Big Picture Big Sound

Requiem for a Dream Review

By Joe Lozito

Addiction Lessons


Darren Aronofsky is an exciting, visceral director. His first feature, 1998's "Pi", filmed in stark, zero-contrast black and white, was the complicated story of a man obsessed with finding a pattern within nature. Now, as if to assert himself as a director of stunning vision - which he is - he presents "Requiem for a Dream", the story of four drug-addicted characters and their near-operatic descent into the lowest depths of dependence. It plays like "Magnolia" by way of "Trainspotting" with a touch of Marquis de Sade.

As his four ill-fated characters, Mr. Aronofsky assembles an unexpectedly strong cast. Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly play a couple who are either obsessed with their love for each other or their mutual love for drugs. The question becomes which love is stronger. And the film makes it very clear by its orgiastic finale. Mr. Leto has always been a strong, subtle performer, but Ms. Connelly has never done as well as she does here. She imbues her character with vulnerability and sexuality even as she stares pale-faced into the bathroom mirror desperate for a fix. Marlon Wayans (yes, Marlon Wayans) also gives his best - or perhaps only - perfomance to date as Mr. Leto's business partner.

Ellen Burstyn rounds out the ensemble as Mr. Leto's mother, with her own addiction for diet pills. If the heroin storyline seems to have been done before, Mr. Aronofsky's script, based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., breaks new ground here. The director and his actress trace a frighteningly real portrait of emergent obsession fuelled by loneliness, sadness and vanity. With "The Exorcist" also in theaters, Ms. Burstyn should receive a special award for playing characters who emotionally disintegrate on screen.

Like his earlier film, Mr. Aronofsky keeps every scene interesting with a camera that appears to be everywhere, including inside the character's heads. Perhaps his most exciting technique is the repeated montage depicting the routines of drug taking. Yes, visually this is an exhilarating, unique film. But it is also a singularly difficult and challenging film to watch.

More a nightmare than a dream, "Requiem" becomes an addiction in itself. As hard as it is to keep your eyes on the screen, like a car accident you can't look away. It is not a particularly entertaining film - in a Hollywood sense - and it is not clear that anyone needs to see some of the graphic detail that is depicted on screen. Maybe Mr. Aronofsky is taping into some base voyeuristic instinct within us. But regardless, it is clear that you're watching a piece of virtuoso filmmaking, perhaps on the level of seeing Martin Scorcese's "Mean Streets" or Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers" for the first time. Mr. Aronofsky is in a class of filmmakers, along with Mike Figgis, P.T. Anderson and Tom Tykwer, who are taking the medium of film and making it their own. If their techniques are a little over the top now, it will be worth it to see where they take us.

What did you think?

Movie title Requiem for a Dream
Release year 2000
MPAA Rating NR
Our rating
Summary With an operatic story of four drug-addicts and their slow disintegration, Director Darren Aronofsky dares you to sit through one of the most difficult and challenging films ever made. Certainly not for everyone, but worth it if you have the stomach.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
More in Movies
Big News
Newsletter Sign-up
Connect with Us