Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Hit Me: "Requiem for a Dream" (10th Anniversary!)

In the "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series we choose our favorite images from motion pictures. Next Wednesday we're looking at Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960) in glorious black & white. Today's topic is Darren Aronofsky's haunting addiction drama... in full color.

"If this is red, I wanna know what's orange?"

Requiem for a Dream (2000)
10th Anniversary Appreciation

Requiem for a Dream warns us continually about the addictive power of drugs, dreams, and dieting... but who will warn us about the addictive properties of Requiem for a Dream? The movie is, in its own teeth-grinding way, as hard to kick as Sara Goldfarb's (Ellen Burstyn) diet pills or the harder stuff her only son Harry (Jared Leto) ingests. But I realized something during my umpteenth view that I haven't quite processed before. I rarely watch the whole movie. When the characters get high in Requiem there's often a long slow fade to white to end the scene. My fade to white is the centerpiece monologue, one of the most brilliantly shot and performed monologues ever. After it, I can't take anymore.

Ellen Burstyn is such a quivering ball of despair, held together by willfully hand-stitched delusion... "I like thinking about the red dress... and the television." Jared Leto's aftershock moment in the cab afterwards, from weeping baby to instantly stoned man, is a pitch-perfect exit scene. Aside from two brilliant performances, the cinematography by Matthew Libatique is masterful. The whites are always too white in Requiem; it's not just dope that's making them snowblind. It's a harsh world out there. Also note the sickly green light of the interior Goldfarb apartment. The outside world will swallow you up but you're no safer inside.

But for "Best Shot" let us applaud the split screen. Darren Aronofsky isn't the only contemporary filmmaker who uses the split screen but the practicioners are few. It's a surprisingly versatile technique which can reference additional artforms, show narrative parallels, provide style/eye candy, offer character P.O.V. or heighten the tension of some impending moment both images foretell. In this film, Aronofsky is mostly using it for P.O.V. purposes (Sara staring at the fridge) or as a visual metaphor for disconnectedness.

In one of the best scenes, Harry and Marion (Jared Leto and Jennfier Connelly, both giving the finest performances of their careers) do pillow talk. The images and the the dialogue convey both eroticism and emotional intimacy but the slightly out of sync eyelines and timing (note that the images aren't completely in sync since hands reach faces before arms move and the like) convey that something is broken. Their love may well be real but they're so far removed from their own realities that the connection is inherently false.


Harry: Hey, you know something? I always thought you were the most beautiful girl I ever seen.
Marion: Really?
Harry: Ever since I first saw you.
Marion: That's nice Harry. Makes me feel really good. You know other people have told me that before and it was meaningless.
Harry: Why is -- You thought they were pulling your leg?
Marion: No, no, not like that. I mean... I don't know or even care if they were. From them it was just meaningless, you know? You say it and I hear it. I really hear it.
Harry: You know somebody like you could really make things all right for me.
Marion: You think?
Heartbreaking.

And one more. In a moment of true inspiration shortly afterwards, Aronofsky reminds us of this same self-medicated disconnection in what looks like a split screen but isn't.


Sara has just begun to grind her teeth and retreats to the bathroom mirror to investigate this new development. The diet drugs have kicked in and after a closeup of her shifting jaw, this image. She's not losing weight. She's losing her self.


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"Be Excited. Be Be Excited"
Best Shot Participants
 Previously on "Hit Me With Your Best Shot"
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    32 comments:

    Robert said...

    Such a brilliant movie. The shot between Marion and Harry that you chose was one of my favorites too...such a subtle split screen that means so much.

    Jose said...

    I had captured the shot of Jared and Jennifer and was going to caption it "separated at birth", those two look SO alike, it's kinda creepy.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    I know! that's why i did that post back in the day about Jared Leto trying to be Jennifer Connelly

    Jose i found your write up interesting (and Nick also isn't really a fan of the movie). Maybe I should choose a movie i don't like and see what there is to say? so far i've only chosen movies i like a lot. Hmmm... might be interesting to choose a film that makes me reconsider or find some beauty in ugliness.

    Jose said...

    Haha cute!

    Hmm I think that would be interesting...although you never seem to really despise something and choosing stuff like "Transformers" would be a waste of time for all of us involved.
    I think it's interesting if you don't have to reconsider or find beauty. I didn't in this case, I still pretty much dislike this film but thanks to you now I don't have to pretend I've seen the whole thing hehehe.

    Also, don't you sleep? When I emailed you I assumed you'd be snoring and drooling, it's so late there! Anyway I'm off to watch "Gossip Girl" and yes I know this isn't a chat room but whatever. Sweet dreams Nat!

    A.R. said...

