Last night I watched the whole of Requiem for a Dream for the first time.
It’s pretty bloody clear throughout the movie that Darren Aronofsky intended to have this film burned into our brains for all of eternity, and I begrudgingly admit that I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day.
(Side note: I also had the blasted score in my head all day. On the orchestral version of the score, the top commenter on YouTube says: “took a shit while listening to this song, felt like i was taking a shit to save the world.” Personally, I associate it more with figure skating.)
But I wasn’t thinking about it because it had a profound emotional effect on me—rather, I keep thinking back, trying to decide if there’s anything noteworthy in it aside from shock value and Jared Leto’s cheekbones. (Spoilers to follow, and all that)
First, a preamble: Part of the reason I’d never watched this movie from start to finish before is because in high school, the local police department punctuated their anti-drug talk with well-chosen clips from Requiem.
“Don’t do drugs kids! You’ll lose an arm!” (There’s a J. Walter Weatherman joke in here somewhere…) Somehow I don’t think Aronofsky intended for Requiem to become propaganda for drug cops.
Anyway, for me, the only major redeeming factor of Requiem was Ellen Burstyn.
While the Harry/Marion/Tyrone plot ran pretty thin, Burstyn as Harry’s mother Sara was the real heart of this film, if it has one. Sara’s attempt to resolve her pain through television is the closest thing Requiem comes to real social critique.
I have a hard time believing that an elderly patient would get electroconvulsive therapy to treat a pill addiction in the year 2000 (or even 1978, when the novel was written), but then again, what do I know? But taken metaphorically, Sara’s terrifying ordeal works as a representation—however heavy-handed—of the disorienting and depersonalized approach to mental health in the medical system.
Meanwhile, I found the plotline of Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly as beautiful wastrels somewhat unbearable.
Great performances, surely, and they mastered the art of looking attractively strung out, but did I really care about this deadbeat who treats his mom like crap and his slumming girlfriend?
Jesse and Jane from Breaking Bad trounce these two in the upper/middle class tragic heroin love story department, probably because they seem like actual human beings.
Marlon Wayans, meanwhile, totally got shafted—all we really know about his character is that he has sex with a nameless woman and misses with mama. Maybe Tyrone is better fleshed out in the novel?
I will say that the horrific final fifteen minutes of this film were pretty amazing in terms of pure movie-watching experience.
It’s hard to say which made my skin crawl more—Jared Leto’s amputation or Jennifer Connelly’s enforced sex show performance. Probably the latter, only because it totally creeps me out that Aronofsky made Connelly and the other actress in the scene do that. Now I fully understand his reputation for exploiting female actors.
If you’re curious about Aronofsky, I’d recommend The Wrestler and Black Swan. The exploitative voyeur aspect is still there in those films, but at least Marisa Tomei and Natalie Portman had real characters to work with. Watch Requiem if you must, but don’t expect to get much out of it.