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Murder Slim Review: REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

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REQUIEM FOR A DREAM has lots of fans. Odds are, you're one of them. It's also adapted from a Hubert Selby Jr. book (and co-written by him), which encourages a more patient watch. But, like so many heroin movies it falls into so many fucking cliches it tries your patience. Cliches can be fine, but the cliched heroin movie is masochistic viewing. It encourages you to feel bad for assholes. Selby's characters in his book are much more likeable - much more real - than the repugnant characters played by Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly in the movie. Just as the main kid in Eddie Little's ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE is a hell of a lot more annoying in the movie.

But let's get the easy stuff out of the way first before looking at drug movies. Even more so than PI, Aronofsky really assaults the viewer in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. We have split screen, sped-up shots, slowed down shots, blurry shots, silly little repeating montages (the drug prep/popping ones irritate the most), wonky camera, shaky camera, and that low angle camera strapped to someone's stomach that made the end of PI cause travel sickness. All detract from the characters on screen, and make the movie feel longer than it is.

Ellen Burstyn - as the mother - in easily the most likable thing in the movie. She - at least - is an addict to feel less isolated and unwanted. But as the movie goes on Aronofsky ramps up the visuals to such a speed they become an irritant, and that translates to her character. Don't take a pill, don't take a pill... oh, shit, here's that damn shot of a pill going in a mouth again. And again.

So what's wrong with drug movies in general? Style. Prettiness. The drug taker is invariably good looking. Often from rich roots too. Connelly's character Marion has rich parents and mooches off another rich guy, at one stage selling a night of sex for a couple of grand. Jared Leto's Harry looks like he's straight from an alternative rock band and - oops - he is. He's another mooch, this time off poor Ellen Burstyn. This isn't attacking either Leto or Connelly as actors, it's the fact these types are always cast in heroin movies. The drug taker is always initially romanticised in the worst way. They're not insightful or different, they're in pretty love seeing pretty swirls with pretty drugs.

Selby's got a couple of hundred pages and also doesn't need to sell to a mass audience. The shorthand of movies makes it harder to establish characters, presenting us with good looking characters in the hope of making them instantly appealing. Instead they just feel less human. From Marion's and Harry's perfect teeth, to their fashion consciousness (she's a designer), to their wide-eyed stupidity. They are characters you would like to inject with real pain, just to knock down a little of their smugness.

Of course, they degenerate a little over the course of the movie. Harry gets an infected boo-boo on his arm from too many drugs, and both he and Marion get rings under their eyes. But they still brush their teeth and look damn good, even when Marion is subjected to the dreaded double-dong.

You could excuse Aronofsky in that the druggie character isn't an easy one to even write well. Heroin users need a stack of cash and you've got to explain that in some way. So they'll either be rich, a constant criminal or sell their bodies to the highest bidder. It's reasonably easy to generate sympathy for the last stereotype, since the character is getting fucked in more ways than one. But in the other two cases the drug character is the selfish "fuckee."

The other trope is for non-drug users to be complete bastards. These bastards victimise those poor criminals and/or rich, great-looking people. I felt more than a shred of sympathy for the guy Marion sells her body to. In three minutes he's bald, ugly, boring, eats like a pig, is clearly bad at sex, and seems like he can't live without Marion patronising him even if it costs a couple of grand. That guy should pause the film, turn to camera and scream for at least a two-dimensional character.

I've advocated a lot of drunk movies on here before. So what's different about them? It's that the drunk usually isn't good looking. He's shambling, poor, usually grubbing around in a shitty job to feed his (at least low-costing) habit. They're low-level philosophers rather than criminals. They rarely mooch or attack... they watch. And, before you say it, LEAVING LAS VEGAS is merely a trashy Hollywood heroin movie with booze and a teeny bit more heart.

Well, there you go. Give REQUIEM FOR A DREAM another shot and see if you can see where I'm coming from. Or just read the next damn review instead.

Review by Steve Hussy