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DVD Review: Requiem For a Dream: Director's Cut
Posted by O. R. Polk, Jr. on Sep 3, 2002, 12:29

Requiem For A Dream: Director’s Cut

Adapted for the screen by Hubert Selby, Jr. and Darren Aronofsky

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Released by Artisan Entertainment

Starring Jared Leto, Ellen Burstyn, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans

Not Rated, 102 min.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to do what we should do. One of these hard things that you should do is view Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream, a vision so harrowing that the MPAA originally gave it an NC-17 rating. Showing their commitment to the artform and their director’s message, Artisan rejected the MPAA’s rating and released the film as is, refusing to dilute their unnerving product. This film is one that figuratively kicks you in the groin but the lingering pain you feel afterwards if very much real, like a true ballshot. Based on the book by Hubert Selby, Jr., Requiem…follows four main characters as they pursue their dreams and battle their respective addictions.

The Movie

The first of these characters is Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), a shiftless layabout from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY. Harry alternates his time between routinely pawning his mother’s television set for drug money and getting high with his best friend, Tyrone, his girlfriend, Marion or both.

When the movie opens Harry is ranting and raving, scaring his mother to the point that she locks herself in another room. She’s seen Harry like this before: he’s in one of his angry “moods” and there isn’t any point in trying to talk sense into him. Harry again needs to pawn his mother’s TV for another fix. Harry, along with Tyrone, wheels the TV down to the pawnshop to collect the money that will allow them to satiate their hunger. A few scenes later we see Harry’s mom at the pawn shop buying the television back. We gather this is a regular routine she and her son go through. But Ms. Goldfarb loves her son; he’s all she has left since her husband passed away. She doesn’t want to do anything to hurt Harry like turn him in to the authorities or any rehabilitation program. (in fact, she seems, either by choice or genuine ignorance, to be in a state of happy, oblivious denial about her son’s drug problem) She simply hopes that things will work themselves out.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), Harry’s mother, spends a lot of time alone in her apartment. Two of her favorite things to do is eat foods that aren’t good for her and to watch her television. She constantly watches a game show/self-help infomercial hosted by a man named Tappy Tibbons who invites his guests on-stage to share their tales of discovery and self-improvement.

One day, Sara receives a junk call from a marketing firm who tell her that she has been chosen to be a contestant on television. They don’t tell her much else before they end the call but Sara, none too bright really, takes this to mean that she will be on her favorite TV show sooner than later and starts to obsess about beautifying herself for her national appearance. She is now determined to fit into her favorite red dress, the one she wore at her son Harry’s graduation, back when her husband was still alive.

Meanwhile, Harry spends time with his girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), doing the things that lovers do. Marion is an upper-crust poseur from a well-to-do family who are in the garment business. Apparently this talent has rubbed off on Marion as well as she is an aspiring fashion designer herself with dreams of one day opening her own boutique. Marion, however, has deviant ways about her and frequently likes to take walks on the wild side with her boyfriend, Harry. Her parents send her to a therapist and continue to pay for her apartment but we never actually see them. But we see Marion get high on many occasions, either taking heroin, cocaine, speed or smoking marijuana.

Harry also hangs out with his best friend, Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans), who has a few drug connections. Tyrone and Harry, tired of being slaves to their obsession, hatch a plan: buy a small amount of drugs from one of Tyrone’s contacts, cut it up, sell it and double their money. With their new funds they figure can afford to start buying and selling their own supply, thus solving all their money and drug problems.

Sara, on the other hand, after trying the grapefruit and a few other diets, still can’t fit into her red dress. A friend refers her to a sleazy, backroom, under the table-type of physician who prescribes Sara a plethora of uppers and downers (that look suspiciously just like the pills Harry and his friends often get high with) and passes it off as a dietary supplement program. When we see Sara back at home dancing around her apartment with a cream cheese-topped bagel we at first assume it’s out of joy about her new diet working so well. But Sara continues to dance, then sit, then stand, then fidget. Where she could once sit still in front of her television for hours at a time, she’s now cleaning her entire apartment, sweating profusely, shuddering and grinding her teeth. These “diet” pills have Sara hallucinating; her fridge randomly talks, shakes and attempts to attack her. Her “doctor” ignores her concerns when she visits, telling her it’s normal. Sara takes it upon herself to double her dosage since her normal dosage doesn’t provide her with the same effect.

