Employing shock techniques and sound design in a relentless sensory assault, Requiem for a Dream
is about nothing less than the systematic destruction of hope. Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., and adapted by Selby and director Darren Aronofsky, this is undoubtedly one of the most effective films ever made about the experience of drug addiction (both euphoric and nightmarish), and few would deny that Aronofsky, in following his breakthrough film Pi
, has pushed the medium to a disturbing extreme, thrusting conventional narrative into a panic zone of traumatized psyches and bodies pushed to the furthest boundaries of chemical tolerance. It's too easy to call this a cautionary tale; it's a guided tour through hell, with Aronofsky as our bold and ruthless host.
The film focuses on a quartet of doomed souls, but it's Ellen Burstyn--in a raw and bravely triumphant performance--who most desperately embodies the downward spiral of drug abuse. As lonely widow Sara Goldfarb, she invests all of her dreams in an absurd self-help TV game show, jolting her bloodstream with diet pills and coffee while her son Harry (Jared Leto) shoots heroin with his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) and slumming girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly). They're careening toward madness at varying speeds, and Aronofsky tracks this gloomy process by endlessly repeating the imagery of their deadly routines. Tormented by her dietary regime, Sara even imagines a carnivorous refrigerator in one of the film's most memorable scenes. And yet... does any of this have a point? Is Aronofsky telling us anything that any sane person doesn't already know? Requiem for a Dream is a noteworthy film, but watching it twice would qualify as masochistic behavior. --Jeff Shannon