#285. Jennifer Connelly

In the world of child actors, very few last long enough to continue working in the industry. Sure, there are exceptions; actors and actresses who eventually develop their craft into award-winning performances. Most people could count the number of these exceptions on one hand. This begs the question: what helps a child actor eventually arrive at success? It is my opinion that the earlier a child actor can work with an excellent director, the greater their chances are of achieving recognition later in life (should they not be hindered by alcohol or drug addiction before then). One of these anomalies is Jennifer Connelly. Her very first role in film was in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America (1984) when she was only 14. She’s only gone up from there. This week’s two films look at Jennifer Connelly’s best roles.

Requiem for a DreamRequiem for a Dream
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

While Sergio Leone’s crime drama was her first role, many consider Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) to be her breakout performance. That being said, there was plenty more to be desired for her acting. Fortunately, she has managed to stay out of the limelight partly because of her heavy involvement in independent films. Granted, this is often seen as the reason why she mostly appears in darker and more nudity-filled films (which may also be tied to shedding the “child actor” label), but it’s what eventually landed her in Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000). If audiences didn’t consider her a serious actress before this film, they certainly do now. A decade and a half later, she would team up with Aronofsky again for the Biblical epic, Noah (2014), but most claim their previous collaboration as one of their best.

Harry (Jared Leto) spends most of his time shooting heroin with his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). Because it is such an expensive addiction, they decide to turn to drug dealing in order to pay for the habit, as well as to realize their dreams of starting a business, becoming a clothing designer, and moving out of the slums, respectively. At the same time, Harry’s mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), is convinced that she has been chosen to appear on TV and takes drastic measures to lose weight so she can wear a favorite dress again. Through this process, she becomes addicted to amphetamines while her son and his posse find their own unwholesome fates, including hospitalization, incarceration, and prostitution. In a hallucination, Sara imagines that the world is all right for her, her son, and his girlfriend. That dream is far from the truth.

A Beautiful MindA Beautiful Mind
Year: 2001
Rating: PG-13
Length: 135 minutes / 2.25 hours

Another big-name director who cast Connelly in their films was none other than Ron Howard. We all have forgotten about the regrettable The Dilemma (2011), but Jennifer Connelly likely wouldn’t have appeared in that film had she not impressed Howard earlier in her career with her work in Inventing the Abbotts (1997). This inspiration is what led him to cast her, along with Russell Crowe and Ed Harris, in the Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind (2001). Not only did this film win Best Picture and Best Director, but it garnered Jennifer Connelly an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She had already worked with Ed Harris on his directorial debut: Pollock (2000), portraying the mistress of Jackson Pollock (who himself was played by Ed Harris), but it took many years before she appeared in another film across from Russell Crowe: the aforementioned Noah.

John Nash (Russell Crowe) is a promising mathematics student at Princeton University in the late 1940’s. Because of the high hopes for his career, he is under large amounts of stress to publish, but he wants to publish something original, not just a derivative work. While at a bar with his mathematics friends, he develops a new idea that leads to his publication of the Nash equilibrium (a modified game theory). Meanwhile, he falls in love with, and eventually marries, Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly). At first, their life together is idyllic, but soon Alicia discovers that John’s roommate in college never existed, and John’s “boss” from the Pentagon also doesn’t exist. Despite John being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and his refusal to take his medication, Alicia stays with him and helps him to an eventual recovery.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 key Jennifer Connelly roles

Bacon #: 2 (A Beautiful Mind / Ed Harris -> Apollo 13 / Kevin Bacon)

#284. Don’t Do Drugs

If there’s anything that the “war on drugs” has taught me, it’s that “drugs are bad.” While their educational approach may have worked to keep some people from drugs, it did little to curb the enthusiasm of people already hooked. What’s unfortunate about illicit substances is the glamorous lives that certain drug users come from (a la The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)). Obviously, those in the business of drugs (like in Blow (2001) or Scarface (1983)) are more likely to partake of their product, but certain criminal organizations, like the mafia, know the dangers of getting involved with drugs (like in Goodfellas (1990)) and do their best to abstain from them. Still, the allure of a chemical high appeals to the common masses, so it’s up to film to show the horrifying consequences of drug abuse. This week’s two films show us why we shouldn’t do drugs.

TrainspottingTrainspotting
Year: 1996
Rating: R
Length: 94 minutes / 1.56 hours

The drug culture of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was perhaps epitomized by films like Easy Rider (1969). This, along with the comedic stylings of Cheech and Chong, showed that some drugs are practically harmless. The stoner comedies of today reinforce this fact, but don’t show any consequences of extended use. When harder drugs are used, the slippery slope truly comes into play. There’s a lot someone will do to keep up a habit, but when they realize that their life has become controlled by the controlled substance, they find it difficult to remove themselves from it (either by the company they keep or the sheer difficulty of going clean). Drugstore Cowboy (1989) is a good example of this, whereas Pulp Fiction (1995) brings us the reality of the overdose. Unfortunately, films like Limitless (2011) and Trainspotting (1997) show that a few choice benefits make the choice to do drugs worth it.

