Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Watching 'Requiem for a Dream'

I have no idea why I rented this movie - somehow it got on my netflix queue and arrived in the mail.

Here's the editorial review from

"Employing shock techniques and sound design in a relentless sensory assault, Requiem for a Dream is about nothing less than the systematic destruction of hope. Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., and adapted by Selby and director Darren Aronofsky, this is undoubtedly one of the most effective films ever made about the experience of drug addiction (both euphoric and nightmarish), and few would deny that Aronofsky, in following his breakthrough film Pi, has pushed the medium to a disturbing extreme, thrusting conventional narrative into a panic zone of traumatized psyches and bodies pushed to the furthest boundaries of chemical tolerance. It's too easy to call this a cautionary tale; it's a guided tour through hell, with Aronofsky as our bold and ruthless host.

The film focuses on a quartet of doomed souls, but it's Ellen Burstyn--in a raw and bravely triumphant performance--who most desperately embodies the downward spiral of drug abuse. As lonely widow Sara Goldfarb, she invests all of her dreams in an absurd self-help TV game show, jolting her bloodstream with diet pills and coffee while her son Harry (Jared Leto) shoots heroin with his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and slumming girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly). They're careening toward madness at varying speeds, and Aronofsky tracks this gloomy process by endlessly repeating the imagery of their deadly routines. Tormented by her dietary regime, Sara even imagines a carnivorous refrigerator in one of the film's most memorable scenes. And yet... does any of this have a point? Is Aronofsky telling us anything that any sane person doesn't already know? Requiem for a Dream is a noteworthy film, but watching it twice would qualify as masochistic behavior. --Jeff Shannon"

I felt very uncomfortable after watching this movie. The final sequence where it intersperses shots between Jared Leto getting his arm amputated where it has rotted from his heroin injections, Jennifer Connelly performing lewd sex acts for drugs in front of a room of slobbering men all whilst Ellen Burstyn receives Electric Shock therapy for her insanity brought on by her addiction to barbiturates that she was told were diet pills, was shocking.

Disturbing is an understatement in the case of this movie, and yet it contained some incredible performances and scenes. Ellen Burstyn was incredible and heart wrenching.

I don't know how to rate it on netflix. It's not a movie I would recommend to 99% of the world, it's not a movie I enjoyed - but surely a movie like this is not meant to be enjoyed. It was an experience I wish I had not had, but in some strange way I am stronger for. I was at no real danger of ever taking drugs before this movie - after it I'm even further away from that end of the spectrum.

The emotional experiences I had watching the movie were strong and I'm sure that was the Director's intent. From that point of view the movie was powerful and effective - but enjoyable? Not so much. Did I enjoy it? No. Would I watch it again? No. Do I want the time back that the movie took - don't know, it's one of those movies I have to let work through my system before forming any long term judgements.

Has anyone else seen it?


Gregarius said...

I own it. I think it is an incredible film.

The images are powerful and disturbing, as you say, and as they are meant to be. For Aronofsky to have evoked such a strong emotional response from you is a credit to him as a director and artist.

Personally, I never feel such emotional attachment to a film. I was chastised once for smiling and laughing after seeing Atonement, a quite depressing film. It wasn't that I wasn't moved by it, but when the curtain closes and the lights go up, it's over.

It's like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs, thrills and scares, but when it's over, you're right back where you started.

When I see a movie that takes me to exotic places, emotional highs or lows, fears or fascinations, I'm exhilarated (if it's done well, of course). It doesn't matter if the film was scary or happy or sad.

Pete the Brit said...

When the curtains close and the lights go up the movie is over, but the emotional resonance of the movie still lingers for me.

Now, even after a night's sleep, I can tell that my spirit is still agitated from what I saw, and yes, that shows that Aronofsky did an incredible job.

I disagree with the Roller Coaster analogy though. I think that if a movie - or any piece of art, has been effective, then it leaves you at a different place after experiencing it.

That's what I want for my art, to leave the listener somehow different, more than just a closed track that people can whizz around as many times as they like.

The movie may be fiction, but the emotions produced are not. If they can be dismissed in the length of time it takes the lights to come up afterward then maybe the movie is not as effective? A good piece of art can linger with me for a long time.

I wonder what Aronofsky wanted to achieve?

Pete the Brit said...

I found this interview with the Director's a salient quote:

Rob: What sort of audience reaction are you hoping for with the film?

DA: I want people to feel really deeply with this- the way I feel when I read Selby. Which is- you're in the darkest place imaginable, but it's completely human. And that's completely what the trip is. That's what Selby does, he takes you into that heart of darkness, if you will.

you can read the whole thing at

Pete the Brit said...

oops I didn't get all off the url in the first time.

The interview is at:

Jennifer said...

i have to agree with greg. this film is incredible. the first time i saw it, yes i thought it was quite disturbing. but, i had to watch it again. i saw it a couple of years later though and it was viewed with a different perspective as i knew what was coming. then, in the not too distant past, i watched it again. i think the film-making was brilliant.

you should see "happiness." philip seymour hoffman is fantastic.