REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
By Sarah Hepola
In Darren Aronofsky's sophomore effort, the human spirit does not prevail; it barely even endures. By the film's final bout, the human spirit lies broken and howling in the corner while addiction plays the hero, brandishing its victory like a bloody tire iron. The film follows four junkies living in Coney Island -- two small-time hustlers, a child of privilege slumming with them, and a lonely widow turned speed freak. They're each addicted to drugs, but, even more damning, to the American Dream. The film is based on a book of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr. (Last Exit to Brooklyn), in which the characters' pursuit of fame, fortune, and mind-numbing euphoria results in nothing less than the selling of their souls. Ellen Burstyn plays Sara Goldfarb, who wants to slim down for an appearance on national television (which is unlikely to ever happen; even before the drugs get her, Sara Goldfarb seems a bit delusional). She finds a doctor who prescribes diet pills rich with amphetamines, and the pounds melt away, along with her sanity. When her son Harry (Leto) finally pays a visit, he recognizes her grinding teeth and frantic behavior as signs of speed addiction; he should know. Along with his pal Tyrone (an impressive and subdued Wayans), Harry is wrapped up in small-time drug trafficking, but the pair's sweet tooth for the stash wrecks their dreams of house parties and mad money. Jared Leto shed 25 pounds to play Harry, and with this role he finally delivers a performance more interesting than his trademark baby blue eyes. Harry is not exactly a good guy, or even a smart guy -- he habitually steals his mother's television, and he is prone to languishing in couches and coffee shops, lost in his own fantasies of grandeur -- but in scenes with his girlfriend Marion, we see someone struggling to be better, to anchor himself to something real and meaningful. But even that crumbles. As the pair lie in bed together, they are shown in a split screen -- even in this couple's most intimate moments, they cannot quite connect. Connelly, who also slimmed down considerably for the role, gives her strongest performance yet as Harry's junkie girlfriend; her debasement at film's end is the story's most scarring scene (and the reason Requiem is going out “unrated,” rather than bearing the ignoble NC-17). In his debut film, the 1998 Sundance award-winning Pi, Aronofsky used his clever camerawork to pin us into the dark and suffocating world of the protagonist (Sean Gullette, who appears here in a supporting role). In Requiem, Aronofsky uses those tricks and more to take us into the diseased minds of this doomed quartet and their symphony of suffering. It's a dazzling trip, for the most part, although a scene in which Burstyn hallucinates that her refrigerator is stalking her bounced me out of the drama entirely. The film also lacks the shades of subtlety that might make its denouement truly crushing rather than merely jaw-dropping. The film flies over the top, sure, but Requiem for a Dream is like a late-night ghost story that can only be told with all the lights out, and which haunts the memory long after you've left the theatre.