Requiem for a Dream
directed by Darren Aronofsky
(Artisan, 2000)

By the time Requiem for a Dream begins in Brooklyn, the "dreams" of the title already are in danger. And as the film inexorably spirals toward drug-induced wasteland, you're going along for the whole, horrific ride.

It's not pretty -- but then why make a pretty movie about lives destroyed by drugs, illegal and legal, about the miseries of addictions of all kinds?

Unencumbered by sideline plots, Requiem focuses on just four people: Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow longing for attention; her son Harry, who's had problems in the past and has even bigger problems now; his girlfriend Marion Silver, who comes from money but hasn't done anything with her advantages; and Harry's friend Tyrone Love.

These four already are far from reaching their dreams. They know they have immense voids to fill. But they -- and you -- have seen nothing yet.

Each time they try to get up, they fall a little harder, have a little less to lose the next time around. The stakes go up. The consequences of failure, attempt by attempt, get harsher.

Director Darren Aronofsky (Pi) has used his trippy flashbacks and odd camera angles, along with speeded-up and slowed-down scenes, to bring writer Hubert Selby Jr.'s nightmare to life. Selby, who also wrote the book Last Exit to Brooklyn, has stuck to familiar turf here, stayed with people he knows, and his grasp of what makes them tick seems flawless.

For daytime TV addict Sara, the highlight of a day is finding a spot on the sidewalk, with her lady friends, to await the mailman's arrival. One day, she actually receives something: a packet promising her a television appearance. It will be, she believes, a way to get the adulation and love she so desperately craves -- but only if she can fit into her special red dress. Pills from a diet doctor criminally unconcerned about the side effects promise instant loss, instant love.

Oscar nominee Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore) is stunning. You don't want to watch as she transforms, pill by pill, into an emaciated, halucinating shell, but you can't stop.

Harry and Tyrone figure one good shipment of drugs, sold on the street, will set them up with all the money they'll need for their dreams. Jared Leto (American Psycho) and Marlon Wayans wring everything there is from Harry and Tyrone, their friendship staying tight as their lives unravel, as they keep trying just one more time to win back what they've already lost.

And Marion, who easily could have been a toss-out character, provides some of the most indelible images in the hands of Jennifer Connelly. A beautiful woman (she and Leto look remarkably alike), she'll bankroll a boutique with the drug money Harry's trying to earn her. And when the drug money disappears, when her ability to buy her own drugs vanishes, you know where she'll turn. And Requiem isn't content to let you just know it: the film's going to show you, too, so you can't ignore the price Marion pays.

And, in the end, what's so fascinating about Requiem? It's not just the graphic elements; alone, they'd be ineffective.

It's the inevitability of it all, the way Requiem refuses to pander, to gloss over or to judge. The last 15 minutes are some of the most painful and unsettling I've seen in movies in a long, long time. But, considering how timely Requiem is -- 30 years after the book on which it was based was written -- those 15 minutes are some of the most necessary minutes you'll watch. You won't forget a single one of them.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 19 January 2002

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