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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Requiem chronicles drugs and drama

If there is any truth to be gained from “Requiem for a Dream,” it is that director Darren Aronofsky really doesn’t want you to do drugs. And who could blame him? There are a lot of grisly stories out there of lives plummeting to squalor in a haze of dependency and abuse. Aronofsky tells four such stories, all adapted from a Herbert Selby Jr. novel of the same title as the film. The film’s main characters all live in Brooklyn and know one another. However, they are too wrapped up in their own nightmarish affairs to notice that their loved ones are in the same pitiful state. One can understand the self-absorption of these characters not only because of their addiction, but because of the depravity of their situations. These are cautionary tales of the bleakest sort.
The film is an ensemble, but actor Jared Leto gets the most screen-time. He plays Harry Goldfarb, an up-and-coming drug dealer who dreams of making enough money for him and his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) to get off the streets and settle down. His best friend Tyrone (Marlon Waynes) is his partner in the business. Harry hopes that his prosperity will also better his relations with his lonely, TV-obsessed mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn). An unfortunate coincidence—these four characters all get addicted to drugs. Sara dreams of getting thinner in order to fit into her favorite red dress and starts abusing diet pills with that goal in mind. Harry and Tyrone use some of their drug profits to nurture a growing heroin habit. And Marion, without much explanation, is addicted to cocaine.
Aronofsky chronicles their downfalls with bombast and creativity. He uses every trick he can in order to accentuate the characters’ drug-addled states—an extreme wide-angle lens to make Sara’s television look as foreboding as the black monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” heartbreaking dramatizations of characters’ most private fantasies and ingenious three-second montages that represent the drug intake. These montages may include an image of a flame, some dope bubbling in a spoon, and a dilating pupil. It’s a smart way of capturing the almost robotic swiftness with which the user carries out the process.
And yet for all of this meticulously orchestrated fervor, Aronofksy’s single-minded efforts to break our hearts ultimately prove alienating. He’s such a manipulative director, so focused on pummeling us as much as possible with the pathos of these characters’ lives, that he sacrifices any serious attempt to understand his characters. Their lives lack nuance and we begin to sense that Aronofsky only cares to tell us something about them when he can use this information later to deepen the tragedy of his story. So, for example, when Tyrone has a fairly inane childhood flashback of his mother telling him to always be a good boy, we know this flashback will reoccur at the dingiest moment of Tyrone’s life, just to remind us how short he has fallen of his mother’s injunctions.
For lovers of cinematic craft, “Requiem for a Dream” is worth watching while taking notes. There is a lot of ingenuity here. Perhaps a more sensitive filmmaker will one day use certain aspects of Aronofsky’s singular visual style in the service of a less emotionally over-baked film. However, anyone desiring a film that attempts to understand an addict’s life, rather than merely languishing in its sheer horror, will likely be put off by Aronofsfky’s pyrotechnics.

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