You are beautiful. You’re the most beautiful girl in the world. You are my dream.
The last quarter of an hour of Requiem for a Dream is probably the most intensely harrowing closing I have witnessed, and yet the moment the credits roll there can be no dought that this was a spectacular achievement in film. The depiction is of the depths to which four drug addicts fall, each trying to attain their dream, only to have it snatched away as they fuel their own addiction.
Sarah Golfarb [Ellen Burstyn] is a lonely old woman whose solitary existance is punctuated only by occassional visits from her son, Harry [Jared Leto], to provide cash for his drug habit. Sarah spends her day watching a self-help informercial, until she receives a phone call informing her that she is to be the contestant on a TV show. Her life gains new purpose and revolves around losing weight to appear on the show. The cycle of the addiction of both mother and son is cleverly shown through the television which he repeatedly pawns for money, and she buys back each time. The differencce between addiction to hard drugs and TV as methods of dealing with reality are not so far removed, it would seem. Harry’s own dream is make one big score with his best friend Tyrone [ Marlon Wayans ] to raise himself from a small-time dealer, but he’s already developed an addiction to his product. His girlfriend Marion [Jennifer Connelly] dreams of opening a shop to sell her fashion designs, taking hits surrounded by her sketches. After a great summer where all four are successful and happy, in each case addiction kills the dream, as Sarah finds herself addicted to the dieting pills prescribed by a doctor, Harry and Tyrone’s big score falls through, and Marion cannot cope during a heroin drought. The resulting winter is a harsh one indeed.
The key performances in this film are all of an incredible quality, especially Burstyn who portrays addiction in a different light, first to televesion, then the red dress, then true drug of her diet pills. By the end of the film her transformation is so horrifying that she is utterly unrecognisable, yet never does she seem unrealistic or excessive. The performances of all the actors are all the more impressive because of the way they truly take on the roles they play, allowing the audience to see the changes internally as well as externally. This is most true of Connelly’s change from the wide eyed young girl to the hopeless addict by the end. She, above all others, should be heralded for her bravery and integrity as an actress, in the degredation she put herself through in order to accurately depict the depths to which Marion has fallen. The controversial scene in which a four girl orgy is portrayed in a series of sharp jump-cuts is never erotic in the slightest, but shows the utter destruction and total loss of the any self esteem in a character we have come to care about. It is a truly incredible task for any actress to agree to, and an astounding performance to match Burstyn’s. Leto and Wayans play more difficult characters to understand, perhaps because of their depiction in the opening, and really it is Burstyn who offers us a way into their psyche through her depiction of an “everyday addiction”. Nonetheless, both actors are able to display a subtle innocence and insecurity in their roles which is what draws us to them.
Aronofsky’s skill at manipulating varied camera styles can seem harsh and confusing, but the dizzying array of techniques is used to display the detatchment of the characters and the altered speed of a world where the next hit is the true goal. Speed-ups, slow motion, split screen, fast cuts, montage, camera shakes and time elapse each have their own careful use in his reportoire. An especially effective romantic scene between Harry and Marion singlehandedly defines their relationship of loving dependence, a split screen showing the lovers staring at one another, then a gentle caress on one half with the reaction on the other’s face opposite. This is not to say Aronofsky has created a flawless work. As the vibrating fridge in Sarah’s drug-filled mind becomes more violent and finally opens its jaws, it is difficult to see whether his intention is for us to be scared, amused or disturbed.
BEWARE SPOILERS BELOW:
As the film closes, no doubt each viewer will take away a different image that spoke to them more powerfully, but be sure that there will be a powerful image residually burned into you. The putried shot of the infected vein, the blood splattered across Harry’s face, and the thought of losing an arm; the strong Tyrone in a work facility rather than detox, drawn into a foetal position as he sleeps through a craving; Marion returning home after degrading herself so greatly, cradling the hit she has scored as a child cuddling a teddy bear for comfort – and she is actually smiling; Sarah pumped full of electricity, screaming in pain with a plastic bit between her teeth, fried and seemingly brain dead when her friends finally visit; and the haunting sound of the infomercial after we see these results, “we’ve got a winner…”