BY ELLISON WALCOTT
Without apology, Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky has wrought a dark haunting tale about the gruesome power of drugs to distort, decimate, and dismantle lives. No surprise. Movies about drugs always have ill-fated effects, whether they are cinematic blockbusters or indie productions. Aronofsky's recently released Requiem For A Dream, falls into the cautionary category.
Staying true to the independent genre, this sophomore director doesn't give us the feel-good Hollywood version or the cheeky glam of media hype which indulges the pop literate in drug-chic voyeurism. Instead, he's fashioned a gripping film where audience members are drawn in, and then addicted to the visual maelstrom.
The son, his mother and his girlfriend are the triumvirate of characters and the narrative trails these three central figures as they journey headlong and headstrong into their own undoings.
The son: Jared Leto, portrays Harry Goldfarb, a benign ne'er-do-well who repeatedly "borrows" his mother's television set to pawn for drug money. His drug usage initially seems recreational and social, since his best friend Tyrone C. Love (played with menacing helplessness by Marlon Wayans) is his high-seeking, music-playing confidant. The two shoot up heroin and the highs it produces clip fears and fabricate oversized egos.
The girlfriend: Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) is the significant squeeze, a comely well-bred young woman who has broken ties with her well-to-do past and inhabits a more "real" world of affection for an unambitioned dreamer. She indulges in cocaine and its initial effects make her feel like a got-it-together girl who will succeed as a clothing designer with an ascendant career in the fashion industry.
The Mother: Ellen Burstyn inhabits the role of Sara Goldfarb with every fiber of her soul. Sara is a lonely, TV-addicted widow and the loss of her husband obviously haunts her every moment. After getting her TV set repeatedly out of hock, the dull routine of her disaffected life is softened only by an inspirational television show, which has strange satiric whiffs of Tony Robbins infomercials. She receives a call and fills out a form that convinces her that she may be a contestant on her dream show. Her emotional speed bump is her weight and through a circuitous chain of events she gets addicted to diet pills. In the end, to watch her loss of self is excruciating.
Empathic pain for fictional characters is always grounded in the existence of hope and Darren Aronofsky knows this well. He judiciously doles out each character's potential, raising our expectations just enough to cringe when their dreams/desires all but evaporate. It's not merely the loss of these dreams that we witness but their inversion.
The fall to an emotional sea level from a slightly elevated stance is one thing, but Aronofsky takes us from an airborne glide to a subterranean purgatory from which there is no rescue.
Jennifer Connelly's descent is somehow particularly poignant and visceral, since there has been a wholesomeness to her roles to date. Her appearances in Rocketeer, Hot Spot and Inventing the Abbotts all had this girl-next-door sheen laced with an intimation of vixen seething beneath. Her early scenes with Leto are sincerely affectionate and gentle which makes the downward spiral difficult to stomach.
While Leto, Burstyn and Connelly achieve tremendous acting chops, the real star of the movie undoubtedly is Aronofsky's filmic flair. The best example, and there are many, is a visual staccato editing that he manufactures into a leitmotif of sounds and sights of the administering of drugs. For cocaine the sequence is as follows: the opening of a bag, the dumping of the powder on a mirror, the edging of the lines, the rolling of a bill, the inhalation and tracking of the straw/bill, and the dilation of the pupil. In the time that it took to read this last itemized list of images, Aronofsky could have had ten of these visual distillations. These bursts of visual and aural collage underscore rhythms of the accelerating descent to come.
Hand-held tracking shots, super wide angle lenses, motion distortions, split screens and a slew of other effects all add to the cacophonous drug-addled zeitgeist of the film. It is to Aronofsky's credit though that each of these elements of technical excellence and creativity serve the story fully. They are neither grandstanding nor gratuitous, but resonate like an unending lament for those who are lost to this world, not by death, but by a living nightmare.
Requiem was due to open Friday, Feb. 9 at the Kentucky Theatre but has been delayed due to those mysterious movie booking reasons. Since it opened in most cities last year, another week or two won't hurt.