‘Requiem For A Dream’

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Ellen Burstyn

‘Drugs Are Bad…Mkay?’
Aronofsky’s first film after ‘Pi’ details the demise of 4 interrelated characters due to one common factor; the use and abuse of drugs. ‘Requiem For A Dream’ tries to detail some tragic life experiences, encouraged with stunning visuals, whilst sustaining a reasonably decent plot…While each aspect is individually intriguing, accumulatively they mean nothing.

There’s a rational aura of amiable expectations present with this film. I remember seeing ‘Pi’ when I was quite young, I don’t remember it too well, but I do remember liking it a lot; added to this, Aronofsky has just made huge success and taken another step up the ladder with his hit ‘The Wrestler’, not to mention apparently being signed on to direct the remake of ‘RoboCop’. A critically acclaimed director, some may say, and with good reason, as he actually has talent.
So let’s read the synopsis…“‘Requiem For A Dream’ is a tale of four human beings each pursuing their vision of happiness. Even as everything begins to fall apart, they refuse to let go, plummeting with their dreams into a nightmarish, gut-wrenching freefall.”
Sounds pretty interesting, right?
It is definitely an interesting film, but unfortunately, it’s just a couple hours of abeyance.

The opening sequences are pretty good; it’s a good way to start the film (despite the unnecessarily large quantity of opening credits), and it sets the theme of a visually stunning film with some nice cinematography.
What would initially be construed as a good aspect, is the fact we are not introduced to the characters immediately seen, they are just there, doing certain tasks in front of us which appear to be quotidian to the characters at hand. However, this lack of introduction ultimately leads to the films most horrific impediment…The ability to empathetically engage with the cast.
Attempts to establish these characters also failed somewhat, there was just never anything which the audience could relate to on such a level which would enable even a minimal level of pity to at least fester.
One of the attempts to establish the characters were to try and make everybody outside of the main four characters to come across as horrible people; in particular, doctors and various medical workers who were made to be incredibly negligible and implausibly cold-hearted, sometimes vicious, and empty people. This is quite an undesirable aspect which just seems distinctly unreal, as well as a poor device to try and strengthen the qualities of the protagonists.
Introducing a character is a very typical formula for making a film in general; there aren’t many films which can get away with not using this aspect. Whilst I do not suggest that every film in existence should acceptably introduce its characters, this film perhaps should have taken a few moments to do so.

This lack of empathy hinders the films ability to detail the experiences viewed, and is further held back by the plot of the film. There is nothing wrong with the story telling, whilst it arguably took too long to actually get into the heart of the plot, it did flow fairly well. However, this plot seemed like an undercurrent, and felt a little underplayed. It is clear this film is trying to focus more on the experiences of people, whilst also trying to entice the viewers with a tale, but the balance between both aspects actually has the inverse result of its intentions. Both elements were intended to strengthen and encourage the other, yet this actually impaired them to a point where both felt like a slab of lost potential.

Though, in regards to strengthening certain situations, the visual style did a good job at exasperating certain situations. For example, a point in the film where someone is in pain; the screen shakes as they scream in agony. This is an unexpected way to worsen the situation in front of you, which actually worked really well.

Generally, the visual artistic style is brilliant here, not to mention mixed really well with the soundtrack. I refer mostly to the sound effects used.
Whenever one of the characters used drugs, they displayed a set of rapid inserts with odd sound effects over the top, sometimes appropriate, and sometimes deliberately exaggerated. Whilst it can get a little annoying after a while, the purpose is inventive, and practically perfectly used.
However, the one low point to the soundtrack is the use of Clint Mansell’s composition around Mozart’s ‘Summer Overture’, which is actually a little out of place from time to time. I’ve always been familiar with the title of the song being ‘Requiem For A Dream’, I am unsure as to whether this is a title Mansell added for the purposes of the film, or whether it was something Mozart chose – If it is the latter, then it seems the song was used simply due to the title. There were times where it fit beautifully, but it is a very dramatic piece, and during moments of distinctly low tension, it felt severely misplaced, and thus, can be deemed fairly overused. Though, when in the right place, it did add something special to the film.

Performances were generally pretty good in the film; Leto and Connelly did well to display some good scenes of emotion and physical discomfort within their characters situations. At first they seemed quite mediocre, but they actually emerged to perform very well. Marlon Wayans isn’t so great in his role, he seems very familiar. More specifically, parts of his character ‘Shorty Meeks’ from ‘Scary Movie’ seem to bubble to the surface every so often, which (if you have seen the film) actually brought a bizarrely vague ambience of humour around some of his scenes; particularly the drug use.
Ellen Burstyn possibly gives the best performance, despite the overall lack of emotional connection, her individual plot and demise is actually quite an engaging plot, if only purely observing, and can be enough to sustain interest.

While there are certain implausibility’s with the individual plots, they are actually fairly reasonable concepts. They do a great job of getting you to understand why the characters do some of the things they are doing, it’s just a terrible shame that you don’t care what it is they are doing.
This film had great potential, but Aronofsky seemed too distracted with sight and sound than getting the audience to engage on a deeper level than pure superficiality. Visually and audibly, this is a fantastic film; but it severely lacks the depth and emotion that it really needs. It’s disappointing, Aronofsky clearly does display great talent here; he just tried to be too clever, by making a critical error which cost the film the merit of a ‘masterpiece’. A nice concept, with some good characters, good stories, nice development, mix of pacing…Just generally aesthetically brilliant; it’s just a shame you couldn’t care less – 6 out of 10.

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May 2009
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