Hyperactive druggies

Rating: NNAt Cannes, which is dominated by directors who believe that flash and editing are carcinogenic, Requiem For A Dream's.


Rating: NN

At Cannes, which is dominated by directors who believe that flash and editing are carcinogenic, Requiem For A Dream’s premiere didn’t make much of a splash.

Darren Aronofsky specializes in hyperactive frenzy. He likes smash cuts, makes perverse lens selections and offers characters who hurl themselves against the walls of their tiny, prison-like environments.

Working from Hubert Selby’s 1978 novel, he gives us a quartet of drug addicts: Sara (Ellen Burstyn) and her son Harry (Jared Leto), his business partner, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), and Harry’s girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly).


Controlled substance

Each has a dream destroyed by an addiction to a controlled substance.

The various creative personalities pull the film in half a dozen different directions at once. Selby is a gutter realist who believes that everything is horrible and simply gets worse, as we saw from the last movie adapted from his work, Last Exit To Brooklyn. He has a 50s sensibility, really, and his characters talk about their dreams like characters in a Clifford Odets plays.

The actors have all worked very hard to develop the utmost “realism” for their performances — Burstyn and Leto, for example, have grown South Brooklyn Jewish-American accents, and Connelly sinks non-stop into a runny-nosed junkie stupor.

Since all the actors claim to have seen Aronofsky’s first film, the Sundance sensation Pi, one wonders if all their attention to detail was intended as insurance, since they couldn’t know how their performances would look once Aronofsky was done editing.


Real punishment

Aronofsky’s sensibility is post-MTV, so busy with distortion and distraction that he makes most rock videos look as becalmed as an Angelopoulos film. I have a sneaking suspicion that in Requiem For A Dream, the real punishment for drug addiction is really horrible lighting.

At the same time, there’s a whole layer of anachronisms that jar simply because of the differences between the decades-old setting of the novel and the contemporary setting of the film. For example, there hasn’t been a heroin drought on the streets of New York for years indeed, there’s been a glut, with the result that high-quality heroin is more readily available than good marijuana. Not to mention linguistic oddities like David Keith’s dealer referring to whites as “paddies.”

One can be grateful for Aronofsky’s aesthetic, because there’s almost nothing more boring than drug addicts. People with a monomaniacal interest in a specialized subject, when happy they have large portions of their brains in chemically induced shutdown.


Odd choice

So one has to wonder why Aronofsky chose this for his second film, when his first managed to deal with almost exactly the same subject matter without bothering the audience with an object lesson on the dangers of heroin.

Max Cohen, the mathematician protagonist of Pi, acts exactly like a junkie — he’s always popping pills and injecting himself to get rid of the headaches he suffers, and he’s got a major jones for knowledge.

He’s continually under threat and getting cautionary warnings from people who can see where his craving will lead him. It’s an addiction movie recast as a movie about the dangers of the quest for knowledge, and when Max finally gets the big hit he’s looking for, the results aren’t pretty. Pi is in rotation this month on the Movie Network and is available on video, and it’s well worth seeing.

Aronofsky is without question a talented, even visionary, director who has found a way to harness an essentially experimental and anti-realist technique to the requirements of the narrative film. Warner Brothers has tagged him to revive the Batman franchise.

If Warner Brothers thought Tim Burton was “too dark” after Batman Returns, I can’t wait to see what Aronofsky will do with the Caped Crusader.

johnh@nowtoronto.com

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