This brilliant indie is being hurt by election year moralism, says Lisa Schwarzbaum

By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated October 06, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

The grim heroin drama ”Requiem” deserves a break from the pols

The word has come down from an ad hoc coalition for the defense of public morals: Certain New York City movie theaters will police the potential ticket buying audience for ”Requiem for a Dream” this weekend to ensure that no one under the age of 17 gets in. Never mind that its distributor, Artisan, has chosen to release the movie unrated. Theater owners have taken it upon themselves to decree that Darren Aronofsky’s horrifying depiction of drug addiction hell is NC-17 stuff — and by gum they’re going to prove that industry types can show backbone when backbone is called for.

In fact, what they’re showing is spinelessness. In the face of election year bombast from politicians who decry — abhor! — violence in pop culture, and chastise Hollywood for selling swill to children, and denounce critics for not liking ”Patch Adams,” these blinkered theater execs are engaging in, yes, fuzzy math. Not to mention hypocrisy, small mindedness, and false piety. If you don’t mind my understatement. Why go after a big, honking, offensive piece of studio schlock that stands to earn your movie palace a chunk of change — something heinous along the lines of ”The Watcher” or ”Urban Legends: Final Cut” — when you can punish a small, low profit indie picture that doesn’t dissemble at all about its subject matter?

”Requiem for a Dream” is indeed, as my colleague Owen Gleiberman has written, ”one of the most disturbing movies ever made.” I, along with a room full of toughened movie press, writhed through it, primally shocked by the unrelenting degradation experienced by a heroin junkie (Jared Leto), his user girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), and his diet pill addicted mother (Ellen Burstyn). I watched — sometimes through my fingers! — thinking, WHY do I have to see this? And answering: Because I am interested in the state of cinema. Because Aronofsky is doing something new and brilliant. Because I’ll never watch it again. (You, by the way, can certainly live a full life without subjecting yourself to its horrors.)

But I also thought this: Show ”Requiem for a Dream” in high school and no kid will ever do drugs. This is the ultimate scared straight cautionary tale. The highs, as Aronofsky paints them, are nothing compared with the wracking, destructive, no exit lows. And that message will be icy clear to anyone who chooses to buy a ticket for ”Requiem” — over 17 or under. No kidding. No blurring of messages (Oooh, being a serial killer can be kind of cool… if you’re Keanu Reeves!) No bull.

”Requiem” talks up to its audience, not down; It takes the movie experience seriously. (Indeed, its seriousness may send you shrieking up the aisle midway through the picture.) If those New York theater owners really want to safeguard the morals of ticket buyers, they’d do well to turn young viewers away from ”Beautiful,” a noxious PG-13 folly that might very well push impressionable girls towards a life of diet pills. Yeah, like theater managers care.

Requiem for a Dream

  • Movie
  • 102 minutes
  • Darren Aronofsky