Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Film Appreciation - I'm Thinking Thin

For this week's Film Appreciation, Jay Burleson takes in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream.

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, 
Marlon Wayans, and Christopher McDonald

At 18 years old, Darron Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream was my first real glimpse into the different techniques filmmakers could use to create the world they intended for their characters. The stylish editing pace mixed with hip hop based music as patterns begin to develop for addicted characters, a camera mounted (called a Snorri cam) onto the actors body and pointed right at their face, so when they walk it seems that they are not moving even though everything around them does. Drug induced time lapses and some of the most powerful music I've heard, all playing over seemingly boring day-to-day life. These are just a few examples as to the type of world Aronofsky was playing with, and all of them had me hooked.

Set over summer, fall, and winter, Requiem is based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., who had his own problems with drug addiction after being hospitalized  as a young man and growing dependent on the medication he was taking. Requiem for a Dream is one of two novels Selby had turned into films, with the other being Last Exit to Brooklyn, which was also a favorite of Aronosfky. The story for "Dream" is based around four Coney Island individuals who succumb to stronger and stronger drug addictions until their lives are in complete chaos. Two of the characters are mother (Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb) and son (Jared Leto as Harry Goldfarb) and the other two are Harry's girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly as Marion Silver) and Harry's pal (Marlon Wayans as Tyrone), with Sara's drug addiction coming from an unwitting dependency on weight loss pills. Harry and his pals think they can handle their drug use, even think they can make a killing by selling on the streets, but as expected, the plan runs into dark waters within a short amount of time.

Some of my favorite moments in the film are simple things like Aronfsky's use of split screen early on during scenes between Harry and his girlfriend Marion. They are together, intimate and in each others arms, talking about their plans -- they want to open a fashion store to show off Marion's work-- yet Aronfsky uses the split screen to illustrate that in reality they couldn't be further apart in their long term goals. Hearing Aronofsky talk about this in the commentary track a few years ago really screwed with my world view.

Ellen Burstyn is terrific as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely elderly woman who becomes damned and determined to fit into an old dress after hearing she has the opportunity to appear on a television game show. She tells all the girls in the apartment complex that she's going to be on TV, spruces up her hair, and begins taking weight loss pills throughout the day and sedatives at night. It spirals out of control as summer turns to fall and finally to winter. Ironically her heroin addicted son is the only person telling her the pills are no good. Sara ends up in just as much hell as Harry and his friends do. There are some haunting moments of her cleaning her apartment while amped up on the pills, the previously mentioned time lapse in full swing, and an even more eerie moment when her refrigerator starts thrashing around in the dark as she suffers from amphetamine psychosis.

 Requiem is a powerful film and extremely dark. Even in the beginning, when things are bad but not quite rock bottom, the music and tone is drenched in disaster. There is a foreboding tone that immediately grabs hold of the viewer and never lets go until the very end. Clint Mansell deserves some mention here as well for such a wonderful score piece. I have it on my computer and listen to it during random script writing. It's one of the many holdovers that Requeim for a Dream has left me with, the most important of those being some really neat split screen of my own that hopefully one day will find its way on screen. I'm pretty sure this film killed off any slight chance I had of ever becoming a junkie as well. They should show this film in drug education classes.

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