Friday, August 27, 2010

Requiem for a Dream (2000)

USA, 102 minutes
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Hubert Selby Jr., Darren Aronofsky
Photography: Matthew Libatique
Music: Clint Mansell (with performances by Kronos Quartet)
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Mark Margolis, Keith David

This lush and barbaric movie about addiction takes place over a nine-month period, in a summer, fall, and winter series that sees things go from bad to worse for its four characters. It is almost spectacularly bleak, redeemed from parody by the deft and imaginative filmmaking of director Darren Aronofsky and his crew, and by the stark, rapid-fire rhythms of its editing, which focuses on telegraphed snapshots in rapid succession, shorthand critical elements of addiction (the lighter, the cotton swab, the pupil of the eye constricting with the rush), setting up a monotonous drumbeat of repetitious images that reflect the repetitious life of addiction. Ellen Burstyn plays Sara Goldfarb, a rapidly fading Brooklyn widow who spends her days eating chocolates and watching episodes of a TV show that seems to be broadcast constantly, something that is a cross between a daytime talk show and an infomercial. When she comes to believe she will soon be on the show she sets about losing 50 pounds with the aid of an unscrupulous doctor and diet pills. Jared Leto plays her son Harry; Marlon Wayans plays his pal Tyrone. Both are heroin addicts and promiscuous drug users who dream of scoring a big haul, which somehow equates to everlasting financial independence and a lifetime supply. Jennifer Connelly plays Marion, Harry's girlfriend, who is also a heroin addict dreaming of a life without a single hassle ever. It goes without saying that they are all damaged, but this movie is not particularly interested in them anyway. In fact, it gives us only enough information about each to make it hurt to see the futile damage they wreak upon themselves in their catastrophic plummets. Instead, this movie is more intent, with a kind of zealous purity, on showing what lives of addiction look like and sound like and feel like, and it's never attractive. The arc of the individual stories is simple, as high moments of pleasure and joy and anticipation for the future in the summer are quickly followed by various missteps and failures in the fall, which lead to extremely bitter winters. Aronofsky has plenty of tricks to distract from the relentless onslaught of emotional carnage, such as frequent use of split screens, in one memorable scene using them with Harry and Marion even as they lay in bed together. The music, especially from the Kronos Quartet, is harsh and percussive but vibrant and intellectually distanced at the same time, which effectively underscores the central point of how willfully unplugged these people are. In the end, as each faces his and her individual cataclysm, all four fold into fetal positions, longing for death, and if they can't have that, then the next best thing, which is all the hope and safety and security of the womb, before they had ever set foot even once on this planet.

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