Requiem For A Dream - Director's Cut Review

Depending on who you listen to, Requiem For A Dream is either a twenty-first century masterpiece or a stylish and depressing mess. Either way, the film has a certain distinctiveness that ensures the continuation of its lingering images in the audience's minds.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is widowed and suffering from loneliness in her Coney Island apartment, as one does when her only son Harry (Jared Leto) visits her solely to pawn her television set, which will in turn fund his drug habit. Sara then buys the television set back immediately from the pawnbrokers, a cycle of events that seems to exist almost every week. Sara relies heavily upon television for companionship; almost like it's her comfort from the grim truths of reality. Harry, a drug user, dreams of pulling off a big drug score that will present him a life of happiness with his high-class junkie girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and simultaneously elevate her into the fashion world. Harry also has a partner named Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), a black man aiming to become a successful dealer with Harry. Dreams turn to despair however, as the four main characters are each swallowed up and ultimately owned by their abuse of drugs. This is presented as two parallel storylines. The first depicts Sara, duped by a fraud scam into thinking she will appear on television. Sara becomes hooked on diet pills (amphetamines) in an effort to lose weight for her impending appearance on TV, and soon her life is nothing more than a routine of blue, purple and green pills whilst her mind slowly becomes frazzled. The second storyline features Harry, Tyrone and Marion, as they succumb to criminal and sexual degradation in order to keep their supply of fixes constant, as if all they require to survive is a re-entry into their drugged state.

Everyone has dreams to aspire to, but Requiem For A Dream signifies the death of these dreams, and one's acceptance of the most mundane routine brought about by drug consumption. Based on Hubert Selby Jr.'s (who also wrote Last Exit To Brooklyn) cult novel, the film dangerously and yet successfully deals with addiction and obsession, in whatever form that may be. Harrowing in its portrayals of characters caught up in their degrading lifestyle, and hard-hitting in its care for the audience's ride through the film, Requiem For A Dream splits audiences across the world in its uncompromising stance. Because of the visual indulgence of director Darren Aronofsky (who made his name with the obscure Pi), it's very easy to misjudge the film. Aronofsky uses the film to assault the psyche, in both the audible and visual senses, as if we are literally placed inside the characters' drugged out minds. His use of ultra-quick montages to represent drug consumption, such as rapid shots of eyes dilating and dollar bills being rolled, not only signifies the procedure of drug taking but also represents the almost ritualistic nature of this procedure, as if it occupies the same status as brushing one's teeth and eating dinner. What's more interesting, is that Aronofsky portrays the art of drinking coffee, or switching on the television in the same quick-cut style, as if he is claiming that any form of consumption, be it physical or cerebral, is still dangerous if forming part of an addictive routine. It's the study of this consumptive routine that the film's success hinges upon, as it asks us to throw away our social notions, that drinking coffee and watching television is acceptable, and in turn place them in the same mould as cocaine or heroin use. In turn, the main message of Requiem For A Dream is that addiction is the destroyer of aspirations. As the film progresses, these consumption sequences are given louder, thicker sound effects, to signify greater dependency on drugs by the characters. Also, because visually these sequences never change, it is as if the audience themselves are becoming conditioned and used to this routine of drug taking, to somehow generate further empathy. Whatever the merits of this argument, one cannot argue against the fact that Aronofsky offers some valuable food for thought.

Despite what some critics have said, Requiem For A Dream doesn't promote nor criticise drug taking, it merely aims to represent the effects drugs have on the state of mind. It also deliberately lacks answers or even judgement on the drugs issue, which is again dangerous/courageous as audiences can interpret this either way. Even so, it's illustration of the effects of drug taking are magnificent, and Aronofsky mutates almost every cinematic trick in the textbook to make the film appear different than most. In her obsessed dieting state, Sara is such a prisoner to her routine of pill-taking that the refrigerator, which represents submission to food, is presented almost like some monstrous warden watching her every move. Indeed, when the fridge starts to 'move' in Sara's mind, it is literally as if it has become a brutish character in itself. Ellen Burstyn is marvellous as Sara, and truly deserved her Oscar nomination for Best Actress, as Burstyn manages to avoid portraying Sara as a grotesque parody of the everyday woman, compelled to lose weight whatever her physical appearance. Leto, Connelly and Wayans all perform acceptably, but their performances are deliberately aloof, as if Aronofsky wants the audience to witness and yet not identify with their characters.

The use of the Kronos Quartet as string performers is the film's masterstroke, as the music is the primary driving force of the narrative. The ambient/hip-hop sounds seem to represent a sort of outer-worldliness, as if the characters have in their drugged state left society and conventional living. Visually, the film is bleak and yet stunning in composition. Aronofsky, together with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, portrays locations in Requiem For A Dream as an urban squalor-hell, almost like a colour version of Lynch's Eraserhead.

