'Requiem for a Dream' was Darren Aronofsky's ('The Fountain', 'The Wrestler') follow-up to the highly-original and ingenious paranoid thriller 'Pi', his feature debut in which he created an alarming scenario involving the obsession over a mathematical equation. In 'Requiem', he again constructs that same frightening setting for a different kind of obsession.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Hubert Selby, Jr., who also wrote Last Exit to Brooklyn, the film follows four interrelated people in a spiral of voluntary self-delusion and addiction to dreams of success, which are eventually overwhelmed and defeated by reality.
Chronicling three seasons in the lives of these characters, the film commences with what appears to be a recurring problem. Harry (Jared Leto) is unchaining a TV set that belongs to his mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn). Along with his best friend, Tyrone (Marlan Wayans), he intends to pawn it and use the money to buy heroin. Later, Sara, as always, buys back her TV because she can't live without it. When she receives a phone call in relation to competing on a game show, she develops a dependency on diet pills in order to wear her favorite red dress. Meanwhile, Harry, Tyrone, and Harry's girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), devise a plan to start a business, but they can't seem to conquer their cravings for dope.
Unlike most "drug movies", 'Requiem for a Dream' goes beyond basic depictions of narcotic use and delves deeper into questions of where addiction originates. It's made quite clear that the Harry-Tyrone-Marion storyline is about drug addicts. But contrasted with the Sara subplot, the viewer is forced to ponder the origins of addiction in the simple desire for happiness. By way of conversation, the plot reveals three optimistic friends with a plan to escape their lot and live a worry-free lifestyle, while through daydreams, we learn of Sara's aspirations of achieving acceptance and ridding herself of the loneliness which surrounds her.
Stylistically, the film is stunning and harrowing, as Aronofsky makes several risky photographic choices to suggest various ideas within the narrative, some of which were quite unique and original at the time. First is the use of the split-screen, where two characters appear to occupy the same space in which they communicate, implying that though together in the same room, they are still distant and alone. In other scenes, the film alternates between a frenetic pace and sluggishness, visually imitating the feeling of a drug rush and the sudden low which follows. The director also makes intelligent use of extreme close-ups, fast edits, and montages to depict the surreal and hallucinatory state of the characters, and the distorted fine line between reality and fantasy.
As with Selby's novel, Aronofsky aims to express the addiction of these characters as allegory for a graver and more problematic issue within the "American Dream," as well as its intangibility and elusiveness. The characters' downward spirals into states of lost hope and desperation mirror the degradation of the soul due to false and unattainable pursuits of happiness. Aronofsky's 'Requiem' is a bleak but remarkable achievement in storytelling, and he pushes his cast to give it their all in some very challenging roles. Connelly and Burstyn (who later received an Oscar nomination) stand out as two lonely women caught up in their self-deceptions and ultimately devastated by them.
With the support of Matthew Libatiques's beautiful cinematography and a gripping musical score by Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet, 'Requiem for a Dream' is a chilling and distressing nightmare of addiction, whether it be narcotics or unrealistic dreams. In its original theatrical-run, Aronofsky's film garnered serious controversy for its graphic depictions of sex and drug use, earning the doomed NC-17 rating. Detractors argued the images glamorized the use of drugs and bordered on pornographic when Marion performs at a stag party in exchange for heroin. Nonetheless, the film was released to theaters unedited, as the scenes are integral to the storyline, and the film is presented on Blu-ray as an unrated Director's Cut.
Filmed with a certain visual style and flair, this Blu-ray edition of 'Requiem for a Dream' benefits nicely from the higher resolution format, though it doesn't quite make it as one of the best catalog releases we've seen. Nonetheless, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, is a good upgrade from its DVD equivalent and pleasantly captures Matthew Libatique's cinematography.
With the use of diffusion filters, white levels are highlighted and appear more prominent to the point of blooming, but contrast is fairly stable throughout and allows for plenty of visibility in the image. The grain structure starts off very light and barely noticeable for an appreciably filmic quality. But as the story progresses, it deliberately becomes more pronounced to reflect the decline of each character's lifestyle. Fine object details are affected somewhat by this stylized photography, but it's nothing too detrimental or garish and close-ups expose an attractive amount of texture in the complexion of actors. The palette lacks some vibrancy and energy, which are also likely planned, but they're also accurate and consistently well-balanced, while flesh tones can waver between natural and slightly flushed. Blacks appear precise and deep, with delineation in low-lit sequences permitting background info to be clearly perceptible. All things considered, this is a satisfyingly strong presentation of one of Aronofsky's best works.
The first time I watched the film in theaters, I thought the original musical score by Clint Mansell working with the Kronos Quartet was one of the most beautiful pieces of music I had ever heard for a motion picture. It's no wonder, then, that expectations were set high for this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, wanting to relive the experience of listening to the music as if for the first time.
Successfully satisfying those hopes is a terrific lossless track, utilizing the entire system to wonderful effect and immersing the listener with great emotional impact. The mix delivers the sort of dramatic impression the film's creators wish to relate and creates a beautifully transparent presence that engages the viewer. The front soundstage is wide and welcoming, with cleanly rendered vocals and an expansive mid-range. Imaging is persuasive with random sounds frequently heard off-screen, movement between the channels is seamless, and discrete effects are non-directional and create a convincing soundfield. Although low-bass is mostly reserved for the various musical choices, it supplies the sound design with winning depth and realism. For a drama about characters on the losing end of their hallucinations, the soundtrack is very impressive indeed.
For the supplemental package, Lionsgate Home Entertainment ports over most of the bonus material from the DVD, presented here in standard definition. Missing is the "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette, cast & crew bios, and production notes. It's not a great loss, but it wouldn't have hurt to have included them on this edition.
Darren Aronofsky's follow-up to his darkly brilliant 'Pi' is the melanchy nightmare 'Requiem for a Dream', another exhilarating work from a visionary filmmaker. Conveying the bleak realities of drug use with graphic imagery, superb performances by Burstyn and Connelly, and an invigorating soundtrack, the film is a stylized hallucinatory trip into the self-destructive behavior of four people struggling with addiction. The Blu-ray version of the film from Lionsgate arrives with a good picture quality, a very impressive lossless track, and a decent supplemental package, making the upgrade to the hi-def format worthwhile mostly for fans. For everyone else, the film comes highly recommended.