Sunday, 18 January 2009
When art ceases to be mystery to the art-lover and whispers into his ear all that it encompasses in itself, a rare joy fills the lover's being: that of subtle realisation. And this is where Ikiru triumphs: it connects with the sensitive viewer in such an intimate way, that he cannot be but moved by the experience. Ikiru is gentle and soothing, and though it has both dramatic irony and biting satire, it never speaks too loudly for itself. It keeps coming back again and again like a dirge floating around in the stillness of the silent night-- slow, haunting and curiously, both melancholic and uplifting. This is a film, as Ruskin Bond puts it in his own simple way (about his own writing), for the gentle and quiet man. A movie that transcends the barriers of time and remains relevant no matter which age and world we live in. This is after all about the greatest purpose of life itself: living!
As the film begins we are introduced to our protagonist, Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura), the Section Chief of Public Affairs in the municipality of some modern Japanese town. Crushed and buried by bureaucratic red-tapism, Watanabe is, like his colleagues, busy with doing nothing-- leading a meaningless, purposeless dead life with only the flimsy pretext of being an important and busy man. Something a young subordinate of Watanabe, Toyo (Miki Odagiri), sums up in a little joke about a city official who can't go on vacation not because he has some work, but because he has to keep up with such a pretension! When a group of women from the town come to the Public Affairs department with a request to have a mosquito-infested cesspool filled up, Watanabe promptly redirects the group to the Engineering Section, which again redirects the citizens to some other department concerned with Childhood Welfare and so on and so forth, until they all come back to the same Section of Public Affairs, furious with the lack of co-operation and responsibility. But Watanabe is now gone for his appointment to the doctor, and the women have little choice but to lodge a petition forwarding their request for official sanction. A petition that predictably ends up in the massive backlog of work that will have to grind it's way through the complex and frustrating machinery of bureacracy.
At the hospital, Watanabe finds himself waiting with a rather garrulous man who, in the course of conversation, starts talking about stomach cancer: it's symptoms, and how the doctors avoid a confrontation with petrified patients having the disease with a roundabout talk of mild ulcer that will heal itself with time, and needs neither medicine nor surgery. Watanabe's face grows pale as he realises with alarm that he has exactly the same symptoms as has been described by the man, and he somehow clutches onto a faint hope that the doctors won't pass the verdict that he dreads most now: mild ulcer. But as luck would have it, they do. As the inevitability of an impending end dawns on Watanabe, it is not death that terrifies him most. It is his conscience suddenly seeing everything clearly now-- that for the past thirty years, he has not done a single thing worth the name. That night, as the old man sits in a dark corner of the living room, he learns a second bitter truth-- that the son, Mitsuo (Nobuo Kaneko), for whom he'd sacrified every thing that he once loved does not care for him anymore. Nothing beyond the inheritance that he will receive. Lost in painful nostalgia, Watanabe still struggles to find a single purpose that would redeem the days he has on his hand from the crippling, bustling inactivity of the last thirty years. And what answers him back is a deafening silence that shatters his already tattered heart. The two certificates of merit for outstanding civil service hanging on the wall seem to mock him. Watanabe has one thing on his mind now: find a purpose that can erase out all the painful memories out of his heart.
He draws a sum of 50,000 yen from the bank and taking an un-notified leave from the office, finds shelter for the night in a drinking den. Where he sorrowfully narrates his story to the owner, a young samaritan who pretends to understand what the old man exactly needs at the moment and offers to help him out. A tumultous night follows with games at the casino, a visit to a brothel, a striptease club and a night-time haunt for couples-- but nothing can console the aggrieved Watanabe. For his desire is not to waste away his days in hedonistic pleasure but to leave some indelible mark somewhere that won't be washed away sooner than he has gone. The train of thought suddenly brings back a song to his mind-- a song he had often heard as a young man, and one which sums up his feelings at the moment better than mere words can: Gondola No Uta (Life is Brief). As his broken monotonous voice picks up the melancholic strains of the song to the accompaniment of a piano, people wonder at the depths from which the syllables rise to Watanabe's lips. The jovial and merry atmosphere is suddenly permeated by a voice that seemingly reads a prophecy-- one that shall befall all one day. A truth that renders everything transparent.
