Drug stories are all the same. Things start kinda bad, then they get a LOT worse. After that it doesn’t really matter if they get better or not. The point is made, it’s always the same, you know what it is from the start, and if you don’t use, it doesn’t really apply to you. You just watch people gradually lose everything to their interlocking needs for money and some mixture of bliss and oblivion.
But when you put it that way, those are the same needs we all have. Drug stories just strip them down to their barest forms, cut away all the subtleties. But they conceal as much as they reveal, they tell you that if you’ve never stuck a needle in your arm it can’t happen to you. That’s why the Sara Goldfarb plot is there, why this movie works; she’s just an aging woman with nothing to look forward to, and she gets hooked on speed prescribed to her as diet pills.
Even so, it’s not the story, but the way it’s told. I still haven’t seen Pi, so this was my introduction to Aronofsky’s style. When I describe it in words — quick cuts, split screens, repeated images, second-long shots — it sounds disorienting, frenetic, what cantankerous critics still refer to as “MTV style.” In fact it’s the opposite, unbelievably expressive and lucid, perfectly comprehensible, intuitive and yet explicable. He makes so many other directors look pathetically dependent on script and clumsy with their imagery.
The tradeoff is that he’s not quite as adroit with the more traditionally dramatic moments. A key scene between Ellen Burstyn and Jared Leto comes off as an after-school special, and it’s partly a misstep in the script, spelling out the obvious in phony language, but it’s also Leto’s awkwardness as Burstyn’s son. He’s much more in his element with his best friend and his girlfriend, and so the moment doesn’t really work and the plots don’t quite connect. Fortunately the movie doesn’t turn on that connection and we can get by without it.
I don’t think I’ll ever watch this again; it’s a downer among downers. But I’m glad I saw it once. And maybe it’s just because of smack and the Jami Gertz expression she wears throughout the movie, but I think Jennifer Connelly belongs in the next Bret Easton Ellis film adaptation.