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A Hopeless 'Dream'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2000


    'Requiem for a Dream' Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly are drowning in drugs and depression in "Requiem for a Dream." (Artisan Entertainment)
"Requiem for a Dream," based on the Hubert Selby Jr. novel, packs such a stark anti-drug message, it could have been blue-ribboned by Nancy Reagan during her Just Say No period.

Not that she could have sat through this graphically depressing, downward spiral to hell. (Actual geographic address: Coney Island.) In this downer-parable about four characters' desperate bid for happiness, director Darren Aronofsky (who made "Pi") uses all the tricks of his postmodern trade: jarring sound effects, abrupt editing, migraine-repetitive electronic music and such shock effects as a refrigerator with a chomping jaw.

Let's meet the victims as they negotiate their own personal Hades:

    Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a retired, lonely widow who's determined to appear on a diet TV show in her favorite, now tight-fitting red dress. Obsessed with losing weight, she becomes addicted to diet pills.

    Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), Sara's son who resorts to drug dealing to make ends meet and to finance his own heroin addiction.

    Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), Harry's girlfriend, who has to sell her body when Harry's business plans go awry.

    Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans), Harry's best friend and fellow addict, who tries to get into dealing with Harry.

While director Aronofsky pistol-whips your attention with his style, the characters (mostly relegated to human mannequins in Aronofsky's visual schemes) suffer big time.

As things go wrong for them (Sara waits and waits for that TV invitation, and the three others are badly short of money), everyone deteriorates, emotionally and physically. Aronofsky, who adapted the novel with Selby, crosscuts thematically among everyone's drug-induced frenzies, in a sort of one-note symphony of doom and gloom. Their rapid decline, brought about directly and indirectly by drug addiction, shows no sign, or even hope, of uplift.

If there's something positive to say, I'd point to Burstyn. Her transition from cutely addled retiree to a wild-eyed candidate for electroshock therapy is the movie's single, bravura performance. She makes a terrifying and unforgettable spectacle of herself; and her poignant desperation keeps you hanging on, keeps you hoping for something artistically deeper to emerge from this movie. But in the end, she's betrayed not only by those terrible people on television but the movie itself. She's very much on her own.

"Requiem for a Dream" (Unrated, 102 minutes) – Contains drug use, graphic sexual scenes, some violence and obscenity.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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