Requiem for a Dream, the second feature from director Darren Aronofsky, provides a rare synthesis of cinematic experimentation and emotionally compelling storytelling. It’s a brilliant effort. Taking the potential glimpsed in the low- budget, high energy Pi, and marrying it to Selby’s powerful tale of love, dreams and addiction, Requiem for a Dream provides a jolting, heartfelt journey into the depths of the human experience.
There is no element in this film that isn’t well executed. Across the board the performances are excellent. Most of them are noteworthy. Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Ellen Burstyn all deserve specific kudos for bringing to life difficult, but honest characters. I was also happy to see Christopher McDonald ("Shooter McGavin" in Happy Gilmore) turn in a solid performance as Tappy Tibbons, a sleazy motivational speaker. McDonald is one of those guys that I’ve noticed for years and it’s nice to see him succeed in a chunky role in a film of this caliber.
As good as the folks in front of the lens were, the most praise needs to be directed at the folks behind the camera. Aronofsky, Director of Photography Matthew Libatique, Editor Jay Rabinowitz, Production Designer James Chinlund and composer Clint Mansell here combine to produce a wonderful marriage of high style and bare-bones substance. Their mixture of bleeding edge cinematic language and beautiful, forceful imagery with the pure, honest-to-goodness human emotions of the story make for a singular experience. In the wake of the abysmal Mtv inspired, paper thin style of the 90s, a film like this that presents a vibrant, modern aesthetic and does so without sacrificing it’s backbone is a welcome relief.
Most highly recommended.
Q & A with Darren Aronofsky
Rob: It surprised me that you’ve had ratings troubles with this film. It came down as NC 17?
Rob: And it’s actually coming out unrated?
DA: There are going to be signs in the theater saying no one under 17 is permitted to see the movie.
Rob: Was that a surprise? I was surprised as hell when I read about it.
DA: You know, the thing is, it’s a hypocrisy- where if you deal with issues in a real way, they shy away. But if you show homophobia, misogyny, in a fantasy way.
Then there’s a whole thing of an independent film versus a studio film. If this was a studio film it wouldn’t have been an issue. But, because Artisan is not a member of the MPAA –they don’t pay the jury to judge their movie–
Rob: Really, well, one of the things I was thinking of in comparison is the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan–
Rob: It’s like a meat grinder. Twenty minutes of it too- people getting their heads blown off. It makes sense in the context of the film- but that got an R. And the scene in question here- in the end.
DA: It’s that three minute climax to the film that they have a big problem with. It’s the psychological intensity of that scene.
Rob: That’s really important to the flow of the film-
DA: Completely. The whole film builds to that. That’s the point of the movie.
Rob: In the notes, you said it was a risk making this film. How did you look at it as a risk?
[There’s some discussion of where it is in the notes, because Aronofsky didn’t remember the quote in question. He reads the notes and continues]
DA: I probably meant it was a big risk in the sense that. everyone was telling us not to do it. Everyone was like, "Well, you did Pi, you proved yourself independently, you should do a commercial film." I want to do commercial films. It was just matter of- this was something I was passionate about and I wanted to do it before I got to that point- before I moved on to commercial films.
Rob: Where it would be difficult to do something like this.
DA: The thing is if you don’t do something when you’re passionate about it- in the moment- [snaps his fingers] you’re not passionate about it the next day.
Rob: And then it’s a missed opportunity.
DA: Exactly, and I knew this would always feel like a missed opportunity. I try to live my life where I end up at a point where I have no regrets. So I try to choose the road that I have the most passion on because then you can never really blame yourself for making the wrong choices. You can always say you’re following your passion.
Rob: Am I right in assuming you have very particular ideas of what you want the finished product to look like?
DA: Hmmm. Yeah, I think so. I’m not one of those guys that has the ability to conceive a film that far down the road.
Rob: So, you’re not like Scorcese or someone like that that has everything.
DA: I have a really clear sense of the gist of what I’m going for, but then- things change. When you’re on set- things change. When you’re in the editing room- things change. So, it’s a matter of really dealing with the best options, at the moment, and making the right choices.
Rob: What did you see as the result of this film before you started and how close did you come to that expectation?
DA: I’m very happy with the results of the film. I’m really proud of the movie. I think it has the right punch- the right impact- for audiences.
Rob: What sort of audience reaction are you hoping for with the film?
DA: I want people to feel really deeply with this- the way I feel when I read Selby. Which is- you’re in the darkest place imaginable, but it’s completely human. And that’s completely what the trip is. That’s what Selby does, he takes you into that heart of darkness, if you will.
Rob: Out of curiosity, what sort of projects were you offered after Pi?
DA: We were developing a project with New Line [An adaptation of Frank Miller’s Ronin] and a project with Dimension. They were both sort of science fiction projects. There was some interest from other places as well. I just sort of turned my back on them and made Requiem., because, as I said I just had to get it out of my system. I just though it was something important for me to make.
Rob: Let’s talk a little bit about the cast. How did Marlon Wayans get involved?
DA: He came in four times to read for me. He wouldn’t stop.
It was pretty clear to me that the guy’s a star from the first time I met him. But, I wasn’t sure if he could actually do this. I always knew I wanted a comedian or someone really funny to bring some lightness into the film. That was the force behind casting Marlon.
Rob: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I was surprised by his performance, but I was surprised by the casting. "What’s he doing here?"
Any thoughts on Jennifer Connelly? I was really impressed by the really subtle transformation she went through. Was that what you were going for with her?
DA: Oh she was great. She completely got it and she worked really, really hard. I’m psyched that people are loving her performance. We worked on it really hard together. We spent a lot of time together talking about every detail of the character down to the nitty gritty worst details that we had to deal with because of what she does during the third act. I’m glad it paid off.
Rob: This is more to technique. You do a lot of sort of interesting stuff here- the drug taking scenes, for example. what did you call it?
DA: "Hip Hop Montage."
Rob: With things like that. were things like that in your mind in film school?
DA: Ultimately it comes down to- every film has it’s own visual language and you have to figure out what the theme is of the film and then apply style to it.
Rob: Where does it grow from, these kind of ideas? Where’s the kernel?
DA: I think it really grows out of- this is the shot. This is the scene. How are we going to shoot it? It happens very late in the game. It happens after we write the script and then we start to break it down to figure out how we’re going to do it. And so it’s a collaboration between me and the DP and the production designer. And slowly but surely we arrive somewhere.
Rob: How much involvement do you have in the editing process?
DA: Oh, I’m there all the time.
Rob: Sitting right there?
DA: No, sometimes I go and I let the editor do some stuff, but basically I’m there all the time.
Rob: Well, to wrap it up, what are you doing next?
DA: I’m writing an original science fiction film that I’ve been working on for about ten months, which, hopefully, will be the next film.
Rob: And Batman 5?
DA: I’m working on that as well. I probably will be working on that. We haven’t started working on it because the deal’s not done.
Rob: It’s not official yet?
DA: It’s not quite official.
Rob: .and in the unofficial world of it, is Frank Miller involved as well?
Rob: Now, I think that’s fantastic, but, do they know what they’re getting out of you two?
DA: We’ll see. I think they’re pretty clear.
Rob: Okay, because I’m a big fan of Frank Miller, and I love your stuff, but with the history of that series…
DA: We’ll see what happens. It could be cool.
Originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (now digBoston) in October 2000.