The next day as Watanabe walks his way home, he meets the cheerful and jolly subordinate at office who had read a joke aloud the day when the women of the town had come complaining about the cesspool. This young woman, Toyo, asks if Watanabe can come to the office for a day-- she has a resignation letter on which his sanction is required for her to leave the job. Toyo tells him how the atmosphere at work suffocates her, and how it pains her to think that she can't actually do something that will make her of some use to the society. Watanabe asks her to come home with him, where he has his seal. On the way back, both the companions suddenly realise a thing or two. Toyo learns how her Section Chief is not the man she had imagined him to be-- that inspite of his cloak of the ordinary bureaucrat, he still possesses a conscience, a heart and a will to live. A will that had been rendered almost dead by years of crippling inactivity and pretentious busy-ness. Watanabe, for the first time, notices the person he'd been searching for, one who will guide him to the purpose -- the sheer vivacity and spontaneity the young girl warms his old, creaking heart and makes him wonder if the company of this charming girl is his holy grail. Watanabe's son and daughter-in-law smell something fishy about their father coming home after a night out, with this girl-- they quite easily assume that she is his mistress, not thinking for a while that he had been alone since that day in his prime when his wife died and yet not succumbed to any desire for once. Toyo's company teaches Watanabe a lot of things-- that it does no one any harm to smile once too often, that poverty cannot dampen the zest to live, and how Toyo readily prefers a laborious job in a toy factory to the dreary paperwork of the civil services without much hesitation, only because she knows what truly gives her joy: she knows she's silently playing with every child in Japan with each toy she makes. Yet another of her small jokes hits the proverbial nail exactly on it's head-- while talking of the nicknames she has assigned to each of her former colleagues at work, he comes to know from her about his own - The Mummy - and it brings to him a strange cocktail of emotions. He is relieved that someone actually sees him for what he is, and a bit flustered because it deepens his own conviction about the fruitlessness of the last thirty years.
But Watanabe can only see Toyo's fruits of happiness-- he still doesn't understand how and why. Toyo, on the other hand, is a bit alarmed by her former Section Chief's strange curiosity and interest in her company-- even she begins to have doubts about his intentions. So she tells him that she's had enough, and maybe it isn't right for them to continue meeting; agreeing to a last rendezvous only after some cajoling. This scene of the two-- Watanabe and Toyo-- sitting in a restaurant brims with a certain lack of comfort. Toyo misconstrues her former boss' advances, and starts feeling queasy, and Watanabe is somehow inconsolably desperate-- he knows that if he cannot learn what will redeem his purposeless life before the rendezvous ends, he won't have any chance at dying happily. When he asks Toyo what exactly gives her such an inextinguishable will to enjoy living: she replies, not without a profound sense of confusion, that she only works and eats. This is how Watanabe sees the light-- it is in selfless work that he has to find the true meaning of his existence. At that precise instant, almost instinctively, he knows that Toyo has taught him all that he needed to know! He does not need her company any more, and in a fit of wakeful realisation, he leaves in haste. Only to further the confusion of the young girl even more-- she can't figure out what was it in her that attracted an old man like Watanabe, wondering about the nature of this short-lived relationship. Kurosawa's use of a background in the last shots of this scene is remarkable-- there is a birthday party in progress during the fateful last seconds of the meeting, and just when Watanabe finds his key to happiness, the merry notes of Happy Birthday to You rise in crescendo, as if in perfect tune with the exaltation in his mind at having discovered what he'd been searching for.