    I've talked to at least one or two people who found the use of split screens irritatingly contrived. But I'm with you, Aronofsky uses the technique brilliantly.
    I just love this movie. The visuals are definitely worth celebrating.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    A.R. i think those people aren't thinking hard enough about it :) To me the most brilliant thing about it is that for most of the time what you're seeing is what you would see WITHOUT a split screen. Two people lying together and staring at each other in close-up. You're just seeing it differently and it's just a little off.

    brilliant, I say.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    Jose -- no, i never sleep. It's the curse of being me.

    Derreck said...

    http://www.onlygoodmovies.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/requiem-for-a-dream-ending.jpg

    I didn't get the chance to personally pick a shot, but this one is pretty much close to it. Does it have to be a personal screen cap?

    Anyways, If there is one person who gets stuck in my head, it's Jennifer. With the ass-to-ass (it hurts to even say or think it) scene or her 'happiness' after she receives her prize, it gets right under my skin and festers there.

    Like many others, Requiem for a Dream is my anti-drug. I have no desire to ever see it again. I mean, i should see it at least twice, but somehow it seems kind of masochistic.

    Now, excuse me, but i need a brainwash session with Beauty and the Beast. I think i totally foamed a the mouth when it came out on Blu-Ray. I can't wait to see Moulin Rouge! in Blu-Ray too. I'm Netflixing that shit as soon as it comes out this month.

    Glenn Dunks said...

    Mine is up.

    Love this movie.

    Kyle said...

    The only Aronofsky movie I openly loathe.

    Andrew R. said...

    Not a movie you watch for fun, but it's great filmmaking, and the acting, particularly from Burstyn, who should've won the Oscar...wow.

    There's the famous shot of Marion and Harry lying on their backs as the camera looks from above.

    And quite a few Ellen Burstyn shots. There's one of her that scared the shit out of me first time I saw it. Here it is.

    Amanda said...

    I have watched this movie more than once and its always painful. I remember watching it for the first time at a movie theather when it first came out (I didn't realize it was ten years ago) and I felt sick, literally sick to my stomach and I was shaking at the end.

    Andrew's shot is the most impressive to me as well, but there's also Ellen's sequence at the subway, the needle is Leto's purple wounded arm (horrific) nad the "ass on ass" scene, too horrendous for words......and the worst part of the whole thing is her happiness ober her prize/payment at the end.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    andrew r -- i thought about using that famous shot from overhead with the circular motif but decided it was too self conciously a "best shot" :) but it sure is gorgeous. and the shot you point to is indeed terrifying (in the soul depressing way)

    derreck -- is it wrong that i think Jennifer Connelly is extraordinarily beautiful in this movie even when she's this degraded. argh. why has she never been this good again?

    kyle -- LOATHE?

    JA said...

    Beautiful choice, Nat! The editing in that split screen scene with those two is phenomenal and brings about so many conflicting emotions at once - it is cold, but it's also sexy at the same time, for one. It reminds me of the before-after edit of the sex scene in Out of Sight.

    Also I totally spaced on this and will have a post for this up at MNPP later today, if you'll still have me. ;)

    Volvagia said...

    That scene in Out of Sight was a quotation of Don't Look Now.

    JA said...

    Oh I know that Vovalgia - I just don't like thinking about a naked Donald Sutherland sporting a fro, so I prefer to mention the newer version.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    i will always still ahve you ;)

    chris na Taraja said...

    This is a brilliant movie, but it will haunt you for life. the horror will never go away. You'll constantly think about the ending and think, "why? Why ? Why? and WHY?" You'll be innocently watching this movie thinking it's brilliant, then each character will fall from grace so hard and fast that you will be beside yourself and stunned.

    I've been in therapy since.

    JA said...

    Okally dokally I gone and done it now.

    OtherRobert said...

    I'd participate but I'm not in the mental space right now to tackle this film again. I know I would have chosen something in the mother's storyline because it speaks to me the most, but I don't even feel up to going through just those scenes. I knew I should have tackled this last week and held off on publishing in case this happened.

    Tan said...

    Ellen Burstyn really rocked her role!

    Kyle said...

    Nathaniel - Yeah, I realize that's pretty big hyperbole for me to use, but this is one of those movies that brings it out of me. I think it's the heavy-handed preaching, and just WAY over the top scenarios (like the sex party, or everything about the diet pill addiction) that just turn me off from a movie that's known for its "gritty realism".

    rex said...

    love "requiem for a dream." really need to see that one again at some point. and this should have been jennifer connelly's first and only nomination.

    kent said...

    when i first saw REQUIEM FOR A DREAM i was shocked by how graphic and intense the scenes were. at first, i didn't care for it much but it grew on me vividly. i gave it a second viewing and realized how substantially brilliant it is -especially ellen burstyn (top five performances of the 2000s)

    Volvagia said...

