Review: Requiem For A Dream (2000)

Somewhere in his film career Darren Aronofsky was bound to hit a snag, and what a snag he hit!

Screenplay By: Darren Aronofsky & Hubert Selby Jr.
Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

I know I have a small reputation as a man who is contrary in his views of movies. Personally I don’t feel I deserve this reputation. I like the movies I like and dislike the movies I dislike. Popular opinion or a desire to be contrary has nothing to do with my views on a film. That’s why when I talk about the critical acclaim lauded upon Requiem For A Dream I do so as reference point. Lots of people loved the film, I was hoping to be one of those many people. I love Darren Aronofsky as a director, and that is why pulic perception is interesting to me when thinking about Requiem For A Dream. I find this to easily be Mr. Aronofsky’s weakest, yet flashiest, effort (in the interest of full disclosure I have yet to see The Fountain). I am, however, in the minority as in most parts Requiem For A Dream is viewed as Mr. Aronofsky’s masterpiece. I’d go so far as to label Requiem For A Dream as a film lacking any substance and a film where its director gets in the way of his picture at every turn. That is why the critical acclaim for this movie interest me so, and that’s why I might again find myself being pigeonholed as the contrarian.

All self thought aside, Requiem For A Dream simply put did not work for me. It may have worked for others, but I never found myself in stride with the film I was watching. I was the snail to Requiem For A Dream’s gazelle. The gazelle like nature of the film was the main reason why I could not get into the picture. There may have been the makings of a good movie when all the pieces were first put into place. Once Mr. Aronofsky starts flexing his directorial muscle I started to tune out. To say that his flourishes are distracting is an understatement, they take over the entire picture. I never felt at ease with those flourishes, they never felt earned to me. The flourishes felt instead like a director working with a modest budget for the first time trying to show how awesome of a director he could be. I think it is telling that in the rest of Mr. Aronofsky’s feature work he shows a more restrained hand. He still flexes his muscle, but it’s not distracting and showy for the sake of being showy. That’s why I would take Black Swan, The Wrestler, or Pi every day of the week over the much more acclaimed Requiem For A Dream.

The one facet of Requiem For A Dream that most cinephiles say cannot be argued with is that Ellen Burstyn gives a great performance. I’m not going to argue against her work, but I am of the mind that Miss Burtsyn’s performance is hindered by the direction of Mr. Aronofsky. Miss Burstyn’s shining moment is when her son comes to visit near the halfway point of the film. The camera is quiet in that moment, it allows for Miss Burstyn to express the anguish and need of her character. The rest of the film is full of Miss Burstyn attempting to plug a hole through the showy tricks of Mr. Aronofsky. Quite frankly her efforts are for naught as by the end of the film her performance has been completely drowned out by Mr. Aronofsky’s drive to show that he knows how to direct a film by golly, and you best pay attention.

It also saddens me to hear the brilliant eponymous song of Requiem For A Dream slowly rendered an annoyance. At first it’s cute the way Clint Mansell has appropriated the song and the way he mixes it into his score. As the film moves along and it becomes clear that Mr. Mansell has nothing to offer but the same strained notes over and over again I became rather annoyed. Mr. Mansell is a very talented composer, but he settles for annoying repetition in Requiem For A Dream and he helps to drag the picture down almost as much as Mr. Aronofsky does.

I would have liked to have watched Requiem For A Dream and have loved it. Darren Aronofsky is a favorite director of mine, hut he completely dropped the ball with Requiem For A Dream. In his haste to show how stylish he could be as a director he lost me as a viewer. In his desire to show off everything he learned in film school he created a hollow picture that has nothing to say. Ellen Burstyn’s one great moment can’t help a film that does everything in its power to not live up to the hype and to deliver an empty experience.




4 responses to “Review: Requiem For A Dream (2000)

  1. A couple of thoughts. 1. Trying to wade your way through an artists praise (which so often jade the true nature of ones work) is usually really rough, so good work making the attempt. 2. Is it so wrong for a director to be the star? Isn’t that what a director of an art film does? I guess I’m thinking of Jodorowsky or Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, and the way that those art films are at the beck and call of the director. I thought that was what Aronofsky was doing with Requiem. And I, for one, was with him for the ride. I felt as if the score, the direction, and the visuals let me know that THAT was what I was in for, and the sign-posts were accurately marked, but it is always interesting to me what is interpreted by other viewers.

    I do agree that it is a cold and clinical study of drug addiction and remorse, and that those are tones that usually turn you off to the experience, but I appreciate the ‘alien eye’ of the journey. It makes it feel more like a parable, a brothers grimm tale, cautionary, for us to look at through a myopic lens and try to find worth in. That feels more at home with the book by Selby Jr. He never connected, but used it as a way to explain a mindset, that was tragic in it’s disconnected, insect-like intelligence. Just a thought.

  2. I think the difference between something by Jodorowsky and Requiem For A Dream, at least for me, is that Jodorowsky’s film are all about Jodorowsky. They are about the ideas he wants to explore, his vision of the world, his visuals, and his surreal aesthetic. There isn’t anything else in his movies but Jodorowsky. Requiem For A Dream had other facets to it, facets that I felt were at odds with what Aronofsky was going for as a director. That’s why I believe Aronofsky gets in the way, his movie wasn’t just about him, but he kept trying to make it so.

    I agree with pretty much everything in your second paragraph. Those elements and that cold look at drug addiction was present in the film. That’s another reason why Aronofsky making himself the center of attention bothered me. He drowned out the powerful effect of his less flashy direction and the acting in presenting this cold, alien view.

  3. The film works for me on a deep level, so I’m bummed it didn’t work for you in that way. I actually think the direction adds to the character psychology of the film and it really invested me in the lives of these characters in a way I didn’t expect going into the film.

  4. Interesting, I always thought you disliked this film a great deal, must have been someone else I guess.

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