Requiem for a Dream

Reviewed By The Ultimate Dancing Machine
Posted 12/20/00 20:20:03

"A snazzy-looking dud"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

"Requiem for a Dream" is a bright, well-made music video about the terrors of drug addiction. Director Darren Aronofsky has brought skill to spare to this movie, and what's on the screen is often visually compelling, but it ultimately fails as drama due to an essentially one-dimensional screenplay.

Before we get underway, let me confess that Aronofsky's 1998 feature film debut, Pi, one of the most intensely hallucinogenic movies since Eraserhead, pretty much knocked me out. That expressionistic visual flair is evident in Requiem--and that's part of the problem. Aronofsky comes up with the same kind of first-person freak-out scenes here--and this time he isn't limited to the black & white palette of the aforementioned film--but often they serve no particular aesthetic function. With all this split-screen, speeded-up, fast-edited business going on, Aronofsky seems less concerned with narrative than showing off what he learned in film school.

This wouldn't be a problem if all the jazzed-up visuals somehow communicated the horrors of drug addiction, which is what the director seems to think he's doing. Alas, Aronofsky fails to give his characters much in the way of psychological depth. (Here some of the blame falls on co-writer Hubert Selby Jr., of "Last Exit to Brooklyn" fame.) Aronofsky knows how to shock the audience, but he seems uneasy when it comes to subtler skills like characterization. Male leads Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans, whose slow descent into hopeless addiction forms the thrust of the plot, are drawn in broad, crude strokes; Wayans in particular is almost a cipher on the screen.

Ellen Burstyn does considerably better, in the movie's best performance, as an aging widow going progressively insane after becoming addicted to weight-loss pills. But even here Aronofsky blows her stand-out scene--a long, emotional, drug-fueled monologue about the loneliness of middle age--by putting banal, heavy-handed dialogue in her mouth. Good film dialogue is marked by some degree of misdirection, which means that characters should not simply come out and say, literally and precisely, what they're thinking. (Harold Pinter became famous by carrying this technique to an extreme.) But when Aronofsky wants his characters to express loneliness, he has them say "I'm lonely"; when he wants them to express romantic affection, he puts them in bed together and has them coo "I love you" into each other's ears. This movie just plain dies whenever it turns to pure drama.

The director's inability to develop his characters probably explains why Requiem for a Dream marches along with all the dull inevitability of a Greek drama. Once everyone's lives begin going to hell, the movie proceeds in a straight line to the end, with no real surprises. (The lengthy, overwrought finale is a classic case of "When is this fucking movie going to end?" syndrome.) There's wailing and gnashing of teeth aplenty along the way, but what is obviously intended to be emotionally wringing just comes off as depressingly empty and false.

Though slick and technically proficient, it's an ultimately superficial movie. Just say no, kids.

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