Requiem for a Dream is about drugs, but more to the point, it is about dysphoria, and even more to the point, it is dysphoria. Dysphoria is the nightmare of nightmares, the bad trip that you can't just wake up from. This film is a story about people trapped in this state — the junkies whose fixes are their only break from their soul-destroying craving, the widow whose diet pills have turned her life into a terrifying hallucination — and uses every cinematic trick in the book and many nowhere near the book to capture the experience. But the film doesn't just observe the inner torture of these people: it tortures them, electrocutes them, rapes them, literally tears them limb from limb.
There's a now-cliché in writing which goes, "Kill your darlings." Requiem is extreme on this count. Really, really extreme. But — not as extreme as what I've done to at least one of mine. I can't really go into details yet, since the book isn't finished (though the relevant chapter is). But here's the basic issue: I have provocatively been implying that Aronofsky is, with this film, acting as a sadist, lending characters a sort of life through the power of narrative and then making those lives nothing short of hell. Same for me and my poor creation — but this character needed to be a broken person and I didn't think I could really sell that without showing the readers just how this person broke. To a great extent, art is the process by which the artist communicates something, inarticulable by conventional methods, to an audience. If that something is dysphoria, is this communication an achievement to be applauded or an act of sadism? The answer is probably "both," and I've barely begun to work through how I feel about that.