In the past month, I have watched a healthy number of horror films to get into the Halloween spirit. Even with films such as Shivers and The Deeper You Dig under my belt, nothing has horrified me quite as much as revisiting Requiem for a Dream. The sophomore effort from divisive auteur Darren Aronofsky takes you on an unsettling trip through addiction in its various forms. The film is notorious for being one of those films you want to see once and never again due to how utterly depressing it is, but that assessment does not seem entirely fair. While you should obviously do whatever is best for your own mental health, Requiem for a Dream is a film that is more than worthy of revisiting time and time again. The film was not a runaway success at the box office upon its initial release, but it had healthy critical support that has only expanded its audience in the intervening years. To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the film, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has given the film the 4K UHD treatment that you did not know you wanted until you saw the words next to one another.
Requiem for a Dream is a film filled with desperate characters. The most obvious of these is the heroin-addicted Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), who has the confidence that he can make a better life for himself and his friend in that delusional way that addicts tend to. Our introduction to Harry tells us everything we need to know, as he steals his mother’s television set for what must be north of the twentieth time to pawn away for some extra cash. Harry and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) have plans to traffic heroin and make a better life for themselves and Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly), but addiction is rough and will weaken your resolve quicker than you can think. Hinging your future on the drug business is already a risky endeavor, but doing so as a junkie is bound for failure. Aronofsky has a distinct way of depicting drug addiction that stands apart from most of the other films of this subgenre. The experience is more visceral than most action films these days, as he forgoes showing them shooting up, save for one necessary skin-crawling scene, in favor of a hyperactive quick cut that tells you everything you need to know. The story focuses on the characters and not the act of taking drugs, which makes the downward spiral so much harder to stomach.
Addiction to drugs is the obvious focal point of the film, but Aronofsky is not content to just show this single-minded view of addiction. Harry may be throwing his life away on drugs, but his mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn) embarks on a seemingly more benign path that spirals out of control in a way that punches you right in the gut. When Sara receives a call that she has been invited to participate on her favorite game show at some point in the future, her delusions of grandeur kick into overdrive. Sara has spent her life as a slave to television and all of the pretext of perfection that it presents. Sara wants to be able to fit into the red dress that her late husband loved when she appears on the show, which causes her to seek out a crash course diet from a less-than-reputable doctor. Sara becomes addicted to the amphetamines she is prescribed and gradually starts losing herself to paranoia and psychosis the more she circles the drain. Heroin may be the flashy drug, but this is where the film really breaks your heart. Sara wants so badly to have some meaning in her life, to feel good about herself one more time. Prescriptions can ruin lives just as fast as illegal drugs, and Aronofsky explores this to perfection.
Watching characters perpetuate their downfall is no picnic, but the story unfolds in such a darkly compelling manner that you cannot look away for even a moment. A lot of this is owed to the truly outstanding performances from everyone involved. Jared Leto may have won an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, but for my money this is one of his strongest performances. Jennifer Connelly likewise subjects herself to a darkness that few actresses could pull off, and what she delivers is achingly honest. Even Marlon Wayans is doing work here that unlocks something unexpected. The true treasure of the film, though, is the legendary Ellen Burstyn. Her downward spiral into delusion and paranoia is a masterclass in acting. Darren Aronofsky knows how to coax out the best work from his performers which pays off in spades in this film. His debut Pi was a strong opening statement as a director, but Requiem for a Dream made a case for his brilliance that is hard to argue with even to this day. Drug narratives are stories that are difficult to make compelling to me personally. I have no patience for addiction, and watching people make these poor choices over and over often just leaves me incredibly frustrated instead of empathetic. This makes it all the more surprising that I am able to completely give myself over to this film and the themes at play. There is not much in the way of redemption in this film, yet I feel for these characters. With the right creative mind, you can elevate a standard story into something special. Requiem for a Dream is a film that transcends its classification as a “drug movie” and joins the ranks of great works of art.
Requiem for a Dream improves on its decent looking Blu-Ray with a gorgeous 4K UHD Blu-Ray upgrade. The fact that Aronofsky shot on film is not compromised in this presentation as the transfer has a nice amount of natural film grain throughout. This is a film that is intentionally hazy and dreamlike at varying points in the narrative. The clarity and detail present is greatly improved, exposing details previously lost due to the limitations of the format. Everything looks more natural from the skin tones to the colors of the clothing and the landscapes. The shadow gradients look so much more natural than the old Blu-Ray presentation. A great amount of depth is gained with this transfer, both in close-up and long shots. The HDR really shines when you get to the last stretch of the film with the colorful skeezy apartment ping ponging back and forth between the antiseptic hospital rooms and visions of the pier. This 4K UHD transfer brings richness to the movie that you did not know you were lacking until you see it for yourself. The disc is mostly free of compression artifacts and other digital nuisances. There is some light noise in a select few shots, but nothing too overwhelming. Overall, this is a stellar presentation from Lionsgate.
