Monday, November 13, 2017

CANON OF FILM: "REQUIEM FOR A DREAM"

REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000)

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Hubert Selby Jr. and Darren Aronofsky based on the book by Hubert Selby Jr. 




I saw a stat awhile ago, I don’t remember the exact numbers, but basically it said that most people are incorrect about what will make them happy. Happy. I suspect those are the same people that think happiness is a feeling that they need to achieve, or search for. The more I think about it, I believe more than anything, drug addicts have disillusioned themselves into believing such a feeling of happiness essentially exists. Happiness, pleasure, something along those lines, but whatever it is, the world doesn’t seem right to them if they aren’t feeling a certain way. Do I understand this feeling? I don’t know, I do and I don’t. I’m not addicted to any particular drugs, but I don’t like the way I feel when I’m low on caffeine. I could go without it, but I wouldn’t want to.

Maybe it’s a misnomer not calling caffeine a drug, and distinguishing from the drugs used by the characters in Darren Aronofsky’s masterpiece, “Requiem for a Dream,” but I certainly can’t claim to know the extent of the feelings the characters go through personally. Aronofsky’s early films are clearly far more technically inventive than his later ones have been, but all his films focus on obsessions and obsessive characters who are unable or unwilling to curb from them. His first major film “Pi,” was about a mathematician who thinks he stumbled on a pattern that can predict the stock market, or the name of God, or God knows what. His two interesting failures, “The Fountain,” was about a husband who tried to get to live forever with his lover, or at least I think that’s what it was about, as well as "Noah", was a Biblical epic about, the, well, Noah and the building of his arc and surviving the flood. There's a lot of reasons why I don't think much of either "Noah" or "The Fountain", but I think the one is that they were trying to tell, big epic stories, and that's just the best use of his work; he's better when he's using his flashy detective styling to elevate his characters and stories and not when he's trying to match them.  His best films “The Wrestler,” which I’ve already added to my canon, and “Black Swan,” are about people whose life is their profession which is killing them physically and mentally, their professions being professional wrestling, which makes professional wrestler seem more dangerous than war, and ballerina, which he makes ballet seem more dangerous than professional wrestling. 

That said, “Requiem…” should be the first Aronofsky film people watch. It’s the most kinetic upon first viewing (although a second viewing reveals it less so), and it certainly comes off as his most experimental and possibly creative. Most notice the really quick-cut editing style (The movie has over well 2,000 cuts, about 3x the average film, even by Aronofsky's standards), the split screens and montages, fast motion even, to elevate the characters ascent, or descent into addiction, and we get the sense of the characters and their feelings, more than most other drug movies.  Most of the best ones about addiction are lethargic and meandering in their approach and tone of the subject matter, but "Requiem..." is kinetic, also hypnotically so. Like, we're caught up in the world, and we're trying to keep up, which makes perfect sense for Aronofsky, since his most constant and prolific filmmaking technique is a handheld or steadicam shot, that literally follows a character from behind them. 

That's how we’re initially introduced to the Goldfarbs, with the son, Harry, (Jared Leto) who’s trying to pawn his mother’s TV, again, originally for heroin money for use and eventually for dealing. His mother Sara, (Oscar-nominee Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely old woman who hangs out on the street with other old women in the neighborhood, and has a sugar addiction. She also is addicted to some game show, I think, hosted by Tibby Tibbons (Christopher McDonald) that’s so bizarre, I’m almost convinced it doesn’t even exist within the film and only in her mind. She gets a call to be on that show of hers, and begins taking diet pills. Her son Harry and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, very good here) slowly kick their habit for a little while and become good sellers. Harry’s tagalong girlfriend, (Jennifer Connolly, one of her best and gutsiest roles), is also a heroin addict, but seems to be addicted to Harry more when he starts to make some money during the Summer. 

All these stories parallel each other, oftentimes in surprising ways. Aronofsky uses a repetitive score called "Lux Aeterna" from Clint Mansell, performed by a string quartet that seems to insist upon danger even when there appears to be none, and just continually gets stronger until an amazing ending sequence where the fate of the characters lead them to some disturbing places. Hospitals, jail, and one place that gives the movie an NC-17 rating for a scene that I have a feeling is far more realistic than people would like to believe, especially if you're an addict and you happen to look like Jennifer Connolly. The studio thought so strongly of the film, they insisted that theaters play the movie with an adults only audience, without a rating, having rejected the NC-17 the MPAA gave it. (Usually a studio would simply shun the work, edit the film, or release it to non-brand name theatres.) It’s easy to see why. 

The rating is irrelevant, in fact, the reason I said that this should be everyone's first Aronofsky isn't for the craft or skill of the filmmaking, it's because every teenager should watch this movie and really really get a first-hand view of the dark side of spiraling into addiction, and just what can actually happen to you, and not in some Christian film-esque contrived way, from some video you might see in a D.A.R.E. program or something, this is more like, what somebody on "Intervention" probably thinks the world is like from their perspective, only in this case, they're way too late to get treatment, and these characters don't have a structured support group of friends around to help them out. I find it unlikely any teenager or adolescent would watch the movie and thinks drugs would be okay. 


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