Back at work after two weeks of leave, Watanabe knows what he must do: he takes it upon himself to ensure that the work of filling the cesspool is seen through to execution. For that he crosses the barriers that his official role demands of him, and at last, a park is erected at the place. Which also marks the passing away of the old man. The last third of Ikiru takes place at the funeral ceremony of Watanabe. Which, in my humble opinion, is what elevates the extraordinary film to the annals of artistic immortality. The Deputy Mayor, in his characteristically snobbish way, declares that the wave of admiration and gratitude received by the deceased soul for his role in the building of the park is a bit too undeserved-- sure he had taken the initiative, but had it not been for him and scores of such other departmental chiefs and head-honchos, the project would still be languishing incomplete. The top-tier officials however leave shortly, perhaps citing another of those thousand reasons that present an apparent sense of being busy. The discussion among Watanabe's colleagues and bereaved family now turns to whether he knew of his ailment. They recall how he had suddenly turned from another slouch at the office to a passionate advocate of a cause-- pushing his proposal through the right quarters with much deliberation and humility. Even when he openly defied the Deputy Mayor's suggestion of abandoning his project, his tone was no more than a whisper-- simultaneously reflecting a tone of plea and purpose. His colleagues decide that he must have known his disease-- for he had often been wont to mumbling to himself that he did not have much time left at hand. A policeman, who was on guard in the newly erected park on the night of Watanabe's death, comes in to pay his respects to the now much-revered man at his funeral. He recalls how he had seen the old man happily swinging in the park singing Gondola No Uta in a voice choking with emotion. But he - the policeman - mistook him for a drunkard and left him freezing in the snow; an act that he now regrets-- perhaps that lack of action on his part caused Watanabe's death earlier than it may have been. Watanabe's colleagues, most of them drunk beyond their senses, wonder if they would have lived their last days like him had they been in a similar situation, and all but one fool themselves saying they would, surely so! Mitsuo, the son, is ridden with guilt when he realises how insensitive he had been to his father, and how kind Watanabe had been: leaving all his money back, inspite of having heard Mitsuo and his wife's conversation about the inheritance some months back. As the drunken colleagues collectively pledge to live henceforth like their late Section Chief, the lone man who abstained from the false assumptions his colleagues had made about their own possible behaviours in a circumstance similar to Watanabe's silently bows before the old man's portrait, tears brimming in his eyes.
The final irony: next day at office, and another petition flows in. The new Section Chief of Public Affairs promptly directs it, as before, to another Section Chief. And none but that lone man stands up in a protest, which predictably gets lost in the strangling ocean of red-tapism yet again. That evening as the man returns home from his work, he passes the new park. As a child on a swing leaves his seat to answer his mother's call, we, the viewers, are treated to one of the most beautifully evocative scenes throughout the movie. It is as if Watanabe's soul is still in the park, swinging there, singing his favourite Gondola No Uta. The swaying swing, the pendulum of time, records the immortality of Watanabe's life and deeds...
Kurosawa's touches in the film are masterful-- in the camera lingering over a small detail that one could have escaped noticing, and yet how that same trifle of a detail enriches the intensity and meaning of a frame manifold. It is as if he had chosen time itself as a narrator-- the sequence of Watanabe reminscing about his past are etched in pain: the pain of realisation of a wasted life. And no praise for Kurosawa is complete without the mention of his employment of irony-- that most hallowed of things that any artist wants to achieve. Shimura's acting is splendid-- his face is crisscrossed with the folds of emotions that kindle in his bosom, like paint on a canvas. Not without reason did Kurosawa work with him again and again. Miki as Toyo is delightful-- a treat for the viewer in her radiating enthusiasm and joy.
For it's timeless relevance and it's excellent use of imagery, this is a film that I'll love to see again and again. There have been several films that used the same theme (The Bucket List and Dasvidaniya I instantly recall), but none have been as subtle as Ikiru.
P.S.-- Three movie reviews in a row. Perhaps, I should write about some other topic now. :)
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Given all the hype surrounding the overseas release of Danny Boyle's film, I was left wondering when I would get my hands on it. Yesterday I did. So, yeah, what is my verdict?
I wasn't expecting this, at least not in this way. Even though I'd heard the story (like I said in the last post, it matters not if one knows the plot beforehand-- good films still remain essentially good). Not this.
No spoilers this time. None at all.
