Requiem for a Dream

Despite the obviously infected open sore on his arm, the young, frail-looking man injects a needle filled with heroin into it. He ignores the pain, patiently waiting for the drug to kick in and numb his mind. It doesn’t take long before his pupils expand, signaling that all is well in this junkie’s world.

Director-writer Darren Aronofsky explores that world with an uncommon viciousness in his newest film, “Requiem for a Dream.” Based on the novel by Herbert Selby Jr., who had a hand in writing the screenplay, “Requiem for a Dream” is hard stuff to take. Aronofsky gets us as close to being a junkie as possible without putting a needle in our arm.

Instead, Aronofsky injects our brain with penetrating images that super glue themselves to the membranes, leaving traces of haunting memories that linger forever. How refreshing to find a director who doesn’t flinch when it comes to difficult subject matter. “Requiem” isn’t a happy movie. It’s filled with characters who have no where to go but down.

The trick is getting us to care about them, and it is here where Aronofsky excels. Under his skillful direction, we don’t just watch these people spiral out of control, we take the journey with them. We become them, enduring their pain and shame as they do whatever it takes for another ride. Most young directors use visual flourishes to impress. Aronofsky uses them to draw us into the characters lives, to show us what they see.

What they see is a cold, bleak world where the only hope lies inside a needle or a diet pill. It’s a sad, depressing world that completely engulfs all those who inhabit it. Other filmmakers have taken us to this world before, most recently Gus Van Sant with “Drugstore Cowboy.” Aronofsky doesn’t just take us to that world, he abandons us there, making us feel as lost and hopeless as the characters. After I got done watching the film, I felt so much better bout my life.

The message in “Requiem for a Dream” is that we all have addictions. The lesson learned is how we deal with those addictions. There’s plenty of irony in the script, which exposes the levels of hypocrisy when it comes to drugs and those who use and abuse them. Ellen Burstyn is absolutely devastating as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely woman whose only contact with her junkie son Harry (Jared Leto) comes when he arrives to steal her television to pawn for drug money.

It’s a routine Sara has come to accept, hiding in the next room when he comes, and then heading off to the pawn shop the next day to retrieve the television. You see, Sara is addicted to television. Actually, her addiction is a game show that she hopes one day to be on. When she finally gets word that she has been picked to be on the show, Sara begins a diet pill regiment to look her best. It’s not long before the weight starts coming off, and Sara finds herself addicted to diet pills.

Meanwhile, Harry and his friend Tyrone (Damon Wayans) are setting themselves up for a large heroin buy so they can go into business for themselves. Good thing, because the stuff is getting harder to find, leaving Tyrone, Harry and his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) with a steady fix.

Even though both Sara and Harry are addicts, the irony is that Sara is a legal addict, allowing her to take the moral high ground when it comes to her addiction. The filmmakers make no apologies when they compare the diet doctor with a drug dealer. Once Sara is hooked on the pills, her quiet little world becomes a nightmarish hell. She starts hearing voices. The refrigerator takes on a life all its own. It’s absolutely frightening watching this poor woman go from a loving, caring mother to a drug hag.

Burstyn drives her performance with a scary intensity. It’s a powerful performance that literally grabs you by the collar and forces you to pay attention. You can’t take your eyes off her. There is also a fragile side to her performance, a glimmer of the woman that once was desperately trying to get out. It’s these moments that keep her extreme eccentricities in check. If she doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination there is no justice in the system.

Harry is the ultimate loser, a waste of a son whose only sees love (for his mother, girlfriend) as something to do when he’s not getting high. It’s hard to care about someone so pathetic, yet Jared Leto brings enough redeeming qualities to the character that we find ourselves wanting him to get better. Leto lost a lot of weight to play Harry, but most of his performance is interior. Look into his eyes and you see someone who understands his lot in life. Even his dreams are dark and cloudy.

Jennifer Connelly turns in a very brave performance as Harry’s junkie girlfriend Marion. Usually Connelly lets her natural beauty get in the way of a good performance. Here, she literally strips herself down to create a character that is both heartbreaking and shocking. When Marion is forced to degrade herself for a fix, it hurts to be in the same room with her. Connelly never flinches. She does what it takes to make Marion memorable.

Marlon Wayans has been doing comedy so long it is almost impossible to picture him in something serious, yet his turn as Harry’s junkie buddy is filled with power and passion. It’s an adult performance, perfectly realized by an actor who understands the depth of the character.

Visually, “Requiem for a Dream” is just as harrowing. Matthew Libatique’s mesmerizing cinematography and the visual design are complex yet fascinating. Clint Mansell’s music is just as haunting as the film, with strong support from the Kronos Quartet. This is the score that Stanley Kubrick should have used for “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Aronofsky’s “Pi” heralded the arrival of a director with something original on his mind. “Requiem for a Dream” proves that “Pi” wasn’t just a fluke. Aronofsky is a very decisive filmmaker with the ability to translate risky material into something powerful and evoking. The combined efforts of the filmmakers and the performers make “Requiem for a Dream” one of the best films of the year.

DARK DREAMAronofsky’s Requiem a nightmarish journey


Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Damon Wayans, Christopher MacDonald in a film directed by Darren Aronofsky. 101 Minutes. Not Rated.


Comments are closed.