Requiem For A Dream is the 21st Century’s answer to The Exorcist. The latter was banned in Britain from 1973 to 1998. The British Board of Film Censorship saying “the problem with The Exorcist is not that it is a bad film, it is that it is a very good film. It’s one of the most powerful films ever made.” The opposite of the popular ‘so-bad it’s good’ phenomenon, The Exorcist was so good it was bad.
When the film was initially released, young British girls passed out and threw up (though not in that order) in cinemas across the nation. Modern audiences are made of sterner stuff; so when The Exorcist was re-released in 1998 there was no vomiting and there was even some laughing — the special effects not dating as well as the narrative. However, I have to confess that my (admittedly convincing) tough guy persona was dealt a serious blow by Aronofsky’s latest, Requiem For A Dream. This film left me wanting my mommy.
There is plenty to criticise here. The tale of Jared Leto, Marlon Wayans and Jennifer Connelly falling into drug addiction is clichéd, and some of the ‘drug-talk’ left me unconvinced (“this stuff is dynamite”), and the idea that Ellen Burstyn’s character is addicted to the ‘other’ drugs such as TV, coffee, sugar, etc is shouted rather than whispered. Leto’s character even says “No one’s a bigger TV junkie than the old lady,” just in case there’s someone very slow out there who doesn’t quite get it. Likewise, the visuals are more than a little over-stylised, so much so that the overt ‘technique’ shifts attention away from the characters, sometimes resembling a very long student film.
It’s incredible that these quite significant shortcomings don’t detract from the absolutely terrifying, can’t-watch-but-can’t-look-away power of the second half ofRequiem For A Dream. Seeing Jared Leto force a syringe into his gangrenous arm is horrifying enough, but there is nothing in the world that can prepare you for the last fifteen minutes, a savage assault on the senses that will leave you longing for a cold, dark place to hide.
When thought about rationally, the actual events aren’t so bad. It’s just the way Aronofsky presents them that is so devastating. He repeats a montage of extreme close ups, focusing on the nuts and bolts of drug addiction, always culminating in a dilating pupil that fills the screen. Sounds like a bad idea on paper but Aronofsky gives the montage a rhythm. It becomes like a musical piece, subtly changing each time it’s repeated.
There’s something darkly terrifying about this little montage and the whole thing grows and expands to become a four-way cross cut of parallel action as the principal characters sink into their individual tragedies, this being the basis of the above mentioned nightmare inducing finale. This hypnotic rhythm must be why even as you become so overwhelmed you think your head might explode it is one hundred percent impossible to look away. It slowly draws you in and won’t let go until you’re spat out the other end.
With The Exorcist, there is a pleasure in being shocked and scared. That’s the nature of the horror genre. Requiem For A Dream is a dramatic film, and there is no pleasure in having your emotions mauled in this way (unless you’re a card carrying masochist), and assuming that you knew beforehand getting addicted to heroin is not a good idea, there’s nothing to be learnt either.
This in mind, it’s worth questioning if Requiem For A Dream needs to exist at all, except maybe as something parents can threaten their children with. “Finish your dinner or I’m putting you know what in the DVD player!”
On the other hand something that prompts such a strong reaction has to be considered an achievement. ‘Art’ even. Still, I’m certain of one thing: if Requiem For A Dream is re-released in 25 years time, there’ll be no laughing in the theatres, just former tough guys calling out for their mothers as the credits roll.
The DVD doesn’t contain any of the usual press junket repackaged as a making of documentary here, and no Jared and Jennifer sitting around talking about how Darren is simply wonderful to work with. Instead, there’s an excellent director’s commentary (Aronofsky knows what’s what) and a short but informative few minutes called Anatomy Of A Scene.
There are also deleted scenes aplenty, if that’s what floats your boat, and an interesting interview with source material writer Hubert Selby Jr. It’s everything you could ask for shiny disc wise.