There may be nothing more difficult in Hollywood than making a serious film about drugs. After avoiding the pitfalls of becoming overtly anti-drug, a film-maker must then make sure that they don't glorify substance abuse. It's like walking a tight rope; one step too far on either side, and the entire film falls on it's face. Requiem for a Dream walks that line as well, if not better, than any film ever made. It's a beautifully made film, dripping with style, and also a horrifying glimpse into the world of substance abuse. It's so effective that you might find yourself throwing away your aspirin just to be on the safe side.
Requiem for a Dream is, at it's core, the story of a mother and her son. Both characters struggle with their addictions to substances. Harry Goldfarb, played by Jared Leto, is a heroin addict, and his mother, Ellen Burstyn, becomes addicted to diet pills in attempt to loose weight before she appears on a television show. The film also focuses on Harry's relationship with his girlfriend, Jennifer Connelly, and his best friend, Marlon Wayans. Yes, there is a Wayan's brother in Requiem for a Dream and he does a top-notch job. All this drama, mixed with director Darren Aronofsky's visual and stylistic flair, make for truly stunning movie. It also helps that Requiem for a Dream has one of the best scores in recent memory.
Visually speaking, there isn't anything quite like Requiem for a Dream. Aronofsky goes to great lengths to give the film, especially sequences involving drug use, a special look and feel. The calming, very tranquil, feel of the early heroin sequences are contrasted exceptionally well against the paranoia and terror that Burstyn's diet pills cause. It blends remarkably well and makes for some really interesting moments and segments. All of these stylistic choices play into the fervent pace of the films climax, which is one of the most intense and disturbing sequences of film ever made. Very rarely does everything come together in the way that it does here. If you find yourself sucking your thumb and asking for "mommy", then don't be alarmed. That is a perfectly normal reaction to the end of the Requiem for a Dream. Few movies have ever left me as devastated. There are some moments where the choices are, shall we say, odd though. While some of the surrealistic things that happen to Ellen Goldfarb are extremely powerful and interesting, it goes a little too far at times. I don't think I was the only one who found the cupcakes falling from the ceiling a little silly.
One of the other places that Requiem for a Dream truly sets itself apart is, it's ability to feel honest and uncompromising. Yes, by the end of the film you are going to think drugs are bad, but the film never pounds you over the head with that thought. You come to that conclusion on your own as you see these people's lives crash down around them because of their addictions. For a time, life seems good for everyone. Ellen looses weight, Harry and his friends make good money and seem happy, but it takes so little for this all to fall apart. Seeing the good and the bad together is important because it helps keep these people real. There is so much more to these people than their addictions that, when their addictions finally do get the best of them, it cuts twice as deep. The drug use is, in fact, only a product of these character's true flaws. These flaws come to light as they sink further into addiction and this extra depth keeps the characters from becoming two-dimensional.
The actors involved also deserve credit for keeping the characters interesting. I never thought I would say that about a movie with Marlon Wayans in it, but here I am eating my words. Everyone's commitment and daring here is one of the primary reasons the film succeeds despite some flaws. Without honest, grounded performances, the stylistic choices would overtake the human drama in a heartbeat. While everyone pulls their own weight, the true stand out here is Ellen Burstyn. Word's can't describe how powerful her performance is. How she lost the Academy Award to Julia Roberts, no one will ever know.
I would never describe Requiem for a Dream as a fun movie to watch. It's a gut-wrenching, intense, disturbing and devastating film. That doesn't change the fact that it is also one of the most gripping movies you will ever lay eyes on. These people's lives become train wrecks, and you can't look away. It will leave you absolutely breathless.