(director/writer: Darren Aronofsky; screenwriters: Hubert Selby Jr/from the novel of Hubert Selby Jr; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique; editor: Jay Rabinowitz; cast: Ellen Burstyn (Sara Goldfarb), Jared Leto (Harry Goldfarb), Jennifer Connelly (Marion Silver), Marlon Wayans (Tyrone C. Love), Christopher McDonald (Tappy Tibbons), Louise Lasser (Ada), Sean Gullette (Arnold the Shrink), Keith David (Big Tim); Runtime: 100; Artisan Entertainment; 2000)

“A slickly done, very depressive melodrama about those addicted to drugs and their dreams of happiness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slickly done, very depressive melodrama about those addicted to drugs and their dreams of happiness. The dream that sucks the four main characters (Burstyn, Leto, Connelly, and Wayans) ever downward, is the American Dream. That is shown to be as deadly and as dangerous as any junkie’s high.

Darren Aronofsky’s (“Pi”) adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s novel of the forlorn, is given an image transfusion on the screen that belies the fact that the addicts can’t kick their habit and what we are forced to see are their elusive visions and the wretched futility that unfolds for them. It’s a film that has excellent performances, especially the brilliant one by Ellen Burstyn as the pill popping old lady who morbidly changes her appearance for the worst after taking diet pills. She plays Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) — a Brighton Beach widow living alone but obsessed with her only son. Her life is so empty that she spends her time either watching TV game shows, staring at her refrigerator, or sunning herself outside her apartment building with her elderly women neighbors. She’s overwhelmed that she’s been selected as a possible contestant on a game show, and decides that she’s too fat and must slim down to get into her favorite red dress she wore to her son’s graduation. She wants to impress the TV audience with her successful son and how good she looks, and that motivates her to see a doctor who prescribes amphetamines of different colors four times daily and within a month she loses 25 pounds. Meanwhile her son Harry (Jared Leto) has become a heroin addict and also has an empty life filled with misplaced dreams, which are on about the same surface level as her dreams; his are about striking it rich as a drug dealer. His series of misfortunes will culminate in his arm turning into a deep purple infection. In the climax scene, both mother and son are hospitalized as a result of their dreams turning into nightmares.

Aronofsky stylishly uses his camera to make us feel the internal grief of those who are looking for an easy way out of their empty lives. It’s not an easy film to find comfort in, or feel anything but revulsion at the sight of the constant degradation of human beings taking place. It’s also not an easy film to enjoy or to find any insights it has about drug addictions that are fresh. What continually sparkles for this film, is the way the mother-son relationship smacks of reality and how protective they are of each other despite being unable to communicate with each other. The best scenes in the film were when either Harry or Sara were reaching out to the other to send out messages of hope. The heaviest scenes were also the most creative ones, showing in montages the constant barrage they were under from their wants and how twisted they were inside. Mother’s refrigerator talks to her and gets her into a dizzying speedy motion as she moves about her empty apartment, while her son is shown coming down from his heroin highs and settling into a despondent mood.

Harry has fallen in love with his girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), whom he knew from his childhood days in Brooklyn. Their love and hopes for marital bliss is built around the possibility that he could score a big drug deal that would enable them to become financially secure. Harry is partners with his equally ambitious black friend, Ty (Marlon Wayans). The young men can’t see themselves growing old and still being small time hustlers and junkies, as they pin all their hopes on a big drug killing.

In the process, Harry degrades himself and Marion. When he needs money to score his drug product, he has no qualms asking Marion to sleep with her former therapist Arnold (Gullette-he starred in the director’s “Pi”), someone she reviles as a sleaze bag.

By the film’s end, not much substance came through all the stylishly and graphically depressing experiences the four main characters underwent; what I mostly felt was tired from their actions and not wanting to see any more of their hellish experiences. It’s a movie where the first half of it was clearly more subtle and better done than the more morbid and predictable second half. I can applaud the director for his fresh visual style of filmmaking and the actors for giving voice to their characters on the screen in a realistic way, but the story of four losers who can’t get out of Brooklyn still seems very ordinary despite all the high gloss.

Requiem for a Dream Poster