Blu-ray Review: REQIUEM FOR A DREAM - Darren Aronofsky's Masterpiece

Requiem for a Dream is a visual assault from its opening frames. Darren Aronofsky likes to scoop out your eyes and piss on your brains.

Requiem for a Dream is a visual assault from its opening frames. Darren Aronofsky likes to scoop out your eyes and piss on your brains. Seriously. But he does it in a good way! The Wrestler is obviously the film for which he broke the surface and came to the attention of everyone € But Requiem is the film that made film-fans and film-makers alike sit up and take notice. Find out why by watching the new Blu-ray release. Requiem for a Dream isan extraordinarily confident piece of work, given that it€™s only Aronofsky€™s second film, and it proved that € was no fluke €“ he really is a talented and deeply introspective film-maker! He makes €˜subjective€™ films that are seen through the perceptions of their main characters € So, in the case of this film, the split-screens, jump-cut editing, distorting fish-eye lenses, flickering neons and restless music all contribute to the hallucinations being endured by the drug-addled cast and, therefore, by we poor viewers. It€™s fair to say that his films are an uncomfortable watch € Maybe that€™s because, unlike most American movies, they make you think rather than feel € But the cinematic technique on show is so compelling and the characters so human, so vulnerable, that you can€™t look away. There are constant rumours of Aronofsky being attached to major genre films (the RoboCop remake back in 2007, the new Wolverine movie until earlier this year) but these seem like such spectacularly poor ideas when Aronofsky€™s strength is clearly in his ability to take clichéd generic ideas (the washed-up fighter, the mentally unstable dancer) and transform them by getting into the heads of complex multi-faceted characters during times of breakdown. Requiem tells the story of four people in their over-lapping lives. Harry (Jared Leto €“ before he ascended to Rock God-hood) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans €“ before he sank into a morass of increasingly turgid comedies) are determined to get rich selling drugs but, inevitably, get high on their own supply. Harry€™s girlfriend is the disillusioned rich-girl, Marion (Jennifer Connolly €“ just one year before winning the Oscar for A Beautiful Mind €“ which was one of those consolation Oscars because she clearly deserved it for this role) who is self-destructive and determined to drag the simple Harry down into her misery with her. Whilst images of her nudity might set the internet afire, here its carefully composed use simply shows how vulnerable and lonely she is. Where this movie deviates from the familiar Heroin Victims Descend Into Hell motifs is the inclusion of Harry€™s mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn, one of Lee Strasberg€™s original €˜method€™ actors, who received her sixth Oscar nomination for this role) whose inadvertent descent into her own Hell of prescription drugs is played against the more familiar narrative arc of her son and his friends. The world around them €“ Coney Island €“ is portrayed as a broken, skeletal and hopeless landscape from which everyone wants to escape. Sara escapes into her mind-numbing self-improvement infomercials € But her world is turned upside-down by a mysterious phone-call telling her she will so be on TV in a game-show. This hope of a moment€™s glory (the same hope that fuels €˜talent€™ shows and €˜reality€™ shows to this day) changes her life. She decides she needs to lose weight, so is put into the hands of a disinterested doctor who prescribes diet pills €“ to which she rapidly becomes addicted. Both generations of the family want the American Dream €“ the promise of well-earned success € But neither has the nous to know how to go about getting it. Their ignorance and weakness eats their souls €“ right there on screen! Throughout, Leto€™s eyes are sunken and pallid and filled with yearning €“ a yearning for the trappings of normalcy € Although he simply has no clue how to acquire it. For him, the problem (drugs) feels like the solution. Time dilates in this film, like Leto€™s eyes after each hit (or €˜push off€™) and the four stories fracture € Leaving each character to proceed alone towards their inevitable, identical destinations. The last ten minutes of the film are as heart-breaking as anything in modern American cinema, their power undimmed ten years after the film€™s initial release! And, of course, I can€™t leave without making mention of Clint Mansell€™s haunting score, produced in collaboration with The Kronos Quartet. Who knew, back in the 80s, when chanting away to Pop Will Eat Itself€™s Def Con One or Can U Dig It, that Mansell had such artistry in his soul? The score builds throughout, as does the tragedy, until it reaches the crescendo of Lux †terna, a track which has gone on to have a life of its own, not least in a re-orchestrated form which has appeared everywhere from The X Factor (a particularly insulting fate, given Requiem€™s attitude towards trash TV) to here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wek5UClasY8 If you€™ve seen Requiem before, allow its needle sharp images to violate you once more, in HD. If you haven€™t, it€™s time you challenged yourself. Trust me, you€™ll thank me later.

Quality

The Visuals: The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, is as clear as a bell €“ not always guaranteed with films made on shoestring budgets like this was! The picture gets grainier as the film proceeds, but that is just one of the many techniques Aronofsky uses to infuse every frame of his film with narrative! The Sound: The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack sounded perfectly lossless to me, with lots of depth and separation which immerse you completely in the escalating hallucinations.

Extras

These added goodies will be familiar to those who own the original DVD release, which is no great shame since they form an exceptional package of additional features. Audio Commentaries: Key among these is Aronofsky€™s audio commentary which is easy-going and insightful and really adds to your understanding of the film. Thankfully, it isn€™t one of those love-in commentaries where everyone is praised to the rafters, therefore, when he talks in awe about Ellen Burstyn€™s commitment and contribution to the film, you know its genuine! There is a second commentary track with DP Matthew Libatique. It is unusual for a Director of Photography to get the platform to so carefully explain his decisions and techniques and this is a must listen for anyone who has interest in that undervalued aspect of movie-making! The Making of 'Requiem for a Dream' - 35 mins €“ Like the extras on The Wrestler, this gives an unvarnished insight into Aronofsky€™s process, but also concentrates on the key role played by Burstyn! "Memories, Dreams, & Addictions: Ellen Burstyn Interviews Hubert Selby, Jr." - 20 mins €“ Does what it says on the tin. Deleted Scenes - 11 mins - With optional commentary. Requiem For A Dream is out now on Blu-ray.
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John Ashbrook has been publishing half-assed opinions about films, TV shows et al for twenty years now. He's hosted radio shows, taught Film Studies, written books and magazine articles by the cartload and now composes his own film review blog The Cellulord is Watching ... (www.cellulord.co.uk). Of course, what he *really* wants to do is direct.