1000 Great Films
(c) 2009, William L. Sinclair

Requiem for a Dream

Darren Anorofsky, 2000 (10*)

This film is without doubt the most intense movie I've ever seen – in fact, I had to take a break halfway and finish it later, one advantage of dvd over the theater. It’s a total work of art, but one that will leave you emotionally drained. It’s a story of addiction of all kinds: drugs, tv, food, hope. Ellen Burstyn, who is mind-blowing in this (and spent 4 hrs a day in makeup), her greatest performance (Oscar-nominated, it should have been her 2nd after Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore), plays Sarah Goldfarb in Brooklyn, whose only son, played by Jared Leto, routinely pawns her tv to buy drugs, and Sarah buys it back each time. She dreams of being on tv, and may get her chance on a motivational program where huckster Tappy Tibbons sells optimism and a juicer for ‘one easy payment’ (a thinly disguised variation of Tony Robbins?), well-played by Chrisopher MacDonald. Before that she wants to lose weight, so she finds a doctor to give her diet pills.

Her story begins to parallel her son’s, who spends time with girlfriend Jennifer Connelly, in her most demanding and best performance (I now believe her Oscar for A Beautiful Mind was due to her snub for this), and friend Marlon Wayans, who is surprisingly effective in a rare dramatic part. Aronofsky uses machine-gun fire editing, odd camera angles, blurred fast-motion sequences, and a special actor-mounted camera to create a nightmare world of dreams blurring reality for all involved. For some this was distracting, for me it totally involved the audience in a world where reality is a vaporous vision, constantly shifting until you don’t know what’s real and what is imaginary.

This film may be too shocking to watch; it likely deserves an X-rating for emotional trauma. I’m sure it scared the heck out of Hollywood; it was made with the assistance of Sundance. Traditional movigoers and filmmakers wouldn’t go near this subject, based on major American author Hubert Selby’s novel from 1978. Selby is best known for this 1964 classic Last Exit to Brooklyn, which shocked the nation, but wowed book critics, and caused an obscenity trial in England. (see below for some Selby quotes from an interview on the dvd). Director Aronofsky’s only previous film was the engrossing intellectual drama b&w Pi (review upcoming), about obsessed numerologists hunting for the “key to the universe” hidden in the Bible in the numeric values of Hebrew letters (!) This is major art for a second film effort, for anyone’s film effort actually. This is more intense than Tarantino, Scorsese, or Cuckoo’s Nest, and likely too intense for the average movigoer - if you enjoy Adam Sandler, or Lethal Weapon movies, you probably won’t like this. But a film this visually stunning will be studied by cinema students for decades, and is a treat for the serious film connoisseur.

Here's Roger Ebert's longer and more descriptive review in the Chicago Sun Times, he agrees that it's "adults only", unless you know a kid doing drugs:
Roger Ebert's Requiem Review

[Note: I’m giving it a 10 for its mind-blowing visuals, overcoming any story faults. The scene they’ll discuss for years is Burstyn cleaning her apt from end to end in 25 seconds of film, in super-high speed, while the camera slowly tracks past each room. This took 40 minutes and was one take; when done, Ellen was disappointed with herself and wanted to do another take. The dvd will show you how it was done. I’ll have to admit that when the film was over, I needed a drink and a walk outside, I was shaking for half an hour.]

Hubert Selby Quotes (Selby has a brief part in this as a prison guard)
“About age 8, I discovered that the world was full of pain and suffering, and I decided I had to try to end that suffering.”

“I had tb after world war two; a doctor looked me and said, ‘there’s nothing we can do for you’, walked away and sent me a bill. Man, do I love the AMA.”
(This almost killed Selby, he had a lung and 10 ribs removed, but survived. He also had brain damage during childbirth, yet has become one of the most important American authors, compared to Dostoevsky)

“The Sanskrit and Hebrew word for eye is ‘fountain’, they say we project our souls onto the world through the eye, not perceive the world outside projected inward.”

“Suffering comes from the fact that life is pain, and we refuse to accept the pain that all must experience; the worst pain will be losing one’s mother, hence ‘I feel like a motherless child.’”

“I had a spiritual experience once; during that I knew that as I’m dying I’ll think two things: first that I wasted my life, then that I’d like to live it all over – and then I’ll die.”

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