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Feature


Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) spends her days alone, watching infomercials, and pining for her salad days. Her son Harry (Jared Leto) is a drug addict who listlessly spends his time creating music. Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) fancies herself a fashion designer, but is also a listless drug addict, as is his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). It’s summer, and Sara gets a random phone call announcing that she’s won a chance to appear on a game show. She decides she’s going to fit into her favourite red dress when the time comes and starts a doctor prescribed weight loss regiment that includes amphetamines. Meanwhile Harry, Marion and Tyrone find minor success deal drugs, but their addictions get the better of them, and they spiral into deprivation. Things aren’t much better for anyone through the fall and winter, when all four lives devolve into complete and utter terror.

Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream marks the one and only time I almost left a movie theatre out of sheer terror in my adult life. As the credits began to roll I looked at my hands and noticed I was making fists. I released the fists and noticed my palms were bleeding based on the tightness of my fists. They’d apparently been bleeding for a while too. Then came the nightmares. And not just vague memories of the film’s more strikingly frightening sequences, the kind of nightmares that are only broken by gasping awake, and changing the sheets. The first editorial I wrote for DVDActive was a collection of films I found infinitely more frightening than the majority of so-called horror films, and I placed Requiem for a Dream at the top, above Audition, Cannibal Holocaust, Begotten, and a dozen other movies that weren’t included because I didn’t find them disturbing enough (such as the Guinea Pig series). Since then I finally got around to seeing the truly, bone-chilling excesses of Gasper Noe’s Irreversible, but second place is a pretty strong showing for a film staring two Oscar winners.

Requiem for a Dream
Director Darren Aronofsky overstepped the stylistic lines far enough that some critics dismissed the film outside of Ellen Burstyn’s bravura performance. I tend to think that they were blinded by the film’s pure ferocity. If it had been labelled a horror film (it was featured in Fangoria) the overall response would’ve probably been more uniformly positive. Horror movies rarely get Oscar nominations, but that’s beside the point, since Julia Roberts robbed Burstyn of her Best Actress win, and the film saw no other 2000 nominations (and it was a pretty weak year). Despite his heavy use of extremely modern editing techniques (hip hop montages, speed ramping, extremely quick cuts), Aronofsky opts for a more ‘70s style look for the majority of the first half of the film. As the film progresses and the characters begin to circle the drain, the look becomes more stylistically modern, closer to a music video. Then things turn almost gothic for the final act nightmare. If one were to watch the film out of order, or come in half way through the subtlety of these changes would be lost on them.

Requiem for a Dream
Though an almost perfect film technically speaking, Requiem for a Dream is not a flawless exercise. The major question is why? Why did Aronofsky feel the need to tell such a severe story of addiction? What is this unmistakable work of art really saying to its audience? Is it just screaming ‘Don’t Do Drugs’ over and over, or is there a deeper message? Upon second, third, and even tenth viewings of the film I tend to think that there really isn’t anything more to read into the text. I’m not sure if this is really a problem per se, but it’s a valid criticism for the film’s detractors to hang onto. Narrative complexity isn’t something Aronofsky is particularly interested in. All four of his films have dealt more heavily in characters and the characters’ subjective views of generally simplistic stories. Unlike the director’s other films Requiem for a Dream doesn’t feature an unusual hook. Pi is a thriller about math, shot like a Lynchian nightmare. The Fountain is a Zen science fiction love story about accepting death. The Wrestler is a cinema verite look at the strange world of professional wrestling. Requiem for a Dream covers nothing but loss, terror, and all the other stuff we already knew went along with drug addiction. The one thing all four films definitely have in common is the study of loneliness, and that is something Requiem does with more power than any film since Taxi Driver.

