"when you're from Brooklyn and you see anything related to Brooklyn, you're immediately interested."
- Darren Aronofsky

Requiem for a Dream

Darren Aronofsky is relentless. And we should be grateful for that. His filmmaking combines elements of film not often used optimally by other filmmakers. Resembling a musical composition or a piece of sculpture, his well-crafted and visually exciting work not only strains for, but also achieves the highest of standards. Having exploded onto the scene with the attention-grabbing "II" (a low-budget, black-and-white, paranoid portrait of a mathematical genius obsessed with decoding patterns he finds on the stock market), this Harvard graduate won the 1998 Sundance Film Festival's director's award (and several other prizes) as well as finding his debut feature listed among the year's top ten films by the Chicago Sun-Times, The Washington Post, and The Seattle Times. His latest film is a tautly fashioned, high-strung, powerful, exhausting, and draining experience. You won't want to miss it. Yes, it looks like Aranofsky is here to stay.

Hubert Selby Jr., a name familiar to many for Last Exit to Brooklyn (his interwoven collection of stories from 1964) had been approached so many times about the filming of his most famous work that he had reached the opinion it would never be transferred to the screen. It was the German director Ulrich Edel who finally made the concept of a film into a reality; a fine film with a superb cast which manages to capture Brooklyn with a certain kind of flashy grit. Now we have a second Selby gem, rendered this time by the directorial hands of a born and bred Brooklynite, and the grit is right to the core. In a world where dreams are often the only thing left to hang on to, we meet four hungry people who show how painful the elusiveness of the illusion can be.

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely widow whose remaining hopes reside with her loving, but aggressively addictive son Harry (Jared Leto). Streetwise Harry finds his happiness in a relationship with the sophisticate Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who returns his affection in a mutual romantic revel. Harry's friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), meanwhile, searches for his personal dream in the secure memory of a bygone youth. All their moments of joy quickly crumble when reality hits the fan. Love, which seemed to offer the potential answer to their begging existences, goes wrong and there is no easy way to turn it around. Producer Eric Watson says, "It's a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of all dreams and desires and the lies we use to create the illusion of happiness."

More than a "feelgood" movie, one might say, this is a "wanna feel better" movie, in many ways.

What better place could there be to situate the landscape for broken dreams than among the remnants of Coney Island? The haunting images of the Cyclone and the Parachute Drop make silent statements in black and white as the film begins. The New York life force and sense of humor, however, can also be found in different exchanges and remarks, especially during the first part of the film. But the imminent disaster awaiting these characters overshadows the lighter moments in their lives and finally overpowers, ultimately destroying them as they struggle toward their hopes. Suffering, pain, and loneliness make their dreams seem like dreams; there is no solution to alleviate their lives; the quick fix does not exist.

Aranofsky, who acquired the rights to Requiem For a Dream before "II" received its accolades, admits, "Making the film was a big risk. It was different than most films one sees and the subject matter was very difficult. But I felt that there was a great visual story in the material and that it was dripping with emotional honesty. So we closed our eyes and dived right in."

The cast is magnificent. Burstyn, inconceivable as it may seem when considering her past achievements, possibly gives her best performance to date. Enduring such grueling technical burdens as fat suits and attached cameras during the shooting has not diminished the power of her performance. Leto, Connelly, and Wayans all reach a new level of performance within this gripping story. And, among the crew, one must not forget the incomparable contribution of DP Matthew Libatique whose ongoing exploration of film grammar has expanded the screen as well as the mind. The end result he has achieved is astonishing.

The soundtrack, in the hands of Clint Mansell, is like a symphony with silences and leitmotifs tied to the tragedy of this fable. It beats away at your brain as the story beats at your mind, drifting at moments toward the faintest glimpse of release. The dream reappears time and again, superceding, but not surpassing, the reality, and often attended by the repetitive fantasy notes of the synthesizer. The final deluge leads us to a pounding and painful cacophony of terror. Mansell, known during the 80's and 90's as founder and frontman of the renowned group Pop Will Eat Itself, has created a score equally as spellbinding as the movie and the score is rivetingly interpreted by the Kronos Quartet.

Lucid with words as well as film techniques, Aranofsky's own remarks on the original work are perhaps most revealing about the approach that makes this film so powerful: "We felt that the story of Requiem for a Dream was timeless. One of the strongest elements of the novel is Selby's use of slang. I didn't want to change Selby's poetry, so I preserved it. I felt his slang would work because words come in and out of style the way haircuts and clothes do. By mixing this language with modern technology and the nostalgia of the Coney Island neighborhood, I hoped to invoke the timeless setting of a fable."


PS- What does the future hold in store? After the rapidly sinking quality of the Batman films (things haven't been the same in Gotham since Tim Burton left town), one can reasonably expect that the man in black will be donning his darkest outfit again once Aronofsky finishes (writing and) directing "Batman: Year One." One can hardly wait.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett