Overly Harsh Movie Review: Requiem For a Dream

Here’s what I posted on twitter/facebook/google+ after watching Requiem for a Dream for the first time:

“Watched Requiem For a Dream tonight. The lessons I gleaned are: 1) Reality is bad and 2) Escaping reality through drugs is worse.”

But there’s more to say.

First of all, let me say that Darren Aranofsky makes movies that I either love or actively dislike. The basic milieu of his film canon seems to be that reality is a terrible place to be, and his characters do whatever they can to escape it. Occasionally (Pi, Black Swan) that escape is a profound and compelling character study. Other times (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream) I’m left with a random pastiche of unforgettable images but no sympathetic character upon whom I can hang my hat. Which, basically, leaves me with a haunting story that does not uplift me or the characters in any way.

I have to applaud Aranofsky’s film-making. No matter the story, he does a great job visually. And he gets good performances from his actors.

The thing that is both a problem and something to be lauded is that he’s right out there on the edge of film-making. He’s treading the ragged edge between an incredible story and a disturbing amalgamation of pointlessly disturbing indulgences. When he succeeds, he does so brilliantly. When he fails, he tends to fail spectacularly. He leaves me feeling empty, sure. Many films do that. But he also leaves me with a psychic residue of scenes and moments and visuals that hang with me and haunt me for weeks or months.

After I saw The Wrestler, I kept flashing back to scenes from that movie for a long time. And the worst part of it was that didn’t get any of the catharsis that should come with fiction.

I had an acting teacher who once said to me “The job of the actor is to heal the human soul.”

I’ve since expanded that to my own maxim: “The job of the storyteller is to heal the human soul.”

Sometimes taking risks and pushing that boundary is the best way to do that. But sometimes you can push beyond the boundary. I won’t go as far as to say that new wounds are inflicted, but certainly no healing is forthcoming.

Again, I applaud Darren Aranofsky for his brave and ground-breaking work. I just wish I could tell ahead of time if I were going to love or hate the result.

Requiem for a Dream? Sorry. Hate it.

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