Horror comes in many forms but each of us has a different idea of what’s terrifying. Slashers, ghosts and apparitions, and even the creature features are among the popular choices. In my opinion, reality of life brought to the screen is sometimes the most frightening of them all and one perfect example is Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream. Released on October 27 2000, this film explores the harshness of drug addiction and the hopelessness of an alternate reality and the result is a gripping experience that’ll shake even the most casual observer to their very core. The haunting imagery, the unconventional cinematography and a lasting theme are among several moments that make this film truly terrifying.
The story focuses on the lives of four people living in New York City, specifically Coney Island. These individuals are looking for the best things to strive for in life and the means to get to that point seem within arm’s reach. We begin the film with Harry (Jared Leto) and Marion (Jennifer Connelly) a young couple who’ve become addicted to drugs- heroin and cocaine; yet the film never mentions the drugs by name. They love each other very much but looking for the right score also allows them a chance at a better life. Marion designs clothes and has a really good idea to open up a business and her boyfriend Harry supports her venture. Harry’s friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) is making good money in his “distribution” business. He’s saved up quite a bit of money too stashing it away in old shoe boxes.
The last person is also the most impactful and this is Harry’s mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn) who lives alone in a high-rise building, is a widow and is addicted to watching her favorite television program- a game show where everyone is a winner and one day Sara hopes to be on that stage. She has a lovely red dress in her closet and tries to put in on only to discover that her weight isn’t what it used to be. In order to be on the show, Sara has to look her best and will do anything to achieve that. Her diet isn’t the greatest and finds a doctor who prescribes her pills to take in order for her to “look her best.”
The first three that I mentioned is what you’d think to be your typical drug story. The characters make a score, test the product and eventually, rinse and repeat. Harry and Marion seem to be a good couple but the stress of their addiction takes its toll on their relationship. So much in fact, that Marion offers up the most precious thing she can offer in order to make a score- her body; sometimes not by her own choice. It’s a risky thing and even seeing some of the scenes where she allows herself to be used is difficult enough to imagine. Harry has his own problems with his personal life and, not to mention, his friend Tyrone. They both get themselves into a tough situation and their end result is horrifyingly dramatic.
Getting back to Sara, who’s now become addicted to her diet pills starts to imagine things that aren’t there. Her apartment seems different, the television is always on and Sara is not looking her best. Sara’s story is the most damning and depressing of all the characters we meet. A kind older woman who gets caught up in the world of apathy once her addiction gets a hold of her. When the film concluded I was almost brought to tears with each character’s story and what became of them. Note: this isn’t a film that’s just about drug use or addiction but also the false sense of hope that they live with and the alternate realities that they wish they had. Equally depressing and emotionally moving.
Director Darren Aronofsky’s style is unique and unsettling at times. From certain perspectives, we the audience, are deeply invested in these characters and the reality that they wish were true. One of the most moving moments in the film is when Harry meets with his mother and her apartment and notices that she isn’t acting like her normal self. It’s a realization that comes crashing down after he leaves and sadly I wondered what was going to happen to their relationship after everything unfolded. While the movie does feature some funny moments there are scenes in this movie that are haunting, nauseating and downright deplorable and every one of them works. Even the moments that features the drugs being used are cut in a very unique way. Sort of like a acid trip where everything sort of blends together, we are with these characters every step of the way. We feel the pain when they feel it, we are haunted by the images they see even if it may be too hard to bear for some observers.
The film is based on the novel of the same name that was published in 1978 and the author himself, Hubert Selby Jr., co-wrote the script with Aronofsky and even had a small appearance in the film. His story is one of bleak honesty and a depressing reality. While viewing the film, I was reminded of someone I used to know that became addicted to cocaine and ended up losing custody of her son because of her addiction. I can recall walking down the streets of where I used to live and remember seeing people who appeared to be in a dilapidated state. I would often wonder what was going on with these people, curious to know what they were like prior to where they were when I encountered them. When the film concluded, that was the exact thought that was running through my mind- what were these characters like prior to succumbing to their addiction? What was the pivotal moment when their life was changed?
Score 4.5 out 5
Requiem for a Dream is a perfect title for an absorbing and terrifying film. The performances are excellent including the Academy Award nominated performance from Ellen Burstyn. This movie showcases the worst of life’s choices and the consequences of what these characters were faced with. Be warned, the imagery in this film is brutal, grotesque at times and truly unforgettable. In terms of horror, this is one of those films that can easily get under your skin. With the eerie musical score from Clint Mansell and a solid direction from Aronofsky, Requiem for a Dream is still a haunting and macabre piece of work. It certainly isn’t meant to be watched for entertainment but it’s one that you won’t forget either. It’s an important film that isn’t shy to talk about real issues that people live with everyday and the result is a harrowing tale that for some may hit too close to home.