Once in recovery, junkies and drunkards come to be happy with the simple notion of being alive and able to participate in the day-to-day. Taking life on life's terms. There is much gratitude at having a daily reprieve from drugs and alcohol. You really need to hear the stories of those who hit very low bottoms to appreciate the miracle of being clean and sober and functioning. It's all very humbling.
Films have a rather mixed record at dealing with most any topic you can name and addiction is no exception. It's easy enough to find a ham actor to play a drunk. These performances can be quite humorous or overly broad and silly. But the film drunk is usually just a highly amusing stage prop. If they are true abusers of booze, it's seldom dealt with. A lot of shaking, vomiting, self recrimination, overwhelming guilt and blistering headaches are not exactly cinematic. Let's just stick to slurring words and stumbling about.
More than ten years after its release I finally saw Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000). Oh my....
It was my admiration for Aronofsky's film Black Swan (2010) that finally quit me hemming and hawing (what on Earth was the delay all about?). It made a very slow climb up my Netflix queue these past few months until finally arriving this week. As much as I appreciated Black Swan (and I did, a lot), Requiem makes it look like student film. Which is only to say that I found Requiem to be a positively brilliant film. (I did not hesitate a millisecond in using the "b" word to describe it.)
It reminds me a little bit of Half Nelson (2006) in its depiction of drug use, only cranked up 1000 more degrees. Full throttle.
I was in the wonderful position before viewing of knowing next to nothing about Requiem aside from the following: Ellen Burstyn was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in it, it dealt with drug use and it was considered by most folks to be depressing. About that last point...I can find nothing depressing about a work of art that so elevates our understanding of the human experience, least of all when its style is so unique and utterly compelling.
Movies can turn a mirror on the world, reflecting people, times places. Most admirable. But movies can also bring you along for the ride, inviting you to join an experience. No, there's no physical pain, but you feel less a distant observer and more a passenger. With Requiem I felt like I was sitting right on the driver's lap.
Requiem focuses on a widow (Burnstyn) her junkie son (Jared Leto, a sort of Anglo version of Gael Garcia Bernal), his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) and his buddy (Marlon Wayans). It's not surprising that the three young folks are heroin addicts, but during the course of the film, Mom also develops a powerful addiction. In her case to prescription drugs. It's no use trying to summarize the plot. If you've seen Requiem you know it and if you haven't seen it, you don't need to. I didn't. In any event this is not a film in which plot points are crucial. Life isn't about plot points either. This film, like life, is about the journey and how to describe it. Aronofsky may not use every trick in the director or cinemaphotographer's book, but there's not many left. All the gadgetry in the world is useless unless done in service of the story telling. It's so easy for slow motion or special effects to be a distraction. Depicting drug abuse practically cries out for grumbling refrigerators, walls collapsing and quick montage cuts. All this is to say Aronofsky got it right.
I was wonderfully, happily uncomfortable at times. Reminded of that ugly desperation, that orgasmic relief and the emptiness of a life based on altered consciousness. I writhed and squirmed and wondered at it all. How some of us do these things to ourselves and a few of us even live to tell the tale. But also how that story can be told in such a bravura style.
Life is utterly fascinating if you give it half a chance. It's full of characters and events that defy description, yet we have the best damn time describing and imagining them. Nothing we make up is as truly astounding as what we actually do. From the soaring heights of human invention to the plummeting pratfalls of our buffoonery. Our intellects are capable of creating machines through which we can instantly communicate with the other side of the world. We can also conjure an endless variety of methods by which to murder and torture one another. We are capable of the deepest love and the vilest hate. We have God within us.
Through art we can understand, illuminate and entertain. It is all a wonder. The best of art, such as in a few films, can get us thinking about all of this. Examining our own existence and pondering the previously imponderable. By God, look what kind of mad mind trip Requiem for a Dream has sent me on.
I choose to live within the confines of the serenity prayer and hope that God will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Here is a film that reminded me of the primacy of this dictum.
What a movie. What a world. Grace, amazing as it is, be on to you my dear reader.