Black Swan makes more sense now that I’ve seen more of Darren Aronofsky’s work. Requiem for a Dream (2000) explodes with so many visual pyrotechnics that it is hard to focus on anything else. The shots are beautifully composed: for an example, look at the circular frame of papers behind the characters in the shot at right and how their arms counterbalance each other. Aronofsky is attentive to every visual detail. The palette, the angles, the special effects all effectively reinforce the same drug-induced perspective that intensifies as the film progresses.
When the characters do drugs we get a flash of close ups–a flame, blood cells, pupils dilating– with a rhythmic popping to emphasize the transition to dream state. But these characters do a lot of drugs and after a while the eye candy gets tiresome, even exhausting. There is so much to look at that it’s hard to think about plot or character. That may have been true for Aronofsky as well because there isn’t much action or even conflict here. The characters descend into worse and worse addictions, which results in some over-the-top humiliations. Black Swan marks progress then: its nightmarish fantasy world is more grounded and there is a strong story, even if the ending is still melodramatic. Requiem for a Dream is worth seeing for its strong performances and visual creativity, but there’s not much else going on.