Requiem for a Dream is about addiction in various forms and the ways in which human beings are destroyed and degraded by their addictions. It is, in the words of writer/director Darren Aronofsky describing the Hubert Selby Jr. novel on which the film is based, "a manifesto on Addiction's triumph over the Human Spirit."

Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a Brooklyn widow addicted to television and diet pills. Her son, Harry (Jared Leto), has a healthy heroin habit, as do Harry's slumming rich-girl lover Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). All four of them strive toward a better life, reaching for the dream of the title, which is just beyond their grasp.

That's what it's about, dear reader: the destruction of four very real human beings, right in front of our eyes. No compromise. No redemption. No exit.


This movie is, to put it bluntly, a great film. It may even deserve that elusive label of "masterpiece" . but I can't quite go there, or all the way to a five-star rating, on the basis of one viewing. That said, you couldn't pay me to experience ("see" feels like such a paltry word in this case) Requiem for a Dream again in a theater. Maybe on video. Then again, maybe not.

A personal aside here. I'm pretty jaded when it comes to movies. I grew up on horror films and Fangoria magazine; such masters of cinematic discomfort as David Cronenberg and Martin Scorsese are among my idols. Make a shortlist of the most disturbing, uncomfortable films ever made and I've likely seen them all (and probably own most of them on DVD). But nothing I've ever seen prepared me for Requiem for a Dream.

This movie is nothing less than a vision of Hell, in the Dante's Inferno sense. It's also the most potent presentation of addiction ever unspooled on screen. Forget those well-meaning anti-drug movies like Clean and Sober or The Boost; forget, even, David Cronenberg's admirable adaptation of William Burroughs' Naked Lunch (ultimately undone and diluted by its reliance on gloopy SFX metaphors for addiction). You haven't ever seen anything like Requiem for a Dream.

The reason it works so well as a film about addiction is that, in every frame, the film itself is addictive. It's absolutely relentless . from Aronofsky's bravura cinematic techniques (split screens, complex cross-cutting schemes, hallucinatory visuals) to Clint Mansell's driving, hypnotic score (performed by the Kronos Quartet) . the movie compels you to watch it. Even when you don't want to. Even when, truly, it feels as if you can't stand another moment of it.

But it's not just an exercise in technique. If Aronofsky were a complete iceman, making the film with Kubrickian dispassion, it would probably have been more bearable. However, the movie hurts . really, truly hurts . because you really care about these people. A lot of that is thanks to the wonderful care and precision with which Selby's book has been adapted; even more, however, comes from the extraordinary quartet of performances by Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. Especially Burstyn . Sara Goldfarb may be the saddest movie character in recent film history; her performance, certainly, is a brilliant mix of psychological insight and stunning physical transformation.

You may have noticed a certain lack of detail in this review. I haven't regaled you with particularly impressive scenes or haunting images. Part of that is out of a desire to be spoiler-free (certainly no viewer should know in advance the final result of Sara's hallucinatory confrontation with her refrigerator, for example). But, on a deeper and more personal level, I have to admit, this movie got so completely under my skin that it's hard for me to write about it in any but the most general terms. The whole thing is still too fresh; even after a good night's sleep, I'm still shaken by it.

Few films, even the very best of the best, truly make us feel something on a physical and psychological level. They may make us laugh or cry or be scared or excited, but it's a fleeting and largely passive reaction. But Requiem for a Dream is anything but passive. It hurts you. And keeps hurting you. And then, when you think it can't get any worse, it does.

Scott Brake ©FilmForce

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