It’s no secret that drug abuse levels are astronomical in the U.S., or that the epidemic is confined to a certain generation. Darren Arnofsky’s acclaimed film Requiem for a Dream gets up close and personal with four individuals whose lives are affected by drug addiction.
Based on the novel of the same name by Hubert Selby, Jr., the film follows Sara, a middle-aged woman who lives in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Recently widowed, Sara enjoys watching infomercials and dreaming of one day becoming a contestant on a game show. One day, that dream becomes a reality, but Sara is dissatisfied with her appearance; she longs to regain the physical form she had when she was married, and attempts to lose weight with prescription drugs. These three prescriptions, along with a sedative, make Sara more and more dependent on them and more and more obsessive in her behavior.
Meanwhile, Sara’s son Harry is shooting up heroin routinely along with his girlfriend Marion and their mutual friend Tyrone. All three enter the drug trafficking ring in Coney Island, but a series of events lead to an increasing demand for good dope, a number of drug-related arrests, and ultimately, violence in the streets. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone grow more and more desperate for quality drugs, and take desperate measures to get the money to buy the dope. The film climaxes with the unraveling sanity of all four of the main characters as they endlessly torment themselves in order to get their next fix.
This is one powerful, extraordinary film, But I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this film to anyone under 18 years old. I simply can’t.
Despite the good anti-drug message, this entire film is bleak, realistic, and harrowing. Arnofsky pulls very few punches in regards to his uncensored depiction of substance abuse/addiction. The storyline and the style of filming will make this movie very unsettling for most (if not all) audiences. Arnofsky could not have made this film any less realistic, nor could he have made it less depressing. The original release was rated NC-17, but Arnofsky appealed it, claiming that cutting any part of the film would dilute its powerful message. He was unsuccessful, and Requiem was released as an unrated film. It is available on DVD in both an unrated version, and a version with an R rating for “intense depiction of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence.”
All four characters suffer from hallucinations, which become increasingly frightening as the film goes on. The majority of the drug abuse scenes are rapidly edited, giving the viewer a disorienting feeling. Make no mistake: Requiem involves hard drug use and shows the consequences of said abuse in graphic detail. The movie is both undeniably powerful and highly disturbing.
There are some fantastic performances and a dynamic script, both of which keep this film successful, but the themes and message of this movie is what will burn into your brain. It’s not a cheesy, feel-good message telling kids to stay in school and not do drugs – in fact, it’s completely the opposite. It’s a harrowing, riveting depiction of the damage drugs do to their consumers.
So hey, it’s not for kids, or for the faint of heart. Children should never see this, period, and I would advise teenagers not to see it alone. But for those who need a wake-up call about recreational drug use, this film is a must-see.