Harry and Tyrone are succeeding in their recent foray into the “distribution” business until Tyrone’s contact is killed. Then before you know it, all of the money they saved begins to dwindle away as Harry, Marion and Tyrone start to use it to buy more drugs than they sell. The lack of money and drugs begins to put a strain on the relationship between Harry and Marion. Marion even resorts to, with Harry’s permission, sleeping with her shrink to acquire money for drugs. Tyrone has another idea: he and Harry will hook up with another of his contacts, this time, in Florida. The separation doesn’t do Harry and Marion’s relationship any favors. She begins to see a man named Little John and exchange sexual favors for more drugs. On the way to Florida, Harry and Tyrone notice that Harry’s “needle” arm is BADLY infected, but he continues to shoot smack into it.

From here all of the characters prepare to meet their ultimate fate. Sara is, at this point, a raving lunatic, roaming the streets and subways in her tattered red dress, telling anyone who will listen how she’s going to be on TV. Marion is dealing the only thing she has left, her body, in return for drugs more and more often, actually becoming what she thought it was so cool to pretend to be at first. Harry and Tyrone get picked up by the police on their way to Florida and I think it’s safe to say that jail probably isn’t the best place for either of them, especially with Harry’s “needle” arm getting worse and worse looking by the day.

The final fifteen minutes of this film are absolutely brutal. It’s infinitely more horrific than any second rate gore fest or slasher film. The ending seems like an absolute worst-case scenario for each character. Not one of them escapes unscathed by their all-consuming addictions and the end results are extreme to say the least. All four spiral into terrifying ruin and leave you with your mouth agape at the film’s end.


One of the most entertaining things about this film is Aronofsky’s visual style. He employs a variety of techniques that, while seen before, have never really been used in the way he uses them here. He uses a split screen when two characters are in the same room or sometimes right next to each other. He uses time-lapsed fast motion when the characters are under the influence of their drug of choice. When a character takes a drug we get abrasive and gritty close-ups: an arm, a needle, a plunger going down, blood travelling through a vein and then a pupil dilating…all with loud and exaggerated sound effects. Something as simple as Burstyn eating breakfast becomes a mind-screw. We see her coffee, grapefruit and boiled egg in front of her one minute, the next we hear a noise and the grapefruit is gutted. Another eggshell sound effect and all we see left of the egg is the discarded shell. A loud slurp and we see an empty coffee mug. Requiem is filled with innovative camera work and ideas like this.

I’ve never heard this movie described as subtle, but there are subtle things that Aronofsky does to draw us into this picture. One of those things is slowly changing Sara Goldfarb’s daily routine to mirror that of her drug addicted son. When Aronofsky begins to film Sara’s pill-popping in the same way that he shows us Harry shooting up and you start to get it. When Harry and his friends get high, they suddenly leap into fast motion until the effects wear off and then it’s back to normal speed. He does the same thing to Sara when she first starts taking the speed her doctor prescribes. After taking a few pills, Sara is soon bouncing off of the walls, doing all sorts of tasks in fast motion around her domicile. The fast motion effect is never long, though, as the effects wear off faster and faster each time and the characters are dumped back into reality looking for their next hit. Except each time, it takes more and more to get back to where they previously were.

The most memorable of Aronofsky’s techniques is during the nightmarish climax. He uses hundreds of rapid cuts, switching back and forth between all four characters, the doomed dreamers, until it becomes a virtual montage of misery, pain and torment.

Final Thoughts:

See it. Buy it. But make sure you get the Director’s Cut; there is an edited version out there in retail and in chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. (Only the Director’s Cut DVD contains any extras; the edited versions do not) Every actor in this flick turns in performances worthy of Oscar nominations. Each of them do things that any other actor or actress in Hollywood wouldn’t be caught dead doing on film; they even have it in their contracts. They are humiliated, degraded and are made to look unattractive.

Leto looks pale and gaunt as Harry the heroin addict; he reportedly lost a lot of weight for the role. Anyone who’s seen The Exorcist will hardly recognize Ellen Burstyn as Sara Goldfarb, who gives the most powerful performance of the film (and that’s saying alot). Her transformation is unreal. Jennifer Connelly, who cemented her super-actress status in A Beautiful Mind this past year certainly took a step towards solidifying it the year before by taking an extreme risk with her naked from the waist down lesbian orgy scene in Requeim. Even Marlon Wayans surprises here. I would’ve never guessed he could play straight so well. This isn’t the “funny” Wayans brother here. He displays a very serious side and the entire cast ALL display an unparalleled dedication to their craft in their performances.

Do yourself a favor and see this at any cost. Whether or not you’ll be able to watch it twice remains to be seen. Believe me, it’s hard to do.

Drop me a line here or visit me at my hangout The Sanctuary.


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