A few random thoughts that crossed my mind: first, this is a film that was aimed at the awards right from the starting frame (and seeing the Golden Globes, seems the arrow's hit the bull's eye). No two ways about that! But wait, so was Forrest Gump, and I love that one so! Yes, I am very happy for Rahman-- but honestly speaking, this is not his best. Let me, therefore assume, that this is what Rahman should have had long before-- for all his scores that bettered Slumdog Millionaire's and didn't get recognised widely. Mind you, I'm not saying this is bad: nice and all, just not the Rahman I've loved for so long. Two, if you pay attention to details, logical ones especially, then perhaps you won't like this movie at all. Right from the start there are obvious gaping flaws in logic: no television audience jeers a poor call-centre assistant on a game-show (and especially one as widely followed and discussed as Kaun Banega Crorepati, or maybe if you prefer this, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?) just because of his profession. Moreover, no television anchor, if he ain't insane, talks that condescendingly to a contestant on air, as low as his social or economic background may be-- this is national TV, mister, and one is under the constant gaze of both the junta ki adalat and the ever-on-the-lookout-for-some-spicy-story media. Flaw number one. And then, how do slum-urchins suddenly learn such fancy English (granted that Jamal, the protagonist, works in a call center: so what! And aye, English with a proper Amrican accent; take that!)? Flaw number two. Like I said, this is a film aimed at the awards. After all, we can guess that the awards jury prefers films that they can easily comprehend-- so bye-bye subtitles, as far as possible (the portions where they are present, though, are unique in a little detail-- we'll come to that later). Flaw number three: a bit too much of co-incidences, but that I guess is one of the best things about the movie. And finally, the biggest flaw: it is not quite clear how or why Prem, the anchor, deduces that Jamal is a cheat and betrays him to the police. Enough about flaws, now (though there are still a bit too many that can be named).
The good thing: Boyle's treatment of a disarmingly honest script that adheres not to reality, nor pretends to. If you are a wide-eyed fan of Amitabh Bachchan flicks of yore; yes, when he was the 'angry, young man' going through bad times, getting his ration of dishoom-dishoom, punishing the baddies for all the pains they'd inflicted on him in an adrenaline-pumping climax, and bagging his heroine at the end of the film (each one screaming HAPPY ENDING in your face)-- this is what you'd been waiting for, for long! Oh wait, the Big B does actually appear in the film, and what a delightfully repulsive scene that is. (In case you're wondering about the oxymoron, go watch!) Did I say something about subtitles before? Yes, maybe a minor detailing, but the whole load of enthusiasm and energy oozing out of every frame in the movie leaves it's indelible mark on the sub-titling too: they pop up in lively bubbles as the characters speak, instead of staying far away from all the action down under. The camerawork is fascinating and fresh-- remember Dil Chahta Hai?-- and does justice to the repelling yet adventurous tumult of the Mumbai slum-world. If Aamir used exactly the same setting to depict a dark, brooding atmosphere holding God-knows-what terrible secrets in it's womb, Slumdog Millionaire romanticises the will to live, even inspite of all the filth and sickening poverty. Not bad, that!
Which brings me to the final and most important bone of contention regarding this film: an issue that has been addressed in some blogs and internet forums I happen to frequent. The portrayal of India. Given the kind of skewed idea of India that some westerners still donning their imperial sunglasses have-- that of snake charmers, fakirs and derelict maharajas living lavishly as their subjects rot away (a bit of an exaggeration on my part here, perhaps)-- was it apt to portray that part of Indian society which is among the most deprived in such vivid detail? Isn't it going to strengthen the flimsy picture of our country that firangi-s have? Well, yes and no. Also, why choose a call centre, of all things, as the workplace of Jamal, our protagonist? Isn't that another stereotype? Deja vu: yes, and no. Yes, because it is largely true that India has both a booming call-centre/BPO culture, and one of the largest, if not THE largest, population of desperately poor people in the world. The problem is that it does not give the complete portrait away; and therefore inspite of being largely applicable to our society, it is not exact in it's statement of truth: hence, no. The danger of India getting cornered and stereotyped in the eyes of the western world remains: but that is a risk not quite as bad as the truth itself. So, even though I agree with both parties in the debate (and realise the ramifications of such stupid stereotyping), I refuse to join either.
