Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

MBPGSA Blog

Updates, opinion pieces, and news related to the department

Requiem For A Dream

There are happy endings to film and there are sad endings. These endings can be done well or be done poorly. A poorly done happy ending can be one where all the loose pieces are tied up really quickly through convenient plot contrivances that can sometimes be illogical (e.g. Signs where it turns out that the invading aliens are anaphylactic to water), or where everything seems happy in the end but you are left with a nagging doubt for all the characters wellbeing (e.g. that movie Jack where you know Robin Williams is going to die from old age at 20). Poorly done sad endings usually resemble the former happy ending with plot contrivances inserted to make everything go horribly wrong at the last moment.  I mentioned this in my earlier post on 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. There are those melodramatic European films where sh*& is thrown at the protagonist for 120 minutes and then they kill themselves or they just die horribly.

Here’s a quick list of movies that make me and my sister palm our foreheads and say: “ahh man” (spoilers):

  • Garage - Mentally challenged guy shows underage kid porn and then kills himself.
  • Dancer in The Dark - Bjork tries to save her son from blindness. Get’s hanged for it.
  • Rat Catcher - Scottish children have incredibly bleak and poor lives. Protagonist drowns himself.

(end spoilers)

For some reason people think these movies are amazing even though they have all the poignancy of watching a bunny being drowned, but I wouldn't argue that they are bad movies. There are some endings that are so bleak that they reach cartoonish levels of despair and you can’t take the movie seriously anymore. This is how I felt about Requiem for a Dream. Some people find the film sobering, but I thought it was ridiculous.

The movie is about a group of four people who have different drug addictions, and the consequences of their addictions. Three of the characters are heroin addicts played by Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans. The fourth is the mother of Jared Leto’s character, played by Ellen Burstyn, and she is addicted to diet pills.

I think my opinion stems from a couple things. First, people talk about the strong performances from Wayans, Connelly, and especially Burstyn, but how about Jared Leto? He was all over the place; when he was screaming or crying he seemed like he was suffering from mild autism.

Second, a lot of people praise the visual inventiveness and the style. I will admit, at first I thought the editing was interesting. I liked how the effect of the drugs sped up time and I liked the time lapse with the score in the background. Especially since the score by Clint Mansell is so good. I also liked the quick cuts of someone preparing the drug and the pupil dilating. This gives the impression of how automatic the routine of preparing the drug is and the initial kick from the drug. The film’s climax however was a mish-mash of frenetically cut scenes, a blaring string score, and over the top imagery. What results is an overwrought collage of  lunacy. It was like the SNL version of a 50's drug public service announcement if Massive Attack cut it up for a music video.  My feeling is that the screenwriter started with the idea of showing someone going through withdrawal, trying to convey stylishly the agony going on through the person’s head, but couldn’t stop there and through in a bunch of crazy plot twists to drive his point home. Trying to go for a really dark tone, instead what he ended up with is a cartoon. I would like to go over some of the stuff that happens at the end but I shouldn’t ruin it.

I guess I like my pathos to be much more subtle, stark even. Watching a person slowly agonize and deconstruct on screen with minimal score and zero style has a much stronger effect on me. You are forced to watch the horror completely naked, hiding behind nothing, and that’s the most difficult to watch. Compare the ending of this film to the hotel scenes in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, and you will get a sense of what I mean.

Ultimately, I think what undid this film for me were my lofty expectations. This movie has such an enormous reputation for being hard to watch and depressing that when I found the film less than that, I was left unimpressed.

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