Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Carnival barkers line Coney Island’s boardwalk, baiting passersby into pushing luck for cheap stuffed toys. On midways, delusion is playfully peddled for profit. For addicts, delusion is a ceaselessly available, cripplingly addictive, slowly fatal drug.
Darren Aronofsky’s nerve-corroding 2000 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s Requiem for a Dream depicted drug abuse’s annihilative properties using a sobering sensory blitzkrieg.
Montages, split-screens and Coney Island flashbacks traced abuse’s arc from the initial rush to isolation and routine. Editing and sound triggered intense physical discomfort. Clint Mansell’s aching, agonizing score crescendoed to audible reckoning.
Junkies Harry (Jared Leto) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) pursue a drug “empire.” Harry’s girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), is a designer wielding beauty as a weapon. Harry’s widowed mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), pops pills to lose weight.
Visions of luxury become inescapable nightmares of insatiable itches — to be thin, rich, applauded, feared. Requiem glamorizes nothing en route to a near-nauseating finale, which feels like a rollercoaster car hitched off the track and hurtled into hell’s depths.
Yet for Requiem’s conclusive hellfire, it’s a midpoint scene extinguishing Sara’s flickering flame of happiness that crushes the most. In a heartbreaking monologue, Sara’s voice, composure and will crumble as she croaks, “I’m old,” to Harry. It’s then that a son loses his mother forever — powerless to pull himself back from the brink of self-destruction, let alone anyone else.
A decade later, and now likely for all time, Requiem for a Dream still follows through with full force on its cautionary stomach punch.