At worst, Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem (2000) can be written off as a cautionary tale: A nightmarish film about the lives of four individuals when their lives spin out of control. It could be called a horror movie, the unseen villain being addiction and its consequent consuming mental illness and physical destruction. At its best, Requiem is a gem, a genuine cinematic masterpiece.
Set in the disheartened scene of Coney Island, Brooklyn, we meet the four characters whose lives and downward spirals comprise the film. Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a widow from Brighton Beach, coping with loss and immersing herself in a self-comprised obsession with an infomercial-type TV game show, popping doctor-prescribed speed to lose weight to fit into “that red dress” because she believes she is going to be on TV. Her son, Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), is a generally well-meaning but heroin-addicted young man with a beautiful girlfriend in Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and an addiction to shooting heroin and a best friend and drug hook-up in Tyrone (Marlon Wayons). Requiem’s crux is the careening downward spiral of all the characters as their inner demons consume them at varying speeds.
Realistically, however…one would have to question whether “real” people would ever find themselves in these worst-case scenarios. For instance, what [reputable and legally practicing] doctor would prescribe speed, or administer archaic and extreme ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) to such a patient as Sara Goldfarb? When we see a beautiful woman like Marion stooping to shameful lows for money, and Harry eventually succumbing to decay and infection (unintentionally whistle-blowing his best friend) it’s easy to wonder if it could ever truly be that bad. The answer is yes–in Requiem, the destruction is masochistic, demoralizing and gut-wrenching. The situations are possible, and therefore ultimately packaged as believable, at least for the sake of authenticity.
Requiem is not a pretty movie or a glamorized one. It’s blistering, disturbing and hideous at times. The only soft moments are of the love story between Harry and Marion, and the most leaden…well, the ending. No one would want it to end up that way, but hey, that’s life: At times it becomes irreparably tragic.