So, your final question, I suppose. Did I like it? Should you go watch it? A resounding yes to both. This is NOT the best film of the year. Far from it, and far from intellectually rousing territory. This is NOT flawless cinema, nor is it revolutionary. What this IS then: a strangely uplifting tale of hope, fate, love and conscience (Salim's murder scene is brilliant, and that I must single out for praise). Go watch it. Your rationale will possibly discard it, your heart won't. This is, as a recent Hindi movie name suggests, a marriage that God decreed-- a union of the heart of 70's Bollywood (sans the cheese) with the technique and elan of Hollywood. So gobble it up! And take your pick. You either love it, or you don't. As for me, I do.
Thursday, 8 January 2009
When Darren Aronofsky started out with his second film project (his first was π), he already had garnered a cult following. It suffices to say that by the time this second film was out, there was already a buzz in avid-film-follower circles. Requiem For A Dream (henceforth shortened to RFAD) just served to intensify it.
For long, I'd been thinking about writing a film review without plot spoilers. I have experimented with that form of reviewing, as such (though not on this blog), but it occurs to me now that revealing the story does nothing to spoil the cinematic experience-- good stories necessarily do not make good films, and anyway, films that cut the mark are much more than an enactment of a superb screenplay. Cinema is (and not 'has') a language of it's own: the charm and enjoyment is in reading the story in the film's own language through the individual's eyes. A second reason for me to stick to my old habit of revealing the story is that I have found out that no review is complete (of course, according to me) without my thoughts on why certain things happened the way they did in the film. Which necessitates revealing the story-- it's odd for me to pick out a random scene from the film and ponder about it's ramifications and importance, without knowing what preceded it! I am a person who judges any matter at hand subjectively. Objective, rigid or technical finesse is not my forte, and that I frankly concede. Which, in fact, is what differentiates me from the professional movie reviewer-- he usually confines his analysis to an objective plane; I, on the other hand, take things a bit too personally (which, practically, is impossible for the pro) to be objective. To cut it short: the spoiler-free reviews I wrote looked like a mere amalgamation of adjectives to me, with personal observations that cared not to mention what induced them. Hence, for my purposes (which is in encouraging some reader to look out for a good movie), meaningless.
Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Bursytn) is an old lady living alone in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, USA. She usually spends her time gorging on delicacies that she can't resist having, and watching infomercials on televisions. Her husband, Seymour, has deceased; and her son, Harry (Jared Leto) prefers to live alone with his friend Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans). Whenever Harry comes visiting, there is usually an altercation between mother and son, and even though Sara acknowledges that her son has behavioural issues, she dismisses an old acquaintance's advice of taking help from the police to sort matters out since she thinks that Harry's just a normal young boy with his share of problems, and moreover, he's her only child. Things get bright and sunny for her one day in summer when she receives a call from a television channel that she's been shortlisted to appear for a game-show/infomercial JUICE (Join Us In Creating Excellence), the same one she religiously follows. The television addict that she is, Sara is delighted to hear the news and starts building proverbial castles in the air. She decides that she will wear the red dress from the proudest and most memorable moment in her life, Harry's graduation, on the big day. The problem however is that she is just too fat to fit into it! A friendly neighbour suggests taking the easy way out of overweight, a strict diet chart. Sara warms up to the idea though the prospect of kicking her favourite high-calorie delicacies dismays her. After only half-a-day of following the chart, she falters on her newly adopted resolution; all the same, she consoles herself with the notion that she is "thinking thin", which it seems, is the most important step in losing weight. The delicacies however refuse to leave haunting her, and she finally decides that it is too difficult for her to suddenly give her age-old ways the kick. But there must be some way out! It's the doctor. Sara is given a dose of amphetamine pills she must take thrice a day and a sedative at night. So now, she can continue gorging on her food, while still losing her pounds. All well, indeed, only until the pills begin to get the better of her...
