Written by: Hubert Selby Jr. & Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald
Any child of the 90s who attended public school will tell you all about the anti-drug use education taught in order for children not to succumb to the addictive nature of these substances. Various cheesy videos get displayed and songs to promise to not engage in drug use where all they ever need to show is the haunting and unforgettable Requiem for a Dream. One of the most harrowing films anyone will ever see and one many will never watch twice not because of quality but rather the real horror on display.
Sara (Ellen Burstyn) spends most of her days watching television but once she hears of the possibility of her appearing on her favorite game show, she wants to utilize drugs to get into the best shape of her life. Concurrently her son Harry (Jared Leto) and his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) all deal with their heroin addictions and how it conflicts with them achieving their dreams.
Journey to dreams and drugs serving as a roadblock pretty much describes the plot of this film and how it falls into such melancholic and wallowing moments of grief, not for lives lost due to mortality but rather for unachievable dreams. Marion and Harry want to open a clothing store, Tyrone wants to escape from his life in a rough neighborhood, and Sara wants to receive adulation from her peers. All admirable in their own ways but the way they rely on drugs to get to their means through utility or pleasure leads them down a treacherous road and this film holds nothing back in displaying the ramifications of their decisions in a brutal manner.
In the depiction of drug use, this feature takes two approaches in which this can occur for people: one for specific reasons like weight loss in the case of Sara and then in the recreational for the trio of Harry, Marion, and Tyrone. The narrative shows how easily anyone can slip into a drug addiction that continues a cycle making it increasingly difficult to break out of. At least with the trio of younger adults, they try to maintain their current addiction, with Sara we see her begin her descent and it becomes trippy and incredibly sad to witness.
Not only do their dreams get squashed because of drug use, but this feature also seeks to punish them for their dependence on something illicit. No other reading can say differently as they suffer horrific consequences that ultimately impact them for the rest of their days. This happens not only physically but mentally and how much this impacts each individual. Their consequences come in part from what activities they involve themselves in order to maintain their habits and to receive what these drugs provide them. A respite from their surroundings, but ends up being the elimination of their dreams.
This trip into mayhem proves to fall right in line with the type of filmmaking Darren Aronofsky prides himself in crafting. Incredibly visceral stories in their feeling and pushing the stress levels of his characters to the extreme. Watching any of his other films depicts this very notion and each of them leaves its mark but what he crafts in Requiem for a Dream manages to still stand out amongst the rest in its unforgettable nature. He never deems himself a subtle director and the message he lays down in this feature certainly backs it up by relaying everything he wants the characters and audience to feel as the narrative progresses.
Of the many scintillating performances featured in this film, Ellen Bursytn’s will forever stand out as the greatest as she depicts the treacherous and precipitous fall of such a kind older woman. Burstyn goes for it all in her portrayal of Sara and gives one of the most harrowing performances ever seen on film. The anguish and pain stemming from this portrayal allowed her to display her unquestioned brilliance and shows the horrors of how anyone can find themselves in this horrid situation even with the best of intentions.
Requiem for a Dream remains one of those films where I have not met a single individual who has stated they have seen it more than once. Especially in the way it ends and the terrifying imagery it leaves you with; the narrative delivers its message emphatically and assures you will not forget about it. Serving as a pseudo-PSA on the dangers of drug use, this feature relentlessly displays the horrors and proves to be one you will never forget.