In previous episodes, we discussed how 1999 films like Fight Club, American Beauty and Magnolia redefined my ideas around what movies could do — just as I was heading into film school. Requiem For A Dream was a part of that, too, except in a more shocking, fringe way. Despite accolades for Ellen Burstyn’s performance, Requiem For A Dream wasn’t a prestige film likely to be embraced by the mainstream. It wasn’t backed by a major studio. It was originally rated NC-17, containing some fairly explicit sexual content and lots of graphic drug use. It was an assault on the senses. It also had a very indie sensibility, capturing some of the rebellious spirit of the 90s indie movement, but taking that to a darker, more artful place.
Some people call Requiem For A Dream one of the most harrowing films they’ve ever experienced. They might call it bleak, or hopeless, or even miserable.
I get that the film is intense. Obviously. The characters are in truly dire predicaments. I empathize with them, and I feel repulsed by certain moments — especially every glimpse of Harry’s rotting arm, or Sara’s shock treatment.
But Darren Aronofsky’s filmmaking is so inventive and energetic — almost to the point of being playful — that Requiem For A Dreamer doesn’t feel like a downer to me. It’s an upper! I have a great time watching this film, and that’s what lingers with me, instead of the despair felt by the characters. The film is so good it hurts — but it hurts in a good way.
I had not seen Requiem For A Dream in ages before watching it for the podcast. It’s one of those personal favorites I’d set aside because I’d seen it too much. I worried perhaps that its shock value might feel faint, after it clearly influenced so much of the independent cinema that came after.
I was happy to report, however, that nothing was lost in the 20 years since its debut. The film is as fresh and potent as ever. If anything, Ellen Burstyn’s incredible performance only feels more transcendent with time — I would confidently rank it amongst the best screen performances of all time. And the impact of Clint Mansell’s operatic assault of a score can’t be understated.
Aronofsky has been one of my favorite filmmakers of his generation ever since I saw this film — right up there with Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, and Alfonso Cuaron in my estimation. But in light of the gonzo heights achieved by The Fountain, Black Swan and mother!, I’d almost forgotten that all of his oppressive moxie was right there from the start. (Certainly, it was also present in his ultra-low budget directorial debut, Pi.) If I had to pick one film that captured the excitement and possibility of a young auteur filmmaker using every tool in the cinematic toolbox to great effect, this would be the one.
In other words? Feed me, Sara.
I really just want to go watch it again right now.