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If you've been to Coney Island, you've seen the Cyclone and the abandoned duplicate roller coaster a few hundred yards away that looks like some post apocalyptic vision. Darren Aronofsky deserves credit for including a shot of this decaying coaster in his sophomore effort, Requiem for a Dream, based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., about the decay of the American Dream.

The story focuses on Harry Goldfarb (played by Jared Leto) and his mother, Sara (played by Ellen Burstyn), and each of their pursuits of an ideal life. The story starts with Harry pawning his mother's beloved television to get money to score heroin. Together with his friend Tyrone (played by Marlon Wayans), he hatches a scheme to afford one final score so they can get on easy street.

Let's take a moment to talk about Marlon Wayans. Ever since his introduction to show business, he has been the obnoxious younger brother of funny people. However, make no mistake, he can act. He delivers an impressive and honest performance in this film without a trace of his Wayans Brothers or Scary Movie alter ego. Jared Leto also puts in a strong performance as Harry. Jared Leto could have his hands full stealing parts from Freddie Prinze Jr. but, ever since his start with My So Called Life, he has always managed to pick interesting projects.

Meanwhile Sara Goldfarb receives a letter in the mail telling her that she could be in her favorite television program starring the iconic motivational speaker Tappy Tibbons (played by Christopher McDonald). Having put on a few pounds more than her favorite red dress will allow, she goes on a diet. Unable to cope with her diet, she goes to a doctor who prescribes diet pills.

Harry, his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and Tyrone go along with the plan to sell heroin until they have enough money for the big score that will make them rich. Things go well for a while but their habits catch up with them. They start taking from their savings to get more heroin. With each hit, their final score gets further and further out of reach.

Sara Goldfarb descends into her own madness with each diet pill she takes in excess of her prescription. Aronofsky shows his stylistic mastery through her paranoid delusions. Sara must ward off the attacks of her refrigerator as well as taunts from Tappy Tibbons and her ideal self transported from television. Ellen Burstyn sits perfectly on the edge of insanity until plunging into it.

A drug shortage puts Harry and Marion in need of money for heroin. Marion goes to beg for money from Arnold (Sean Gullette), her old shrink. Eventually, Marion is coming up with creative ways to earn money. With a menacing scar growing on Harry's arm, Sara's increasingly fantastic upper-induced visions and Marion's new career, it's clear that this story does not end happily.

Aronofsky was clearly inspired by Selby's novel. It must have produced a great amount of controversy when it was published in 1978. It's prophetic but full of themes that are perhaps a little too familiar to present day moviegoers. The struggle of heroin addicts could have been more poignant before the return of the drug in the mainstream conscience with Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, The Basketball Diaries and countless other references. Couple that with television worship, the cult of personality and self-destructive weight loss and you've got textbook American social commentary.

However, this movie never seems trite. Aronofsky's style keeps this material fresh. In his latest effort, you get the feeling that Aronofsky was restrained with his first picture and has now been given free reign of camera techniques and colors. He takes every opportunity to use rich colors, from green grass and the brilliant blue sky, Sara's red dress and rainbow of diet pills, even such details as Marion's eye shadow. Aronofsky made a memorable debut with Pi, an intense story about a gifted mathematician predicting the stock market. Pi was a grainy black and white movie but it was still indicative of a distinct style. The movie thrived on it. He builds on his previous effort and goes beyond it. Pi used pills in a hand, then popping into a mouth to show its main character taking his medication. Inventive techniques like this are used throughout Requiem. Aronofsky uses these creative devices to show anything from heroin use to eating breakfast.

Requiem for a Dream is a unique modern tragedy. Aronofsky has proven to be a passionate filmmaker using the strength of film, telling a story with brilliant visuals.

--Robert Penty

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