A huge proponent of experimental, bold filmmaking, even I found myself gagging during Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky's technique-laden, indulgent new film about the horror of drug addiction. Aronofsky, who also directed the 1998 independent hit Pi, may be attempting to move the medium forward, but does so at the expense of the story and the characters.
Adapted from the Hubert Selby, Jr. book, Requiem for a Dream tells the interconnected stories of four drug addicts in Coney Island. Ellen Burstyn's character (Sara Gold Park) becomes addicted to diet pills, unaware her beloved son Harry (Jared Leto) is doing and dealing heroin, along with his addicted girlfriend Marion and best buddy Tyrone, played by Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans respectively.
Aronofsky is undoubtedly a talented filmmaker. His hyper-kinetic style is used to full effect with sped-up motion, hallucinatory sequences and intense close-ups of dilated pupils. Once past the "wow" factor of all of this artistry, however, the characters are completely engulfed by the technique.
The cinematic trickery is wedged between the viewer and the story, and the emotional life of the film is eventually buried under far too many jump cuts. Requiem is less of a movie about characters and more of a movie about moviemaking.
It is frustrating that good performances take a backseat to cinematography. Leto and Connelly are unable to move beyond a mere sketch of a dope fiend and his strung-out girlfriend. The only performance that rises above the din is Burstyn's. Her strength as an actress allows her to convey the pain that caused her addiction: loneliness, desperation and other human emotions you can't whip up in an editing room.
The dilution of the performances comes back to haunt the movie in the last act, where a feeling for the characters is vital to the ending. The last third of the film is meant to show the characters' downward spiral, but the film itself is what descends into the abyss. Aronofsky abandons all restraint and subjects the viewer to his phantasmagoric film school fantasy, with sequences of depravity and destruction so excessive it's surprising the Grim Reaper wasn't thrown in for good measure.
Aronofsky uses everything in his arsenal to make the ending harrowing, but the lack of character development makes it just another shamelessly indulgent gimmick.
Requiem mines the same thematic territory as other films about addicts. The hallucinatory aspects are reminiscent of Drugstore Cowboy, although it doesn't touch that film's poetry and anguish. Requiem also uses a great deal of repetition which, like Trainspotting, hints at the merry-go-round of addiction. Drugstore Cowboy and Trainspotting succeeded where Requiem fails: those films got behind the eyes of a junkie and lived there for two hours. Requiem is far too self-conscious to be poignant, and will probably induce more eye-rolling than jaw-dropping.