Harry's frequent altercations with his mother are not altogether unfounded. Harry, Tyrone and Harry's girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Conelly), are all heroin-addicts. Marion is a budding fashion designer who dreams of two things: one, marrying Harry, and two, setting up a designer store. The problem being that no one has enough money for the dreams to be realised. But enough money for their new plan: the trio decide that they'll enter the drug business, and with the money profited, make it big. Tyrone often thinks of his caring and benevolent mother, and decides that he'll leave the trade once he has made enough to make his mother proud. The money keeps rolling in. Everything looks all fine and sunny for the three young friends. Harry, however, feels a nagging guilt somewhere that he must make up for all the bitterness and negligence that he has shown for so long to his mother. And so, he wants to a buy her a new present. The question is what. The answer, ironically enough, is the thing what has cocooned Sara from all sense of reality: a television. When Harry visits her, Sara is all ecstatic and happy, especially so after she comes to know that Harry has a successful business at last and a girl he wants to marry. In the course of the conversation, Sara reveals that she has been taking amphetamine pills for weight loss. Harry forbids her to continue taking them, saying that those will drive her mad and finally take her life away. Sara brushes away the suggestions saying she has found a new reason to live after receiving the call from the TV channel, and how that has driven away the emptiness of staying cooped up in a big old house with no one but herself to care for. Sara assures Harry that things will all get better now. When Harry tells her about the present, Sara breaks down into tears thinking how her son has finally become caring, knowing quite well deep within that she is fooling herself with the idea-- no gift can compensate for years of uncordial relations; not that easily! The realisation is not missed by Harry too-- and so he promises his mother that he'll come along from time to time, and perhaps bring Marion over for a meal sometime, though he's far from confident that he can keep his promise. Mother and son part for the moment in a semblance of mutual goodwill, though they can both sense the wall that still separates them. It hangs over the scene like a silent and invisible, but almost tangible, barrier.
Come fall, things suddenly start going awry. Tyrone is arrested in a drug bust-up by the police, and Harry has to spend a huge chunk of their cash reserve in bailing him out. Because there have been similar raids in the whole city, getting drugs on the street has become nearly impossible for the trio. Moreover, the cash reserve is all but empty, therefore making things doubly difficult. Tyrone, however hears a rumour that there is going to be a covert drug sale in the rear of a supermarket sometime soon. To have enough money for getting things started over again, Harry swallows his conscience and asks Marion to sleep with her therapist in exchange for money, just for once. Marion unwillingly agrees, accepting it as an sacrifice that must be had to fuel their dreams. This incident, however, marks the onset of a growing rift between the couple. Harry cannot suppress his guilt, and therefore becomes cold and distant. Marion, inspite of loving Harry, cannot forgive him for asking her to do such a thing. With the money she has earned so, Harry and Tyrone go to the rumoured spot on the day, only to find out that they have been fooled-- the suppliers have got away both with the money and the drugs.
Back in her Brighton Beach apartment, Sara is going desperate: the TV channel has not called her again, something that they had promised to do to keep her informed. The desperation coupled with the emptiness and loneliness drives her to take resort in the pills that give her a temporary boost. She visits the doctor, but he does nothing to help her growing addiction. Sara's detachment from reality and her hallucinations keep on mounting to a point when they become her worst fears. Her nervous system is affected and desperately, she starts for the office of the television channel. Realising that she is not in a stable state of mind, the people at the office arrange for Sara to be admitted to a mental asylum.
Harry and Tyrone decide to relocate to Florida where they plan to start things over. They leave Marion behind. To fend for herself, Marion now starts sleeping with people.
