Friday, 25 April 2014

Elwood's Essential's #8: Requiem For A Dream

Title: Requiem For A Dream
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Released: 2000
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald, Mark Margolis, Keith David, Seasn Gullette, Hubert Selby, Jr.

Plot: Charting four Coney Island residents and their pursuit of their own vision of happiness, only to soon find their individual addictions leading them into a nightmarish downward spiral.

Review: I first saw this film back when I was in college, which is also really where I first seriously started studying film. It was around this same time that having turned 18 I spent most of that birthday joining every video library I could to further my cinematic tastes, beyond the films I was taping off late night TV let alone my already established lusts for Godzilla and Asian cinema which I’d been steadily building on since I first figured out how to use my parents video player. It was amongst these early jaunts into less mainstream cinema that I came across this film which I think I rented along with Sofia Coppola’s “The Virgin Suicides” in what would certainly turnout to be an eye opening double bill.

Since that original viewing though this film has always held a strange fascination with me a power which has yet to wain even after numerous viewings. At the same time this power that the film holds is very much a double edged sword as this film is easily one of the most grim films I have in my collection, so much so that I tend to view it once a year, while it usually takes the remainder of the year to get over the experience. Still with this being “Aprilofsky” I knew that it was kind of inevitable that at some point this month I would inevitably find myself revisiting it.

Based on the book by Hubert Selby, Jr. (who also makes a cameo as a laughing prison guard) the film follows the three intertwining stories of low level drug dealers Harry (Leto) and his best friend Tyrone (Wayans), Harry’s girlfriend and aspiring fashion designer Marion (Connelly) and Sara, Harry’s TV addled mother who dreams of being on television. For of you familiar with Selby, Jr.’s bleak world outlook you will no doubt already know that nothing is going to end up well for this foursome, but it is the journey they each take towards an inevitable downward spiral which Aronofsky perfectly captures and draws you in with, so that by the time you realise the path the characters are on, you are already too drawn into the story to turn back.

Arguably Aronofsky’s strongest film, I know that personally I was glad that I started with this film, rather than with his black and white debut “Pi” which gave the indication that it felt it was smarter than it was, while confusing things further with mathematical theory and mantra style repetition of its lead characters childhood recollection which only made it harder film to follow. Here though he would challenge those who didn’t get his debut as he perfects his use of repetition while heavily working his bag of visual tricks which includes the extensive use of quick cuts which total over 2,000 which only comes into perspective when you consider that most films only contain between 600 to 700 cuts.

The casting here really is spot on while equally risky at the time of the film’s release with Connelly being best known for most us for playing Sarah in “Labyrinth”, Leto aswell was better known for playing a teen heartthrob on “My So Called Life” despite having the snot beaten out of him as Angelface in “Fight Club” while Wayans was (and still is) known for his comedic roles with this film marking one of rare dramatic roles. It should be equally noted that the cast were equally brave for signing up for the film, after all this is hardly a film were any of the characters are going to walk away unscathed by the end credits, a fact which certainly didn’t escape Burstyn who was reportedly horrified by the script and only accepted the role after she saw Aronofsky’s debut “Pi”. Personally I would have placed money on her only wanting to further distance herself from the film, but guess like so many of you that she saw something in that film which I didn’t.

Needless to say each of the cast fully embody their individual characters, fully committing to their roles which was always going to be an essential element to the film as we find ourselves truly caring what happens to these characters, hoping that they will eventually find a way out of their downward spiral. I mean can you think of a time were you have been left feeling unclean and strangely horrified watching a gratuitous sex scene? Even with our drug dealing duo who are slowly being destroyed by a combination of their own habit and a drug dealer turf war drying out their supply chain you still want to see come out of this ordeal relatively unscathed. The most crushing though is the slowly deteriating mental state of Sara who loneliness is only broken up by the self help infomercial which seemingly plays on a continuous loop  and her dream of fitting in her red dress. It really is a tour-de-force performance that Burstyn brings to the role and who through the help of prosthetics and fat suits takes on one of the most startling transformations over the course of the film especially when she is a nervous shell to start with it is utterly heart breaking to see her slow decline over the course of the film as her diet pill abuse only becomes increasingly worse and her grip on reality continues to weaken.

The supporting cast are equally great here, while at the same time never to the point were they distract our attention away from the main foursome. At the same time when it comes to Christopher McDonald and Keith David, they are on such memorable form, that now I instantly associated themselves as being either being a power house self-help guru (McDonald) or a charming drug dealer / pimp (David). These characters though are not there to offer false salvation, but rather existing to simply provide the final push.

Another key element of the film is the killer combination of Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet whose soundtrack really adds a whole new level to the film and even though the “Lux Aeterna” has been overused on countless film trailers, Video games, talent shows and essentially any other event looking for a memorable piece of music. This of course is only one of the memorable tracks on the soundtrack as it perfectly frames numerous moments of the film from drug haze euphoria the playful days of summers, while taking on a more frantic and nightmarish qualities as the characters suffer through withdrawal and ultimately hit their individual rock bottoms.  The soundtrack here though truly highlights how powerful an effect it can be when the soundtrack is working in perfect conjunction with the images on screen.

An unquestionably powerful film, yet not the sort of film you pick up as a casual watch and like "Schindler's list" it is best approached with some pre-warning and a stack of cartoons to help you deal with the aftermath, as this one is unquestionably brutal. At the same time it marked Aronofsky out as major talent on the indie film making scene an while he has yet to top this high bench mark he set for the films to come, it served as a taste of what would follow. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...