Jarv’s Best of 2000-2009. Number 4: Requiem for a Dream
Any of these top 4 could have been number 1. In fact, this was (until I rewatched it a few nights ago) pencilled in as number 1, but on reflection it’s just too damned miserable to take the top spot.Requiem for a Dream is Aronofsky’s follow-up to his outstanding Pi, and this is the film that confirmed him as a real talent to watch. This is not, and I can’t stress this enough, easy viewing. Rather, Requiem reaches down your gullet, rips your heart out and then, just for laughs, stomps it into the ground. This is the film, that proves that Marlon Wayans doesn’t have to suck, and that Jennifer Connelly is not only heartbreaking to look at, but brilliant on the screen. It confirms that Ellen Burstyn is a classy actress, and that Jared Leto is more than a pretty boy.
Requiem for a Dream is the story of four Brooklyn residents (I keep reading Coney Island everywhere in reviews but they’re wrong- they even say in the film “From Brooklyn Beach”) Sarah and Harry Goldfarb, his girlfriend Marion, and they’re friend Tyrone, who all dream of better things, and who’s futile dreams get shattered in the face of drug addiction. Sarah wants to be on Television, Harry and Tyrone want money, and Lord alone knows what Marion wants other than her next fix (parental acceptance perhaps). However, while their dreams all seem easily attainable in the summer sunshine, the reality is that they have more chance of walking on the moon.
This film is harrowing. Watching four lives crumble on-screen is never going to be easy viewing, but this takes it to a new level. Aronofsky is a flashy director, and uses devices such as “hip hop montage” that intrude into the narrative. Any time drugs are taken, regardless of the drug, the screen is split and the viewer is bombarded with a series of brief images. In most films, this would be intrusive and unpleasant to watch. It would yank the viewer out of the experience, and break the relationship between watcher and film. In Requiem, however, it seems to fit. The whole film is like a nightmarish trip gone bad anyhow, and the fragmentation rather than disrupting the viewing, actually helps immerse you further into the experience. Aside from this, he films several sequences in hyper speed: a 25 second sequence of amphetamine addled Sarah Goldfarb cleaning her apartment is actually 30 minutes of film.
This film has a horrendous reputation, and that is effectively down to two things- the first was Artisan’s incredibly brave decision to tell the MPAA to fuck off and release it without a certificate in America. This guaranteed 2 things- the first was commercial death, and the second was a cult following. The second, and for my purposes, far more important reason for its reputation as the antichrist of drugs cinema is that the last third of it (The “Winter” section) is by far the most excruciating 30 minutes that I have ever seen on film. The sheer misery of the intercut sequences of Sarah’s agonising ECT, Harry’s amputation, Ty being abused in jail, and (most memorably) Marion “performing” with a double ended dildo in front of a baying crowd to a soundtrack of Lux Aeterna mixed with industrial noises is a gruelling experience to watch. It’s relentless, wonderfully performed, and technically outstanding. It may well be the finest half an hour of cinema in the 21st Century (so far). The suspicion does linger, though, that Aronofsky spent the first two third’s of the film setting up his targets just for this demolition.
There are 2 scenes that I need to discuss that are perhaps less showy than the notorious section, but that I believe are two moments of sheer genius. The first is the meeting between Harry and Sarah when he twigs that she’s on speed. This sequence is wonderfully written, and Aronofsky manages to resist the temptation to throw in split screens, fast cuts, montages, Lux Aeterna and the rest of it. Instead the camera pans slowly around the room and allows both actors to show their best moment. Leto is outstanding here, and it would take an absolute heart of stone not to feel pity at the look on his face during it. However, the moment that has Mrs. Jarv reaching for the tissues is when Sarah explains why the red dress is so important- when she says “Did you see who had the best place in the sun” the sheer loneliness and misery of her life is laid bare on the screen. This is a woman by herself with nothing to live for. Her life is so empty that appearing on a crappy gameshow is the equivalent of a lottery win. The second scene, and it’s little more than a shot, is right at the end. When the 2 old ladies visit a broken Sarah in the hospital, Aronofsky manages to capture a look of utter horror on both their faces that tells more of a tale than the preceding half an hour. The shot of a white-haired and broken Sarah is almost unnecessary, as we’ve already seen in their eyes what she has become. The real sucker punch comes afterwards, however, when the next time we see them, they’re holding each other on a bus bench and crying for their friend. It’s a necessary moment of catharsis for both the characters and the viewers and is simply magnificent.
Before I sign off- there are 2 moments of trivia to be seen in this film: lunatic nutjob author Hubert Selby Jr plays the prison guard that abuses Tyrone, and Keith David (always welcome in any film) plays Big Tim who has the stupendous line “I know it’s pretty, but I didn’t get it out for air”. How cool.
Requiem for a Dream is the film that was brave enough to stand by its own dogma- it’s an uncompromising, relentless, harrowing, heart-breaking work of absolute brilliance, and while it may not be rewatchable for most (who could sit through this more than once every so often), it’s a film that draws me back every few years, and each time sticks a hot knife in my soul.
As Tappy says: “We’ve got a winner”
Next up, its Japanese school children killing each other in the demented Asian Lord of The Flies: Battle Royale.
I can’t be bothered to put in all the links, but the top 10 so far is:
7: The Descent
6: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
5: This is England.
If you haven’t read them, or the regional lists, and are remotely interested they can be found here.