What Darren Aronofsky (Pi) captures with a dazzling audacity in Requiem for a Dream is not just the pathology of addiction, but its mechanism. He uses every aspect of this film as a way to express the characters’ rapacious dependence: the roller-coaster structure of the screenplay (Aronofsky adapted Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel with the author); a color scheme so vibrant it sears images directly onto retinas; music which alternates between throbbing and soothing, but always propels their flight to nowhere; a rapid-fire editing style to simulate the routine euphoria of getting high. This is a junkie’s tale where everything feeds the habit.
Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) may love his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), his best friend, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), and even his mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), but he loves heroin more. Harry, Marion and Tyrone form a tight-knit trio of addicts, and while scoring takes first priority, they begin to develop an entrepreneurial awareness of the drug trade. Not only can they regulate bliss, but they can potentially buy themselves a future away from gritty Coney Island (not coincidentally, Aronofsky’s hometown). Sara, too, has been bitten by the ambition bug. Believing she’ll become a television game show contestant, she tries to shed pounds fast by popping a colorful cornucopia of prescribed diet pills.
After a brief burst of euphoria — when they begin to feel lifted up from stagnant lives — all four slip into their own customized downward spirals. But though the degradation of heroin addiction is pathetically familiar, Sara’s decline comes off as the most wrenching. As the appliances she relies upon for comfort (refrigerator and TV) become inexplicably hostile, an astonishing Burstyn shows how mundane routine and the allure of fantasy effectively conspire to break Sara’s fragile grip on sanity.
Throughout the film, Aronofsky pulls out all the stops visually (split-screens, fish-eye lens, slow-motion and sped-up action), but there’s a method to his madness. He’s creating a new form of requiem, a frenetic dirge for dreamers who methodically construct their own private hells.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.