Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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When Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) learns that she may have a chance to appear on television, she resolves to lose weight, which eventually leads her to becoming addicted to diet pills. Meanwhile, her son, Harry (Jared Leto), his best friend, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), and his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), all of whom are heroin addicts, set out to try to make some money by dealing drugs.

Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream is often captivating, but it is also sometimes annoyingly overdone. What is more, its conclusion is so predictable and so hammy that it significantly detracts from the film's emotional impact.

The movie is, however, always enthralling visually. The director gives expression to his characters' mental states with quick cuts which reveal various objects, as drugs beings injected, blood cells moving through veins, and eyes dilating, in rapid succession. He creates a sense of panicky delirium that really can be affecting. Elsewhere, he speeds up the film so that the protagonists appear to inhabit a world that moves with an incredible rapidity, and, in other places, he conjures up weird hallucinations, such as when he depicts Sara dreaming either of donuts descending from her ceiling or of television personalities invading her living room to mock her while her refrigerator comes to life as a ferocious, anthropophagous monster.

Requiem for a Dream is also consistently well acted. There is not a performer who appears in the movie who does not give a vibrant life to his character. Ellen Burstyn exposes Sara's pathetic loneliness and isolation. Jared Leto has a wonderful edginess and hesitancy that allow the viewer to sympathize with the young addict. Marlon Wayans brings out Tyrone's innocence, and Jennifer Connelly reminds the moviegoer of the sadness of a young woman who is ultimately willing to do nearly anything to obtain the drugs she craves.

Sadly, the film is hardly without flaws. The director's treatment of Sara is frequently mocking and somewhat mean-spirited. On more than one occasion, he seems to want to make the viewer laugh at the woman rather than feel sympathy for her. Such an approach, however, is more likely to alienate the moviegoer than it is to engage him with the film. Even if he is not annoyed by such depictions, the viewer will still be hard pressed to feel for the characters when the wildly tragic consequences of their actions are unveiled. Sara's fate, for example, which involves what could be the worst reaction any human being has ever had to diet pills, is so impossibly horrible that I suspect Aronofsky was again trying to be humorous. At any rate, her end, and those of her son and his friends, appears to have been lifted from some public service film about the evils of drug use.

While its shortcomings significantly detract from its appeal, there is so much in Requiem for a Dream that is enjoyable that the film is still worth watching. It is a treat visually and the performances of the actors are impressive. It is just entirely overblown.

Review by Keith Allen

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