In truth, it's very hard to either recommend or criticise Requiem For A Dream, since many claim it to be a masterpiece of modern cinema, and many claim it to be over-indulgence and misguided in its morality. Either way, the film deserves to be seen by those tired of the usual drug-movie clichés. Aronofsky isn't a director who will pack the audiences into cinemas, and Requiem For A Dream is unflinching in its content. Even so, this is certainly a good suggestion that the director will turn Batman: Year One into something interesting.

Academy Awards 2000

Academy Award Nominations 2000
Best Actress - Ellen Burstyn

Ignore the packaging, which states the film to be 2.35:1, as Requiem For A Dream is actually presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1. Despite the sharp, bleak overtone of the actual film, the transfer is very pleasing on the whole, with few elements of grain and dirt.

Sound is an important factor in Requiem For A Dream, and the film is presented in either a 5.1 mix or a 2.0 mix. The 5.1 mix has fantastic, aggressively directed sound elements that expertly influence the narrative, especially the drug sequences and the scenes where characters' perceptions are distorted. There is also a sequence in which Tyrone is making love to his girlfriend, and the sounds of kids playing outside is given full circular sound amongst the channels, which sounds superb. Although this is as much as a sound-driven film as a visual film for the most part, do not be disappointed at the lack of a DTS mix, as the 5.1 mix is more than adequate.

Menu: A clever tie-in menu, as when an option is selected, the menu incorporates the quick-cut montage sequences that marked the film, as if suggesting the viewer themselves are settling into their 'comfort routine' of addiction.

Packaging: The Region 2 cover artwork is more stylish than the Region 1 version, having the cover displaying a split image of an eye and Marion standing at the edge of the pier. Chapter listings are printed on the reverse of the cover inlay, and visible via the transparent inlay.


Commentary With Darren Aronofsky: You'd expect Aronofsky to possess a quirky and cold manner, but surprisingly the director is enjoyable to listen to and keeps his comments flowing throughout with only a few pauses. Aronofsky comments on how he regards the film to not be a drugs movie but more accurately a film about how any element, be it drugs or television, can instantly change the state of mind of a person. Aronofsky also mentions his desire to throw in a few pornographic sequences as he finds them so much fun!

Memories, Dreams & Addictions: This is a twenty minute interview session between the film's star Ellen Burstyn and the author of the novel Hubert Selby Jr. in which they discuss spiritual and intellectual topics. Because this is presented slightly differently to the normal promotional interview, it's more interesting than usual, and especially fascinating to see Selby's views coming from the horse's mouth. The only problem is the sound level, which is very hissy due to the overbearingly loud waves that can be heard from outside the interview location.

Tappy Tippon's Life Story: This is a humourous extra that shows just how much of a thankless task Christoper McDonald had in portraying Tappy Tibbons, the ferocious advertising presenter promoting his own self-diet programme. This is a collection of all of the advertising materials produced to fill the sequences that Sara watches on television in the film, and lasts for eight minutes. The menu incorrectly spells Tibbons as Tippons.

Deleted Scenes With Optional Director's Commentary: Nine very short deleted sequences are featured, each with optional commentary from Darren Aronofsky. The first five sequences form one complete sub-plot in which the three young characters in the film flirt with the idea of stopping their drug use, although Aronofsky argues that this slowed the film down. The later deleted sequences feature some interesting cameos from Hubert Selby Jr. himself, particularly the sequence where he plays a prison guard tormenting Tyrone.

Anatomy Of A Scene: A five-minute featurette produced for the independent cable Sundance Channel, this features director Aronofsky deconstructing one of the stop motion sequences from the film featuring Ellen Burstyn. Despite the short length, this is an interesting featurette, and suggests that perhaps more sequences should have been explored using the visual commentary mode from Aronofsky.

The Making Of Requiem For A Dream: A documentary assembled from an abundance of raw behind-the-scenes footage, this is a slightly disorientating viewing experience since it lacks the polish of most contemporary documentaries. Even so, it occasionally features commentary from director Darren Aronofsky, which helps proceedings greatly, even if it doesn't match the film commentary in terms of quality.

Trailers & TV Spots: A sole trailer and two TV spot are presented, each expertly tying in to the fans of Pi by making the film seem surreal and visually cerebral.


Whatever you make of the film and its merits, you cannot argue that the DVD has some interesting extras, combined with good picture and sound quality. Some extras are missing from the Region 1 version, such as the odd filmography and the second commentary by Matthew Libatique, but even so, this is a worthy DVD package that suggests Momentum are taking their consumers seriously.

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