[box cover]

Requiem for a Dream: Director's Cut

Artisan Home Entertainment

Starring Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly
and Marlon Wayans

Written by Hubert Selby, Jr. and Darren Aronofsky
from the novel by Hubert Selby, Jr.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

It was a smart move by Darren Aronofsky to deck this adaptation of Hubert Selby, Jr.'s novel in a mesmerizing array of visual gimmickry. Sans the virtuoso distractions, Requiem for a Dream would be perhaps too heart-wrenchingly sad for a non-sociopathic human to cope with. Aronofsky, however, has confidently constructed a dazzling vehicle for this depressing tale of addiction, brilliantly wrapping the sourest of pills in a delectable hard candy shell.

Aronofsky's debut film, the dark and disturbing Pi, was a throbbing fantasy about paranoia and conspiracy, and in many ways, so is his follow-up. Less fantastic than Pi's ominous Jewish cabal, however, is the simple and true way in which Requiem's several characters conspire against themselves, against their own happiness, searching for release in the very objects driving them crazy.

Jared Leto stars as Harry, a wide-eyed junkie with no excuses. Only interested in getting high, Harry is blind to the adoration of his mother (Ellen Burstyn), who continuously allows him to steal her television for drug money, and his sweet love for privileged hop-head Marianne (Jennifer Connelly) rarely expresses itself out from under the influence. Tired of scrounging for their next hit, Harry and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) start selling, and the booming market treats them well before a war amongst suppliers and subsequent crash leads them to dire consequences. (Be warned: the last half-hour is a deep descent into the harrowing, and not for the squeamish.)

Also sucked into the storm drain of addiction is Harry's mother, Sarah. A lonely woman with only her oft-stolen television for company, her life is given a new blast of excitement when she receives a dubious phone call alerting her that she's been pre-selected to appear on a television show (no doubt a cheesy self-help infomercial like the one she seems to watch non-stop). Intoxicated by the promise of attention and too eager to impress, Sarah embarks on a diet plan of prescription drugs that leads her to a determinedly less photogenic result.

Requiem for a Dream tells several worn stories, nearly slipping into formula for the Drugs Lead Nowhere and Crime Doesn't Pay genres, but Aronofsky freshens them with his uniquely exciting style, most similar to David Fincher's Fight Club in its texture, attitude, and aggressive visual invention. The inevitable contextual comparison, however, is with Danny Boyle's similarly brazen 1995 drug film Trainspotting. Where Boyle infused his film with a hip tone of defiance and danger, however, Aronofsky chooses the more harrowing and honest atmosphere of soul-sucking coalescence. Although Aronofsky's viewfinder jerks, speeds, splits, and spins, his characters have little time for rebellious hi-jinks. They much prefer to shoot up and do nothing.

With outstanding work by director of photography Matthew Libatique, and a lurching techno-orchestral score by Clint Mansell and performed by The Kronos Quartet, Aronofsky covers any distance between characters in squalor and audience in safety by launching the viewer mercilessly into the chase. Engaged by the hunting camera, we feel the characters' highs, endure their paranoias, and finally, are destroyed by their destructions.

But Aronofsky's genius with his trickery is he knows when to go full throttle, when to coast, and when to shut down the engine. When the character relate to each other unfiltered, the shots are still and quiet and often long takes with room to breathe and feel. When they become lost in their escapes, he flips the carnival switch, engaging in 'hip-hop' montage and adrenaline-cranked movements. For the moments in between when their reality is struggling to assimilate with addictive influences, so Aronofsky has it both ways. There's a chillingly intimate scene between Harry and Marianne in which they lie in bed, face to face yet heartbreakingly split into separate screens, capturing their poignant disassociation and collective emptiness. In another scene, Marianne tells Harry, "You make me feel like a person, like I'm me…" which is about the saddest thing a person can say.

Partially what makes Requiem for a Dream so refreshing is its reluctance to paint its characters as either villains or victims. Despite their foolish ways, Aronofksy makes it impossible to not like and empathize with them. They're simply normal people afflicted by common insecurities and doubts, and, unable (or unwilling, or afraid) to seek inner- or outer-support, who seek dead-end escapes and are ultimately, stupidly complicit in their own turmoil. Really, the film is about more than just drugs. The characters are easily addicted to any number of potentially corrosive agents of replacement: television, ego, praise, money, pop psychology, and, worst of all, the undemanding expectations of abject failure. The dream at wake is not only the American Dream, where the pursuit of happiness is errantly displaced by the pursuit of immediate gratification, but any and every dream, none of which can survive the rough terrain of self-destruction.

Although the excellent Burstyn received the most acclaim, the entire cast is superb, confirming pretty-boy Leto's ambition to destroy the remnants of Jordan Catalano. Connelly, in a rare sighting, asserts her place as one of the brightest, most complicated, and most beautiful young actresses, and Wayans stands out with his effusive charisma.

Artisan's release of this unrated director's cut of Requiem for a Dream is a thorough package, beginning with its fold-out booklet and into its clever video menu, which may leave some half-alert viewers wondering what's wrong their television. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is gorgeous, and the elaborate soundscape is crisp in Dolby Digital 5.1. One commentary track features an engaging and thorough analysis by Aronofsky, and another features the tech-heavy insights of D.P. Libatique. Also on board is a rough half-hour of low-key behind-the-scenes footage featuring glimpses at some of the film's various technologies and gross-out effects, with an optional (but necessary) commentary by Aronofsky; a 20-minute interview of Selby, Jr. by Burstyn; a five-minute Sundance Channel "Anatomy of a Scene"; and several interesting deleted scenes with option commentary by Aronofsky, including one outtake entitled "Marlon Wayans Plays Jar Jar," in which Wayans plays a scene like the annoying alien sidekick of a recent blockbuster, and another extended take of author Hubert Selby, Jr. in his cameo as a prison guard taking the mickey out of Wayans.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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