While there are certainly many terrifying moments in Trainspotting that should drive us away from doing drugs, it’s the dark-comedy nature of the film that somewhat lessens the impact of the consequences of illicit drug usage. Scenes like “the worst toilet in Scotland”, or the hallucinations of a dead baby crawling over the ceiling certainly do their part to drive the audience away from drugs, but the comradery of these four heroin addicts makes the experience seem welcoming and social. In reality, the risks of contracting HIV, being arrested for robbery (to fund an expensive drug addiction), and outright overdosing are very high and hold very severe consequences. After many attempts to get clean, the main character, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), finally has enough motivation to leave his drugs behind, along with most of his friends.

Requiem for a DreamRequiem for a Dream
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Length: 102 minutes / 1.7 hours

Addiction is a powerful drug. By the time we realize we have a problem, it’s often too late to change things. The long road to recovery can only be completed with an admittance that we have a problem and a support system to help us reach the clean and happy ending. A common theme amongst the works of Philip K. Dick was that of drug use, which was most undoubtedly pulled from his own life experiences. A Scanner Darkly (2006) focused on drug users, law enforcement, and the companies that profit from said drugs, all tied together in a trippy package. What’s more startling is when the addiction is portrayed in a more realistic setting. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a friend or loved one continue to go back to the comfort of their addiction. Robert ZemeckisFlight (2012) drives this point home, but the true consequences of addiction were best portrayed in Requiem for a Dream (2000).

The world of a junkie is an interesting place. Time no longer holds any relevance as everything seems to be traveling in slow motion or unbearably fast. Requiem for a Dream follows four addicts on their downward spiral to ruin. The intriguing thing about addictions is that sometimes they aren’t to illegal substances. Even household activities like watching television are artistically represented in the same way that getting high on cocaine are. However, even if it seems like everything is working out well and nothing could go wrong, consequences lie just around the dark corner. Requiem for a Dream begins to get intense as the consequences rear their ugly heads. From prostitution to prison to hospitalization, the results of a life of addiction are painfully obvious at the end of this film. If ever there’s a film to get people to stop doing drugs, Requiem for a Dream is it.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 cautionary tales

#159. Mindbenders

The medium of film has long been able to represent ideas that are impossible to see in real life. Whether it’s multiple personalities, the concept of time travel, or the high of illicit drug use, movies have been able to give an audience a look into a world that they would not otherwise be privy to. Through the use of special effects, or just plain artistic license, filmmakers can make the intangible tangible. If a movie can make an audience stop and think, even if it is just for a moment, about the oddities of the psychological world around us, then it could be considered a mindbender movie. For the most part, these films are best described as movies that require a second viewing immediately after the credits roll the first time. This week’s films examine two such movies that push the envelope of human understanding and cause us to rethink reality.

Fight ClubFight Club
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Length: 139 minutes / 2.32 hours

Every once in a while, you come across a film that requires an immediate second viewing. These films have such a shocking twist ending that you can’t help but wonder if the signs were there the whole time. One such film for me was Memento (2000). As the film progressed, the monochrome and color segments didn’t make too much sense together, but at the end, when they finally meet, everything came together and formed a cohesive narrative. As such, once the “trick” was figured out, a second viewing added a whole new level of depth to the film. Fight Club is a very similar film in this respect because of the representation of what goes on in a character’s mind. With Memento, it was short-term memory loss, but with Fight Club, the challenge of figuring out what’s real and what’s not ends up needing a second viewing to catch everything.

What would you do if you found yourself in a dead-end job, unable to sleep, and homeless due to a freak gas leak? Well, if you’re the Narrator of Fight Club (Edward Norton), you’d make friends with Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman who has a rich and colorful history as varied as the jobs he’s held. When they move to live in an abandoned house, things start getting out of hand. In order to vent out all the pent up rage of being stuck in a mundane existence, the Narrator and Tyler start Fight Club, an underground battle arena. Continuing to grow upon word-of-mouth, the Fight Club becomes something much larger, and much more resembling a terrorist organization. Now, what if you were to find out that Tyler wasn’t who you thought he was? In the mindbending ending to Fight Club, the frightening reality of the mind’s power is fully brought to light.

Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko
Year: 2001
Rating: R
Length: 113 minutes / 1.88 hours

For some reason, many “mindbender” films end up being considered cult classics. This is probably due to a number of factors. First is the aforementioned “immediate second viewing”, which forces audiences to really focus on the movie, instead of just watching for entertainment. Secondly, the imagery used in these films can be seen as more artistic than a normal movie, thus spreading in popularity through a more viral nature, even if it was critically panned. While Fight Club definitely fits in the cult category, other cult classic mindbenders would include Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Inception (2010). The visual aspects of these films certainly help to tell a story that’s complex and intricate. For Donnie Darko, and its “time travel” undertones, the visual feel of the film, as well as its ideas and themes, helped to create a cult classic mindbender.

Donnie Darko (portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal) is your average 1980’s teenager. Well, average except for a few abnormalities. First of all, he sees visions of a large and creepy rabbit. Secondly, he narrowly missed being killed by an errant jumbo jet engine crashing into his bedroom. Also, he knows when the world will end. Perhaps due to these abnormalities, Donnie commits some pretty impressive crimes that bring the quiet suburbia into an uproar. At first glance, Donnie Darko seems like an ordinary teenage angst film, but under the surface lies an intriguing science fiction. “Philosophy of Time Travel” is the name of the book given to Donnie that does a pretty good job of explaining the intricacies of the impossible. By the end of the film, the world hasn’t ended, but time has traveled full circle to Donnie’s demise.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 marvelous mindbenders