In π (PI), a brilliant mathematician tests his theory that numbers can be used to represent nature and that by discovering these patterns, one can predict future occurrences. When his methods prove successful in the stock market, his skills become highly sought after, causing him to grow paranoid that his work may hold the key to unlocking something far larger than he imagined.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM tells the story of Sarah Goldfarb, a lonely widow, and her drug addict son Harry. Thinking she’s been invited to appear on a television show, Sarah sets out to recapture her former youth, which sets off a downward spiral of diet pills and delusions. Meanwhile, Harry is dealing with his own problems; namely selling drugs with his friend Tyrone and supporting his girlfriend Marion and their heroin habit. Together, the three friends try to find happiness as their collective addictions tear them apart.
It was probably around the time I was failing high school calculus that a friend told me I had to watch this awesome new movie about numbers and equations and life. Despite being half-Asian, I wasn’t a big fan of math and politely told him that I’d rather let lobsters chew on my balls.
That was a mistake on my part. You don’t need to love or understand math to enjoy Aronofsky’s 1998 debut film, a very cerebral yet engaging thriller. There are plenty of words or concepts that might go over your head, but none of them are necessary to connect with the overall story of a man who’s in over his head (and mind). Sean Gullette’s unsettling performance is enough to draw you in to a disorienting tension, which coupled with the film’s thematic mix of religion and science, makes for a pretty effective little movie. It has a slight “student film” feel to it, with it’s washed out black and white cinematography and obviously low budget, but in this case I think that style fits the subject matter rather well.
At 84 minutes, PI moves at a quick pace, which can often result in audience confusion (I think that’s the point though...) and it doesn’t follow a typical plot/structure. With that in mind, it’s probably not a movie for everyone’s tastes, but if you like mindf*ck movies like PRIMER or you just want to be challenged, I’d definitely suggest it.
3.5 out of 5 stars
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is such a good movie that every time I see it I swear I’ll never watch it again. And by that, I mean it’s so effective at portraying its subject matter that it becomes this horrifying, depressing and simultaneously captivating experience.
This is where Aronofsky really comes in to his own as a filmmaker, developing a discernable artistic style. A lot of the same techniques from PI emerge on a grander scale: the SnorriCam, the repetitive quick-cut shots (aka the “hip hop montage”), and the front-and-center use of Clint Mansell’s music. However, the visceral edge never betrays the story or the well-developed characters. The acting is top-notch by everyone involved; Jared Leto, a still-curvy Jennifer Connelly—hell, even Marlon Wayans does nice work. But it’s Ellen Burstyn who gives one of the best performances in a film, period. (I still can’t believe she lost her Best Actress Oscar to Julia Robert’s Wonderbra in ERIN BROKOVICH). Burstyn’s slow decay is one of the most heartbreaking and hard to watch character arcs ever. The monologue she gives on being old and lonely is enough to make me cry that I'm already in my early 20s.
Seriously, screw the DARE program; show REQUIEM FOR A DREAM to every 12 year old in the country and I guarantee none of them will even want to take Tylenol again. The best part is that it’s not just a “drug” movie, but rather deals with addiction in all its relatable forms: food, TV, caffeine and (as Aronofsky points out on the DVD) hope. I think I've made it clear that it’s an emotionally draining movie, but that’s exactly why I think its required viewing for everyone.
4.5 out of 5 stars
That being said, the bonus features on each disc (which were taken directly from their respective previous releases) are pretty good. You’ll definitely learn a lot about the films and Aronofsky as a director.
Commentary by director Darren Aronofsky: The man has a lot to say about the content of the film: what’s fact, what’s fiction and what his influences are. He even clarifies and answers some questions regarding some of the plot points.
Commentary by writer/actor Sean Gullette: Like Aronofsky, Gullette’s got plenty to say and offers a unique perspective as an actor (which tells you a lot about working with Aronofsky). However, I still think the two could’ve recorded a commentary together to bounce off each other and keep things more lively.
Lost Scenes (3:53): Not a whole lot here; the majority of the “lost” stuff consists of a test they did for the Snorricam. However, there is one interesting short deleted scene that has Ajay Naidu (Samir from OFFICE SPACE) putting the beatdown on Max.
Behind the Scenes Montage (8:29): A collection of “home movies” taken during the production, as well as when Aronofsky won Best Director at Sundance, with commentary by Aronofsky and Sean Gullette. It’s nice because it gives you a good look at how small and low-budget PI was, but the majority of the comments consists of the pair pointing out the various people involved.
πr2 Music Video: Clint Mansell’s badass techno theme set against various shots from the movie.
There’s also two Trailers, Cast and Crew Bios, Production Notes, Notes on π (the mathematical symbol) and a Preview of Arofnosky’s graphic novel based on the movie: Book of Ants.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM:
Commentary by Darren Aronofsky: “I’m happy to tell you about the war it took to make this movie.” There’s so much Aronofsky has to say that it’s hard for him to keep up with the film itself. (Somebody get the man a pause button!) He goes over a lot of theory and his famous techniques, but the stuff I liked most was his philosophy on film and the story.
Commentary by Director of Photography Matthew Libatique: An odd choice for a solo commentary, but given how important the visuals are to this film, it’s definitely a welcome track. Libatique constantly points out a lot of things you probably didn’t notice, just about the cinematography and camera movement. If you’re interested in the technical side of film, definitely check this out to see how much work goes in to every shot.
The Making of Requiem (35:19): Like the feature from the PI DVD, this is raw footage of the production with commentary by Aronofsky. And it’s pretty fantastic, mostly because you see how they got all the cool shots. I’m talking Snorricam, makeup and gore effects, even those funky passage of time shots (the 25 second shot of Sarah cleaning the apartment took a 40 minute straight take).
Deleted Scenes: There’s nine in total, but the only two worth mentioning are a strange take of Marlon Wayans impersonating Jar Jar Binks and an extended cameo by author Hubert Selby Jr. verbally berating Wayans.
Anatomy of a Scene (5:35): It doesn’t really cover a single scene, but instead goes through Aronofsky’s various techniques, including the hip hop montage, computer-guided shots, etc. Most of it is covered already in the Making Of documentary.
Memories Dreams and Addictions (19:54): Ellen Burstyn interviews the author of the Requiem novel Hubert Selby Jr. about the book and his spirituality.
There’s also some Trailers, TV Spots, Cast and Crew Bios, Production Notes and a look at the film’s Website.
As for this DVD set, it’s more of a repackaging than a “collection” in the special edition sense of the term. (I would’ve waited until THE FOUNTAIN came out and then put them all together). But for the low price and two great movies, I supposed if you don’t already have either of these films it’s a fairly good deal.
Extra Tidbit: Aronofsky raised the $60,000 to make PI by selling “shares” of the movie to friends and family for $100 a piece. (His mother provided craft services for free.) When the movie was sold to Artisan, each investor made $50 profit on each share.