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Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Punishing and Unforgettable
I respect and admire this movie, even though (and perhaps because) it is complex, occasionally irritating and often very hard to take. Frankly, I avoided seeing it for a long time, but now am glad I did. To complain that the film fails as a realistic portrayal of addiction is, I think, to miss the point. Far from being the mere depiction of a collective downward spiral fueled by drugs, the movie is in fact a meditation on loneliness, greed, corruption, desperation, and the pervasiveness/banality of media, among many other things.
The subtleties of the text are communicated, first and foremost, by superb acting. The performances of Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans are all revelatory. In particular, I was knocked out by Burstyn, who is almost comically pathetic in the beginning, but who manages by the end to convey her character's utter devastation in the truest, most heartbreaking manner imaginable. The others are absolutely perfect as well; I was simply astonished by Leto and especially Wayans (may he eschew "scary movies" forevermore). Connelly has perhaps the most difficult role in the film, with opportunity and motivation galore to go over the top, and she delivers not a single false note throughout.
My only real quibbles with the movie have to do with certain instances of the split-screen and jump-cut techniques, which struck me as somewhat gimmicky and repetitious, respectively. That being said, overall the style of the film is impressive and appropriate. The cinematography is beautifully conceived and executed, and the score is every bit as haunting as the performances (thanks largely to the work of the Kronos Quartet).
In sum, regardless of whether or not the subject matter itself shocks you, this movie will put the viewer through the proverbial wringer. Give it a chance, and you will connect with the characters and then witness their destruction (spiritual and otherwise). It is a punishing but unforgettable experience. I'm not sure whether I'd necessarily recommend it or not; it all depends on your personal tolerance level with regard to an unflinching portrayal of human nature and behavior at their most extreme and, ultimately, tragic. For my part, while I don't expect to watch this film very often in the future, I'm sure glad it'll be on the shelf.