Director Darren Aronofsky and his cowriter Hubert Selby, Jr. (on whose book this film is based) appear to be after one goal with Requiem for a Dream: to provide audiences with a thoroughly unpleasant filmgoing experience. On this front, they have succeeded.
A nearly psychedelic, delirium-paced non-story about drug addiction, Requiem follows young heroin addict Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) around a hellish New York as he tries to score his next fix, while keeping his buddy (Marlon Wayans) and girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) on their own habits as well. Meanwhile, Harry's elderly mother (Ellen Burstyn) is falling into her own drug-fueled nightmare, as she becomes addicted to the diet pills she starts taking in order to lose weight and thus fulfill her lifelong dream of being on TV.
Aronofsky is the guy who made the indie hit Pi a couple of years back, and while I prefer this film to Pi – the acting is significantly better, and his hyperkinetic directorial style is more suitable to a story about drug addiction than it is to a half-baked "mathematical thriller" – I have the same problems with it that I did with Pi. It's slick, but there's an emptiness to Aronofsky's approach. All his cinematic tricks (time lapse, extreme closeups, video superimposition, fisheye lens shots) can't hide the fact that his stories are juvenile.
This depresses me a little, because I fear that many people will buy into Aronofsky's visual gimmickry and over-the-top melodrama and walk away thinking that this is what "Serious Filmmaking" is all about. Just like they did with unsubtle hogwash like Natural Born Killers. However, kudos to Clint Mansell's evocative score (his music was also the best thing about Pi), accentuated by the Kronos Quartet's lush strings. And the performances are solid, especially screen veteran Ellen Burstyn. She seems willing to subject herself to whatever humiliation Aronofsky and Selby have in mind for her, and yet somehow lets her character squeak by with depth and humanity.