This disc comes equipped with an incredibly effective Dolby Atmos presentation that will keep you on edge. From the beginning, you can tell this is going to be a worthwhile track as the opening music cues float overhead in a really engaging manner. Sounds are appropriately rendered with precise directionality from the more kinetic scenes to the more dialogue-heavy scenes filled with drugged-out rambling. The iconic score from Clint Mansell has never sounded better as it fills up the room with its overwhelming beauty. Dialogue is presented perfectly clear without ever being overwhelmed by any of the competing sonic elements. The sound design of this film is quite intense, especially in the quick drug-shooting montage that happens multiple times throughout the film. There are elements in this track that are truly terrifying, such as the hard-hitting sound in the low end of Sara’s refrigerator mocking her. The mix here is very well done with nice engagement of all the channels, which makes for an exciting listen throughout.
- Audio Commentary #1: Director Darren Aronofsky provides a very engaging and informative track recorded in 2000 in which he discusses the mammoth battle he had making the film, the fascination he had with Hubert Selby Jr’s book, the importance of music to the film, working with the actors, why he chose to implement the split screen, why he does not find the ending to be over the top and more. Aronofsky is a fascinating individual with a lot of great insights into his film.
- Audio Commentary #2: Director of Photography Matthew Libatique gives a more technically minded track in which he discusses the composition of the shots, experiences from the set, the mixing of color temperature, his personal inspirations and more. This may feature more pauses than the first track, but what you do get is like a crash course in filmmaking.
- Ellen Burstyn on Requiem for a Dream: A 16-minute interview with the actress in which she discusses her reluctance to sign on to the film, how her previous roles helped her with the performance, what is was like to put on the makeup, her real life weight loss for the film, the best direction she ever received and more. Burstyn seems to love the film and her experience working on it.
- Transcendent Moments – The Score for Requiem for a Dream: A 17-minute featurette with composer Clint Mansell in which he discusses how he became acquainted with Aronofsky, his experience working on Pi, how he shaped the music in Requiem to say something in the story, how finding the iconic score gave him chills and more. This music is pivotal to the overall experience, and it is great spending time learning more about how it was developed.
- Revisiting Requiem for a Dream: A 13-minute featurette with author Bruce Isaacs in which he discusses the importance of the film in cinema, the themes of the film, how influential the film was in terms of cinematography and sound design, among other aspects. This is a great reflection on a film that deserves to be remembered fondly.
- On Set – 1999: A 6-minute featurette consisting of interviews from the set of the film with the cast and crew. The participants discuss Aronofsky’s previous work, the themes of the film, the challenge of inhabiting the characters and more.
- The Making of Requiem for a Dream: A 35-minute featurette which covers the entirety of the film’s production from the first day introduction to the very end. Darren Aronofsky offers some voice over commentary to provide some context to the footage you are watching. The footage is in understandably rough shape, but there is a lot of meaty stuff to dive into here.
- Deleted Scenes: Nine scenes are provided here in standard definition with optional commentary from Aronofsky. These scenes include the gang trying to resist using drugs, a scene with Tyrone talking about his mom and more. The lack of a “Play All” button here is frustrating, as some of these scenes are less than 15 seconds long.
- Memories, Dreams & Addictions – Ellen Burstyn Interviews Hubert Selby, Jr.: A 20-minute interview between Burstyn and the author of the source material in which she prompts him to discuss his journey. This is a really enlightening conversation that can be tough to hear, but is never boring.
- Theatrical Trailers: The teaser and theatrical trailers are provided here which give a great look at what to expect from the film in terms of style and content.
- TV Spots: Two television spots are provided here that feature critical acclaim over images from the film.
Requiem for a Dream is not a film for the faint of heart, but those willing to take the dark journey will be rewarded with one of the most visceral cinematic experiences of their life. There have been countless films that have tackled addiction, but few have been so skillfully handled and hit as hard as this one. Darren Aronofsky pours his heart into this film while guiding his actors to some of the best performances of their career. Lionsgate Home Entertainment celebrates the 20th Anniversary of the film with a stunning 4K UHD upgrade and some new worthwhile special features. Fans of the film are in for a real treat with this new release. Highly Recommended
Requiem for a Dream is currently available to purchase on 4K UHD Blu-Ray and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the 4K UHD Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Lionsgate Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.