Requiem for a Dream

Video


Matthew Libartique’s Requiem for a Dream cinematography is gorgeous, but pure colour and perfect clarity have never really been the most important elements. The film has featured a slight sort of fog over the whole print (which increases when the characters get high), and contrast and focus emulates the human eye more than the usually hyper-stylized look featured in modern films. During the extreme, scientific close-ups the print is mostly super-sharp, features heavier contrast, and punchier colours. Outside of the hip-hop montages, and the dream/nightmare sequences, the only really punchy colour is the red of Burstyn’s dress, which is a little less pure than I’d prefer, but less noisy than that of the DVD release. As stated in the feature review, the style does change as the film progresses, so the latter scenes are set a bit more awash with tonal colours, mostly the cool blues of Marion’s nightmare, and the golden warmth of Tyrone’s. Still, even in the regular facial close-ups details aren’t too far beyond the capabilities of standard definition video. The consistent variance of lighting sources makes the overall wide detail uneven, and leads to variances in artefact and grain levels. Overall I was actually surprised by the grain levels, which I recall being quite severe in theatres.

Requiem for a Dream

Audio


Requiem for a Dream is a masterwork of subjective sound design, one of the best in independent film history. Every sound eked into the mix is unbelievably important to the theme of a given scene. The micro becomes macro, and the buzz of the real world is often negated into silence. One of the more interesting aspects of the mix is how specifically placed the sound design is. If something happens on the right side of the screen, then that’s exactly where the sound will occur. This is extended to the vocal performances, which come from odd channels in support of the disassociated nature of drug use. The audio even splits when the picture splits. And then there’s Clint Mansell’s indelible score. Mansell, along with the Kronos Quartet, permanently changed the landscape of film music with this simplified, techno meets classical score, in my humble opinion. Even without the images and sound design to support it, the repetitive requiem could induce a nightmare, and the power of the strongest moments was enough to inspire a million movie trailers to adapt them. I don’t notice any massive improvements from the DVD’s Dolby Digital track, but this DTS-HD 7.1 track is definitely louder, and the really important stuff is a bit clearer. The really stylized stuff, especially the jump scares, are bigger than the Dolby track could’ve offered without buzzing with distortion.

Requiem for a Dream

Extras


All the extras here were previously available on the special edition Artisan DVD, starting with duelling commentary tracks. The first track features a relatively sedate Aronofsky, who doles out consistent information concerning just about every aspect of the filmmaking process, including technical achievements, thematic choices, subtext, performances, and sound design. It isn’t a particularly lively track, but it’s full of valuable information, and doesn’t overlap too much with the other extras, which Aronofsky considers while speaking. The other track features cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who takes a very technical approach to the process. It’s a little overwhelming for those of us that aren’t schooled in photography techniques, but those of you that are will probably find an important lesson to learn.

‘The Making of Requiem for a Dream’ (35:20, SD) is a bit of a trying watch in that it isn’t a particularly structured collection of raw behind-the-scenes footage. There are nuggets of genuine interest, and Aronofsky is on hand as a narrator to help us through the experience. If the director’s commentary hadn’t been so jam packed with info the lack of anything non-technical might have been a problem, because those of us looking for meaning and history cannot find it here. ‘Memories, Dreams and Addictions’ (20:00, SD) features Burstyn interviewing author Hubert Selby Jr. It’s just as weird as one assumes it would be. The disc also features ten deleted scenes/outtakes, presented in non-anamorphic, SD video, without a play all option, but with an optional Aronofsky commentary, and a collection of trailers and TV spots (not in HD).

Requiem for a Dream

Overall


Requiem for a Dream is a great rainy day movie. It’s the kind of thing you can watch just about any day of the week with the kids and grandma, on a double feature with Mary Poppins. It’s especially good for a bad case of the Mondays. This Lionsgate release should please fans, though it isn’t a massive overhaul from the Artisan DVD release. The A/V upgrade is about average, and all the old release’s extras. A retrospective doc would’ve been nice, but otherwise there isn’t a lot to complain about. Buy yourself a copy, call your friends, and gather with your favourite beer and pizza around the old idiot box.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.


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