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USA 2000
Directed by
Darren Aronofsky
101 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars

Requiem For A Dream

Young Coney Islanders Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are three mixed up heroin users with dreams of the easy life. Harry's mother (Ellen Burstyn) meanwhile dreams of going on a TV game show. All discover that their dreams are really nightmares in disguise.

Films about hard drug-users are often challenged for their tendency, in part the very nature of cinema, to aestheticize, glamorize or simply make entertaining, self-destructive behaviour. No-one could lay such a charge against this particularly bleak view of the human zoo. As a rendition of the horrors of drug addiction, this scores high. Any vestige of vicarious enjoyment or identification is well and truly vanquished by the embittered hand of cruel fate. Fate, in this instance being directed by author and co-screenwriter (with director Aronofsky), Hubert Selby Jr who has a particularly bleak view of the human zoo. (He also wrote the gruelling Last Exit To Brooklyn, which was filmed in 1989 by Uli Edel)

Without in any way decrying its " failure" to entertain, it is that unrelenting bleakness however which is perhaps its undoing. In the final analysis we can never know if a film tells the truth. In one sense it never does, but somehow we look for the effect of verisimilitude - we expect to be more or less convinced that what we see mirrors some kind of reality. To paraphrase Cocteau, cinema is a lie that tells the truth. Whilst much that Requiem shows is very probably true if the various elements are taken separately, combined they tend to suggest an authorial/auteurist preoccupation with a maintaining a particular attitude rather than a concern to reveal the actuality of human behaviour. And that, in a film of this nature, which is making a strong statement about human weakness is a problem. Perhaps in this respect it is misleadingly narrow and overly reiterative. One film that came to mind whilst watching this was Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. It similarly takes on broken personal and social dreams, yet amongst the sadness there was humour and ultimately something good

Having said that, this is a very good film, well worth seeing on the big screen, conceptually ambitious and full of technical flair (even if in this respect also somewhat reiterative), albeit not to everyone's taste. I've not see Aronofsky's previous film, Pi, but he is evidently a skilled imagist with an eye for contemporary urban visual culture. Leto and Connelly, looking like they stepped out of a rock video clip, are well-cast in the roles of the young lovers but Ellen Burstyn is outstanding as Harry's widowed mother whose life spirals out of control. The Kronos Quartet provide some effective string backing, somewhat reminiscent of Mike Leigh's masterpiece of urban alienation Naked and as a rendition of the horrors of heroin and amphetamine addiction, if that's your thing, this is marvellously effective.




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