behind Pi as well). Now, I don’t know if you’re like me, but after I watched the movie (and picked my jaw up off the floor), I considered Aronofsky to be some radical German person who had a distinct gift for filmmaking. Ok…so the guy is from Long Island! But to pinpoint exactly what this movie has going for it, or if it will stand the test of time is hard to say. Well-made, directed and acted, Requiem does fall into a genre that has existed for some time. I saw in a recent online survey that this was picked as the best drug movie of all time. I don’t know if that’s what they were going for, but the sheer imagery combined with the editing and storyline will leave you breathless.

As Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is unlocking the chain that binds his mother’s TV to the radiator, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) hides behind a locked door as she watches her son steal her television for the umpteenth time. Why? Drugs. It seems to be a ritual that the mother and son go through. As Harry and friend/drug buddy Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) wheel the antique across town for one more score, we seem to come the immediate conclusion that Harry and Tyrone might have a substance abuse problem. The movie, of course, makes no secret of this and doesn’t try to hide it. In fact, it almost encourages it. The sheer view that reality is some group of Jewish women sitting on the street waiting for mail as the high point of their day might make anyone want to shoot up (pardon the run-on sentence). Then again, maybe it won’t. Aside from the drugs, the four main characters are the ones who run the movie, and the only one not introduced yet is Marianne Silver (Jennifer Connelly). Connelley, a veteran actress who is still quite young and beautiful, plays Harry’s girlfriend. Marianne comes from a bit better upbringing than Harry, whose mother lives in low rent housing in the ghetto, but drugs pay no attention to social status. Harry and Tyrone’s ultimate plan is to stop using drugs and go into business themselves (selling drugs), naturally anyone who sells also uses, but as chronic drug users, they don’t think of the future–only their next high. Interlaced and intercut with all the imagery we’re deluged with is the story of Harry’s mom. Similar to Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia, Christopher McDonald plays Tappy Tibbons, the closest thing to a televangelist that exists today. His “product” is J.U.I.C.E (Join Us In Creating Energy). He hawks it on TV every day seemingly turning ordinary people into something they’re not. In a way, Tibbons’ drug is more addictive than the real thing.

Sara, while watching the program one day, receives a call to be on the program. Having nothing else in her life (her husband is now dead and her son has moved out, and only occasionally arrives to steal her TV), she relishes the opportunity. The main problem is that she is getting old, she sits and watches the tube every day and has gained some weight. Her goal is to eventually fit into her coveted red dress that she wore at Harry’s high school graduation. Seeing this as her destiny, Sara enlists the help of a “doctor” who prescribes her some diet pills that are essentially speed. While the desired effect is starting to be achieved, Sara is becoming a drug addict in her own right. It’s about then that things start to go downhill for everyone. Drugs have a way of conjuring up the worst in people, and I think this is what Aronofsky is trying to say in the movie. We see the extreme measures that Sara, Marianne, Harry and Tyrone are willing to go through to score some drugs and get their next high. While Harry and Marianne are wanting a more fulfilling life outside of drugs, they keep calling and the promise of more money and a longer high always exists. With Tyrone’s “entrepreneurial” skills, he wants to form a business and get rich by selling the very thing he’s addicted to. And with Sara, a pipedream of being on TV has now overruled her life and as the pills have less and less effect, she starts to take more and more just to feel the same buzz she did only a few weeks ago.

While Requiem for a Dream might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s superbly well-made movie. Not only does it showcase drugs, but it doesn’t glorify them without letting you know what eventual downfalls they have as well. The visual style in which the movie is made may even make you queasy. I personally watch so many movies that suspending my disbelief for a few hours is never usually a problem. But as the ending credits rolled, I couldn’t make up my mind if I had just watched the greatest movie of my life or just been duped by some of the best imagery that I’ve ever seen. Lauded as a work of art, Requiem for a Dream is filmmaking at it’s finest and the treatment that Artisan has given this disc deserves to be seen. I should note that this review is for the “Director’s Cut” and it contains all the special features including some scenes which weren’t in the theatrical version. Graphic violence abounds, so beware. Personally, though, I think it’s more than worth the price of admission. I’ll be pondering this one for quite some time…

Video: How does it look?

With all the information contained on the disc, it might be understandable that the space on the disc is limited and too much information on it might compromise the picture quality. Not so. The beautiful 1.85:1 anamorphic image looks outstanding. As you may imagine, there are several types of images in this film, ranging from a burnt out, muted color palette to various stock images. They all look great. Some scenes with a white background might suffer from the slightest bit of edge enhancement, but if they do, I couldn’t see it. Several dark scenes, to reflect the mood, hold the black level and no artifacts could be found at all. Flesh tones, for the most part, look great; then again the tones are meant to represent the different styles of and changes in the character’s personality. Quite simply, this is reference material.

Audio: How does it sound?

To compliment the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very active and houses an amazing arsenal of effects to make you just as jittery and nervous as the characters on screen. Dialogue is clean and well centered, you can hear each syllable in some cases (you have to see the movie to understand). Several scenes have a complete 360 degree surround effect that literally take you into the movie. The different effects range from drug “sounds” to gunshots to things that I just can’t describe. While the synopsis of what the audio is like is rather short, let me say that you won’t be disappointed.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This is the Director’s Cut of the movie, so in addition to the additional scenes, you get a plethora of extras to boot. First off, there are not one, but two commentary tracks; the first featuring director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky is quite deliberate and insightful about the work of art that he has created. As I mentioned before, he’s not the person who I imagined that would direct a movie like this, but as the saying goes…you can’t judge a book by it’s cover. Aronofsky is quite articulate about what it took to make the film and you can tell it from the way he talks about it. In addition to his track, there is one other commentary track by the director of photography, Matthew Libatique. Though not as interesting as Arononfsky’s track, he knows what the movie is about and it’s superb visual style is something that made the movie what it is. Both tracks are full of information that you won’t want to miss if you’re at all interested in this film. A documentary “The Making of Requiem for a Dream” is included and though labeled as a documentary, it’s like other “making of’s…” that feature behind the scenes shots as well as interviews with the cast and crew.

“Memories, Dreams and addictions: Ellen Burstyn interviews Hubert Selby Jr.” is the next featurette. As you know, Selby was the author of the book that the movie was based on and Burstyn gives him a Q and A session that lasts about twenty minutes. I found it mildly entertaining, but it’s another feature that I’m glad is on the disc. The Anatomy of a Scene is something that outlines the movie and features Aronofsky telling about the film. It’s put on by the Sundance channel, and this is the first of these that I’ve seen creep up on a DVD. Very interesting, though short. Along with some cast and crew bios and some production notes, there are some of the most interesting menus that I’ve had the chance to see. It took me about five minutes while watching the opening menus to realize that I was actually viewing a menu. Don’t be fooled…as the menus look like an infomercial. They’re not! All in all, Requiem for a Dream is a great movie and the treatment that it’s received on DVD is nothing short of spectacular. Now if we could get Artisan to be more consistent in their releases, they’d have something here…

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