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Requiem for a Dream

Reviewed By Thom
Posted 11/08/00 04:12:27

"The ultimate anti-drug movie."
5 stars (Awesome)

I like the way Aronofsky composed this movie. Its like a song with the refrain being the familiar ritual of the ingestion of a junkie's fix. Aronofsky used the same piece of film, artfully edited, for the drug ritual.

The replaying of that piece accurately illustrated the manic repitition of the fix and also the progression from jonesing to satiation and then back to jonesing again. That episode, is in essence, the whole story of a junkie's life.

I like themes in movies and I like subtlety and layered meaning. Requiem for a Dream had plenty of internal echoes of repetition, ritual, and sacrifice. The movie is brutally honest,. as any good movie should appear to be, and portrays junkies as victims of themselves but this film is not about hating junkies. The only scene where we are supposed to hate anyone is when Harry (Jared Leto) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) get pulled over in the deep south. Two sick people get arrested for no reason and instead of medical treatment get abuse, especially Tyrone, a black man.

Up to this point I did not have a lot of sympathy for Harry and Tyrone. Until I saw them as mistreated by ignorant and hateful people, I was just caught up in the wild ride of their junk adventure and wondered where it would take them. They started the fateful trip on their own, but it took the intervention of an element they had not anticipated to bring the tragedy to its completion.

Harry's girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) takes a different route when she can't get any more heroin and turns to doing a private sex show for a bunch of rich, old white guys. Once again, Aronofsky re-educates us as to the proper object of scorn. The junkies are doing what they need to do because of the choices they made. It may not be right, but essentially, they are sick people who need help. The people we should be more worried about are the old, rich white guys running the big companies and making the laws who, when behind closed doors, behave like the depraved animals they are taking advantage of other people's desperation with a maniacal glee.

By far, the most tragic story of the three main subplots is Harry's mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn) who is selected as a contestant on a television game show. She goe on diet pills to lose weigh so that she can fit into a dress she wants to wear on the program. The doctor she goes to never even looks at her, just prescribes the drugs. And when she goes in complaining of not feeling right he says, "you are losing weight and thats what matters". Greed and callousness are the deciding element in the complete destruction of Sara's mental health and well-being. She innocently trusted the medical establishment as much as she naively thought of television as being the most important and exciting part of the world. She is chosen to be a contestant on a television game show and it disrupts her normal routine and makes her feel inadequate. She goes to the extreme of taking diet pills in order to feel presentable. The diet pills did not destroy her as much as the idea of television being so important that she invested all her hope and so much of her life and attention in a moment that was all promise and no deliverance.

Each of the four main characters loses something vital in exchange for their addiction. The question is almost, "What would you be willing to give up in order to be a junkie? Your body? Your sanity?" Most people who start on the heroin high road don't think about the total cost of their choice. Sara didn't even really choose to be an addict. She was led there thinking that doctors and pharmaceutical companies were there to serve people, not simply to make money. The medical establishment in Requiem is portrayed as anti-thetical to health. Doctors are uncaring or mean. Hospitals are unfeeling and cold. And the people who need love and care are treated as objects or villians and never as patients. We are not led to hate the drug user as much as pity them and to loathe the people who prey on their weakness.

In a country whose "war on drugs" has utterly failed, this film may be the thing to show us that what is really on the table is the tolerance of inhumanity in the places where we most need to show compassion and caring.

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