- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2000


''Requiem for a Dream," a harrowing distillation of a 1978 novel by Hubert Selby Jr., confirms the pictorial dynamism and ingenuity that surged out of "Pi," the first feature directed by Darren Aronofsky.
A resourceful, low-budget thriller about a crazed, reclusive mathematician obsessed with the numerology of the stock market, "Pi" anticipated a good deal of the hallucinatory and phantasmagoric imagery in "Requiem," which observes a quartet of characters from Brighton Beach as they succumb to addiction and folly.
Mr. Aronofsky's proficiency with images of lunacy and degradation may prove an insurmountable obstacle to human interest or compassion. You are more or less obliged to weigh the visually striking against the thematically appalling and heartless.
You can envision Mr. Aronofsky as a detached filmmaker, perhaps clinical enough to watch the ravages of a flesh-eating virus at close quarters. He could get typed a little prematurely as a virtuoso sadist.
The weak-willed, self-defeating victims of "Requiem" are portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans. Miss Burstyn and Mr. Leto are mother and son: a lonely widow named Sara Goldfarb and her wayward pride and joy, Harry.
Sara places her sanity and health in jeopardy by abusing diet pills in hopes of qualifying for an appearance on her favorite TV game show. Harry aspires to finagle a niche for himself in the Brooklyn drug trade, which resists him as an interloper but does make it easy for him to cultivate a heroin habit, along with Miss Connelly as girlfriend Marion Silver and Mr. Wayans as crony Tyrone Silver.
Intercutting scenes of Sara in her demented isolation and Harry scrambling to sustain his toehold as a dealer, Mr. Aronofsky magnifies intimations of dread and decay. Sara is so far gone that she imagines her refrigerator as an animate monster. When she ventures outside her apartment building, she becomes vulnerable to detection and eventual confinement in a mental asylum.
Harry is so far gone that he urges Marion to prostitute herself to salvage the drug business. He and Tyrone embark on a buying excursion to Florida that ends with Harry facing amputation of an arm damaged by needle abuse and Tyrone behind bars in chain-gang country.
As a final cruel irony, Mr. Aronofsky suggests that the only one with a shot at fleeting serenity is Marion. Having passed an audition with a pimp (Keith David), she agrees to participate in his next orgy and returns from that ordeal — depicted with near-pornographic candor and creepiness by Mr. Aronofsky — in a state of exhaustion that nevertheless promises time off for lewd behavior. Moreover, she qualifies for enough smack to keep her slumbering regularly.
The director is all over the place while illustrating these downfalls: overhead, skintight, split-screen, under the skin. One recurrent flurry of images is meant to simulate the sensation of a narcotic rush in the bloodstream.
Mr. Aronofsky believes the flamboyance is imperative to the subject matter because a methodical, naturalistic approach to characters in the grip of addiction would be too grueling to prevent any audience from dashing for the exits. He may be right, but the streamlining he prefers also can seem cruel.
{*}{*}TITLE: "Requiem for a Dream" RATING: No MPAA rating (Adult subject matter and treatment, obviously consistent with the R category; systematic allusions to drug addiction; occasional profanity, sexual candor and graphic violence, including terrifying interludes of hospitalization, shock treatment and amputation; an orgy sequence that borders on hard-core depiction)
CREDITS: Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay by Hubert Selby Jr. and Mr. Aronofsky, based on the novel by Mr. Selby.
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

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