New on Blu-ray: Requiem for a Dream (2000)

I don’t know why in God’s name anyone would want to watch “Requiem for a Dream” in Blu-ray high definition, but it’s now available in that format for those of you who’d like to see Jared Leto’s infected arm in all its 1080p glory. Below is my review of the cult classic that you only watch twice if someone else you’re watching with hasn’t seen it.

There have been tons of films that depict addictive drug abuse, but no film does it quite like Darren Aronofsky in “Requiem for a Dream,” using camera techniques to mess with your mind and visually drive you insane, much like the characters of the film spiral into drug-induced oblivion. The film is not particularly insightful — it is an independent film — whose goal is clearly to make a film that shows drug abuse in a way never done before.

“Requiem” follows essentially four characters whose lives go south because of drugs. There is Harry (Leto) and Tyrone (Wayans), two junkies who turn to selling dope to make a living, Marion (Connelly), Harry’s girlfriend who will do anything for cocaine, and Sara, Harry’s mother, an older, widowed woman who gets selected to be on TV and begins to take pills to suppress her appetite so that she can wear her favorite dress on air. Sara’s story is the most jarring and unique to movie plots and therefore feels distanced from the others, but the technique is what matters in “Requiem” more so than the story itself.

This is Aronofsky’s film from beginning to end. Numerous camera techniques are employed, particularly rapid sequences of close-ups when the characters are doing their drugs of choice. In addition, Aronofsky uses camera mounts on characters at times and even security cameras to capture some scenes in Sara’s storyline. Aronofsky also does various slow downs and speed ups, white fades and more in the editing process that continue to inject director presence into the material. He really experiments with everything with varying degrees of success. 

What makes Aronofsky’s work so great, however, is not the techniques themselves, but how they are allegorical for drug addiction. He feeds them to us in steady and unobtrusive doses at first with the rapid close-ups for the first hour of the film, then as things start to go out of control in the plot, we get more and more abrupt changes in our viewing of the film from camera angles to the edits. It’s brilliant because you can easily enjoy the beginning of the film, but by the end you feel really disturbed by everything and it all happens so quickly. Aronofsky actually psychologically messes with you, successfully.

Other praise for this film goes mostly to Ellen Burstyn as Sara. She’s hauntingly brilliant in showing the gradual turn to insanity. A much deserved Oscar nomination. Leto and Connelly are also good, but this movie is more about how Aronofsky makes them appear rather than how they act.

“Requiem” is really an art film, not a Hollywood-friendly drug movie about the dangers of drugs, but an experiment with the human mind and its ability to be altered by fine director craftsmanship. While there’s no true catharsis in the film, it’s a movie-watching experience in its own little category by itself and worthy of a try if you’re in the mood for something radical.

4/5 Stars

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Hubert Selby Jr., Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Ellen Burstyn, Marlon Wayans


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