It's winter. On the way to Florida, Harry's arm starts wasting away due to repeated heroin injections, till it pains obnoxiously. The two friends visit a hospital, where the doctor calls the police realising that it is a case of severe drug addiction. The police have Harry hospitalized, and Tyrone is forced into a labour camp where he must fight addiction alone. Harry calls Marion one last time promising her that he'll come back soon, and apologising for all the mistakes he has committed: still knowing that he won't be able to keep his own promise. His arm has become such badly affected that it has to be amputated. Sara meanwhile fails to respond to routine psychiatric therapies and she is therefore left to face the last resort of the doctors: electroshock! Marion, on the other hand, continues degrading herself for money in sexual orgies. As a realisation of their ghastly delusions and broken dreams dawn upon them, each person draws back into a fetal position. A dream that recurred to Harry earlier-- Marion waiting in an empty pier-- comes back to him. But this time, she isn't there. Harry has hit a vast cavernous darkness. In her dream, Sara sees herself winning the game-show on television. Harry, a successful businessman married to Marion, is reconciled with his mother. As the two embrace, the crowd cheers on.
Inspite of having a linearly constructed plot, RFAD is a success because it hits the viewer in the right place-- it is bleak, oppressing and relentless in it's portrayal of addiction. It succeeds because it does not allow the viewer a chance to deviate his attention to anything but the subject-- one has the feeling of being bombarded on all sides with a torrent of questions. Suddenly one begins to question one's own dreams-- question if they are dreams, after all, or just comforting delusions that hurt very badly when they fall apart. One begins to question what exactly is an addiction: Aronofsky's portrayal does not concern itself only with drugs, you see. Food and television or even an obsession with a wish, things we hardly ever consider fatally harmful suddenly start taking dark and bleak shades. RFAD traps the user in a claustrophobically small cubicle of very disturbing thoughts and makes him face demons he'd rather avoid. It's the overall uneasiness (as somebody I know described the movie: "It's moving, and when I say moving, I mean the twitching, schizoid kind of movement") that contributes to the film's triumph. For something dark and brooding, things rarely do get better. In a way, this is the cinematic equivalent of, say, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty Four; so there you get an idea of the exact kind of emotions that go on in one's head after the film has ended. The similarity does not, however, end here. Both are divided into three parts, and both concern themselves with an idea that slowly builds up over time and gives a temporary sense of well-being, until it is brutally shattered and destroyed.
Now on to some technical aspects: the movie wouldn't be so admirable had it not been for the treatment it received. The camerawork and cinematography is top-notch, as is the editing. Instead of shooting protracted scenes, the film is shot in extremely short phases, and constructed by juxtaposing such extremely small montages one after the other. The use of time-lapse photography is also frequent. These heighten the growing uneasiness and tension and offers the viewer a chance to judge the slow change in the psychological state of the characters in a comparatively small bracket of realtime. The implementation of split-scenes and the ingenious idea of shooting from either too close, or too far, sketches the characters as individuals alienated from society and reality, while presenting the viewer a chance to simultaneously observe two characters or situations. Also, rare is the film that uses the background score so efficiently, and keep in mind that this is no thriller. Clint Mansell's score is chilling and haunting-- it deepens the intensity of the film manifold. In fact, so good is it, that Aronofsky often uses it even while the characters are speaking. As the final down-spiral during winter is portrayed, the score reaches a hysterical crescendo. Too good! Never since Ennio Morricone's composition for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly has any composer come up with such a remarkable score (not in my eyes). The acting is, surely, good; but the actors don't make the film this commendable (though Burstyn deserves special mention). At the hands of another director and the same set of actors, it would have been just another film with a good intention. The kudos must therefore go to Aronofsky (even in his choice of the composer: in fact, Mansell's career in the film industry was launched with Aronofsky's first). Another thing that I must mention: the use of the infomercial JUICE as a plot-device with much effect. Sara has a sense of apparent well-being when she pictures herself standing on the stage wearing her fine red dress and the crowd cheering her on. The same crowd, however, turns to her worst fears when the hallucinations become nightmarish: the laughing and jeering make her paranoid. Kind of reminiscent of Two Minutes Hate in its depiction of hysteria/paranoia induced by a crowd that thinks and acts alike, which was a plot-device in Nineteen Eighty Four.
Requiem For A Dream is a film that is a bit hard to stomach for some, but one that gets its message across in a perfect way (if such a thing as perfection can indeed be achieved). So watch it!