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Movie Review: Requiem for a Dream

My parents have a rule. They refuse to see a movie that doesn’t have a happy ending.

I’m not exactly sure when they came up with that rule. It was somewhat recently, within the past couple years and I remember the first time I heard it I thought it was pretty silly. I still think it’s kind of silly, but I at least think I understand it.

On the way far other side of the spectrum, I love depressing movies. To me, watching a movie with a sad ending is the equivalent of listening to the blues. Experiencing other people’s traumas make my own calamities not seem so bad, even if the “other people” are fictional. However, when I decided to see REQUIEM FOR A DREAM and DANCER IN THE DARK back-to-back, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for. As I was to find out, these were two of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. Watching them back-to-back especially made me almost suicidal.

I knew nothing about the plots of these films. DANCER IN THE DARK was getting a decent buzz, but I had no clue what it was about. And while I did see a preview for REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, I don’t think the preview gave away any of the movie’s details. It just looked cool and I wanted to give the film a chance since it was directed by the guy who did PI, Darren Aronofsky. I didn’t think PI was so great, but it was at least interesting, intelligent and ambitious. I could probably say the same thing about REQUIEM FOR A DREAM now after having seen it. But I’d have to say REQUIEM is a better flick than PI was probably because Darren’s working with good source material and has a better cast.

REQUIEM is based on a novel of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr. (who is most famous for LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN) and it stars Jared Leto (who is most famous for having been the hunky Jordan Catalano on MY SO-CALLED LIFE) and veteran actress Ellen Burstyn (who is most famous for many, many films not least of which is THE EXORCIST).

Ellen is making a comeback in a serious way these days. She’s a regular on a new TV show this year, THAT’S LIFE, and I just saw her in a commercial for yet another new movie, which I can’t remember the title of. But she’s absolutely brilliant in REQUIEM. She plays a pathetic older woman living by herself in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Her husband is dead and her son (Jared Leto) is a junkie loser who only visits to steal his Ma’s TV for drug money. The loneliness is obviously starting to rattle Ellen’s brain.

Ellen’s character is also a junkie of sorts herself, except she’s addicted to TV. When she’s offered a chance to appear on an infomercial, she totally goes off the deep end, especially trying to get herself in shape to fit into a sexy old red dress that looked good on her 10 years ago. I won’t go into more detail than that because I don’t want to ruin the movie for anybody.

Part of the film’s intent is to explore the nature of addiction. People get addicted to different things for different reasons, for better or for worse. Well, usually for the worse. I like to think I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I probably do. I think I would die if I couldn’t watch STAR TREK or THE SIMPSONS. I mean, I know I wont, but when you’re addicted to something you don’t think rationally.

I also currently make my living from TV and have been for the past 6 years or so. Still not quite how I’ve gotten sucked into that, but apparently I’m a TV listings master. Despite how I make a paycheck, I’ve been reading up on media activism lately, which includes the abolition of TV as we know it. That’s not to say we should get rid of TV altogether or that it’s inherently evil.

One of the concepts I’ve been introduced to is that the airwaves are owned by the people, except the government has sold them to the corporations. As Ralph Nader said at a speech at Madison Square Garden last week, “The American people are the landlords of the airwaves and corporations should be our tenants, not the other way around.”

That sounds like a fairly radical notion given how the system is currently set up and I know even if I seriously tried, I’d probably do a horrible job explaining how and why it’s true in this review. I’m simply not that smart or good a writer (tho’ I’m trying). I also feel like a slack-ass because while I read a good deal on this subject I don’t do anything with the knowledge I gain. But I hope that will change soon, too.

Anyway, my favorite writer media activism is Robert McChesney. Actually, I think Nader stole the above quote from Robert. The second half of Robert’s book RICH MEDIA, POOR DEMOCRACY gives an in-depth history of how the FCC was created to hand over the radio to major corporations like General Electric without any public debate on the subject. But then, you might say, “There’s only a finite radio spectrum so there needs to be some sort of regulating body.” And if you say that, that would be correct.

However, reacting to recent pressure, the FCC decided to recognize the importance of community radio and proposed new regulations to allow the creation of 700 new “microradio” community stations. To retaliate, the National Association of Broadcasters got Congress to introduce a bill that will restrict the number of community stations to 70. The bill has already passed in the House and is pending in the Senate, as far as I know today. I got this information from a pamphlet by McChesney and John Nichols called IT’S THE MEDIA, STUPID that just came out a few months ago.

And this is just radio, community radio that would probably garner fewer listeners than people who watch public access TV. Yet, the NAB isn’t stupid. They know that if the FCC allows 700 non-commercial community radio stations today that could lead to more tomorrow with the potential to provoke a mini-revolution.

I also had a “discussion” (more like an insulting match) with someone a couple months ago about the Internet. My opponent was trying to claim that TV didn’t really matter and that the web was going to “set us all free”. McChesney and Nichols argue against this, too, and I have to agree with them on the matter.

Yes, the Internet is a great “free” medium. I’m certainly free to publish¬†the Underground Film Journal and say whatever I want. Yet, I’m only as “free” as being reliant on my web hosting company’s technology and on my HTML being carried over lines owned by the phone or cable companies to be read on computers and software built by technology firms. I don’t feel free. I feel lucky.

Buy this movie on DVD at Amazon.com!