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Requiem For A Dream

Requiem For A Dream

By Patrick Samuel • November 9th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Artisan Entertainment

Original release: October 27, 2000
Running time: 97 minutes

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky (screenplay), Hubert Selby Jnr (novel)
Composer: Clint Mansell

Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connolly, Marlon Wayans

Requiem For A Dream

Who knows when exactly, but there’ll come a time when those who are left start to look back on the films that survived the inevitable collapse we’re heading blindly toward. They’ll want to see how our present culture suffered as long as it did. I hope at least one of Darren Aronofsky’s films make it to that moment, particularly this one; an anti-capitalist tale illustrating our pre-occupation with the illusion that better living can be attained through increased consumption.

As a writer and director there doesn’t seem to be anyone today I can compare his work to. That they speak so specifically and emotionally about the human condition seems wholly exclusive to him.

Requiem For A Dream, his second feature that followed the equally and yet uniquely impressive Pi (1998), was the film that first brought him to my attention. Set in Coney Island, New York and based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jnr, it’s a nightmarish journey into the lives of four people; Harry (Jared Leto), his mother Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). The film tells of their spiralling addictions as they all try to reach an increasingly unattainable reality. The American Dream.

Sara becomes addicted to weight-loss amphetamine pills and sedatives as she grows anxiousness about appearing on a television game show. Harry and Tyrone sell drugs in the hope of making enough money to open a store to sell clothes that Marion designs but it gets out of control landing one in prison and the other in hospital. Meanwhile Marion gets drawn into performing in sex shows to fund her escalating addiction.

With its mix of close-ups and time-lapse photography, Requiem also employs the use of fast cutting (sometimes referred to hip-hop montage) to hone in on a style that fits the narrative structure of the film perfectly. The camera stays on the characters long enough to allow us to care for them deeply and to be affected by what’s unfolding around them, but it also moves quickly to let us experience their loss of control and anguish too.

Requiem For A Dream

In Postmodern Hollywood, M. Keith Booker, a PhD professor at University of Florida, points out a very interesting contrast between Requiem and Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) and the film’s connection to mainstream capitalist behaviour:

“Whereas Natural Born Killers connects the media and violence, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) connects the media with drug culture. Stone’s film suggests no contradiction between bourgeois values and mass murder, while Aronofsky’s (based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr.) sees drug use as an extension of, rather than an alternative to, mainstream capitalist behavior. Aronofsky’s film also exemplifies the MTV editing style disparaged by Altman’s Stuckel, while, as the title indicates, it uses both the psychic fragmentation of characters and the formal fragmentation of the editing style to comment on the loss of utopian energy in postmodern America.”

Booker then goes on to point out exactly why the characters in the film fail in their attempts to make their dreams reality:

“The dream for which the film serves as a requiem is nothing less than the American dream itself, here depicted as reduced by the logic of consumerism to a debased and commodified vision of better living through increased consumption, whether it be of sex, food, drugs, or more conventional consumer goods. Requiem for a Dream is also, for a postmodern film, unusually powerful emotionally, which combines with the anticonsumerist theme to make it one of the few genuinely postmodern films that is also truly political.”

Later on he also notes that viewers of this film tend to see it, and describe it, as a ‘drug movie’ although it’s not:

“Unfortunately, Requiem for a Dream as a movie so perfectly mirrors the psychic fragmentation of its characters that the film itself acquires a certain hollowness and emptiness that mutes its anticapitalist message. Or, alternatively, one could argue that contemporary audiences are too fragmented to be able to process the message properly. In any case, most reviewers missed the anticapitalist theme altogether, seeing the film essentially as a ‘‘drug movie.’”

  • Booker, M.K. Postmodern Hollywood: What’s New in Film and Why It Makes Us Feel So Strange (2007), Praeger

There’s no doubt in my mind that Requiem presents a valuable vantage point to view our current culture, not just in terms of its reliance on drugs but on a bigger scale; its reliance on the illusion that we can attain better living through increased consumption. Our present economic crises and current global conflicts are nothing more than a direct result of this.

Like all of Aronofsky’s films, Requiem is a challenging experience, but an inescapable one for anyone wishing to experience the work of a visionary in his attempt to meld art and culture into one thoughtful piece of work.

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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