    On that comment I posted a while back in your ten best characters of the decade list: I think as a piece of cinema, the ending of McCabe and Mrs. Miller is beautiful and tense, I just wonder why, with a character that, at the very least, borders on being asexual they had to have him freeze to death. Well made, but I personally think it's also morally disgusting if McCabe is read as asexual. Thinking more about it, today I'd probably toss more support behind Boris Lermontov or Withnail as asexual characters in the cinema. (By the way, Ebert doesn't even think of what I at least think is the truth on his Red Shoes retrospective. To Ebert, he only wonders "straight? Or gay?" That's illogical to me because of this exchange: "You're jealous of her." "Yes! But in a way you'll never understand." Specifically: Why would a straight man not understand the jealousy of another straight man or even of a gay man? Neither of those made sense on analysis. So, ultimately, I decided, "He's asexual. The first such character in the cinema." Which takes me to Ebert comparing Lermontov to the devil. Really ill placed. 1. The story is about the interplay between an aromantic asexual and two deeply in love heterosexuals and 2. Lermontov may have some control issues (I wasn't confused about why he gave that "A dancer who relys on the doubtful comforts of human love" philosophy), but the movie doesn't really portray him as "evil." Just confused, bitter and barely managing to contain his depression, expressing it through phraseology as opposed to the emotion he'd probably abandoned for years at the time the movie starts. As for Monty Withnail in Withnail and I...well...the speech at the end pretty much says it all in regards to asexuality.)

    Craig said...

    So packed full of memorable and unique visual images -- it's hard to choose a favorite. Burstyn's break-down in the television producer's office has to be one of the most brutal and heart-wrenching scenes committed to film. And the long shot of Connelly leaving her psychiatrist's apartment building after having sex with him stands out for her build-up of self-loathinbg and disgust.

    The soundtrack, too, was haunting and synced right into the film -- especially performed by the Kronos Quartet.

    A shout out also should go to Marlon Waylans, stellar performance.

    NATHANIEL R said...

    Craig -- the Kronos Quartet score is so amazing you're right. It's sad to me that the music branch at the Oscars has almost never gone for a risky brilliant score. They might be the single most conservative branch in all of the Academy (which is really saying something)

    Hayden said...

    Ellen Burstyn is...

    No match for Julia Roberts' once-in-a-generation movie star turn in Erin Brockovich.

    Oh, and extraordinarily hammy.

    Ryan said...

    "I'm lonely....I'm old!"

    That line gets me every single time I see it.

    Tragedy that she didn't win.

    Volvagia said...

    There was a great "Once in a generation star turn", but it was Bruce Campbell's Ash Williams, especially in Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness. (A star turn: A blazing showcase of pure supernova energy, turning what could be just an inconsequential/fluffy movie into something more. And...sorry, but, as great as Julia Roberts may have been in Erin Brokovich, a movie about a toxic waste spill sounds too heavy to be a fluff movie. "Demons in a cabin in the woods, you say? Sounds like a useless trifle.") I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Aargh! Why didn't Hollywood bite!?

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I’m not a Julia fan. Having established this -- Erin is the best of her three nominated performances. I know it’s unpopular but I do believe in actors having their turn. All 5 women from the 1990 Best Actress lineup are now Oscar winners. How often can we point to an acting category where all the nominees eventually became winners?

    Volvagia said...

    So to say it in modern terms: It's less what Julia Roberts did in Brockovich, more "You're not a teacher Ned. You're the cross dressing, blood sucking, incubus from Maggot Death. That's the real you" or, to take from Ash Williams, "Good, bad, what's the difference? I'm the guy with the gun." That's what STAR TURN means. It has to be contained within a thoroughly improbable movie, holding realistic events at arm's length. Star turn means Tootsie, star turn means Some Like it Hot, star turn means The Man Who Would Be King, star turn means His Girl Friday. Star turn does not mean Erin Brockovich, star turn does not mean The Savages, star turn does not even mean 8 1/2. I'm not denying that these turns weren't great, that they weren't made by people who could become stars or that those movies didn't make those people famous. I'm just saying that they aren't of the kind that scream "I should be famous. Here's why." Those kinds of parts that scream "I should be famous. Here's why" are star turns. The fact that the second last time I can genuinely say, "That was a star turn" was in a pair of lower budget movies written and directed by Sam Raimi personally speaks volumes about the mire Hollywood has been in since the late 80s. After that point...well, we've burnt through tons of people that I can barely keep track of because there's nothing that they want to do that people want to see in the theatres. Unethical producers homogenized the casual filmgoer in the late 80s-mid 90s, and those same a-hole producers are still holding most of the chips. Say what you will about David O. Selznick's personality, but he made some corkers. The equivalent to a Selznick today (jerk producer of giant movies) would be Bruckheimer. The problem is Bruckheimer can't make a movie. CAN'T! MAKE! A! MOVIE! Sorry, but he's part of the reason we're LOSING OUR STARS. The other two parts: 1. DVD culture. If bleeping Liam Neeson can be lured to appear in After.Life, we need help. 2. Entertainment tabloids and shameless talking head stations like E! Do any of those people even understand what makes a star?