Before seeing this film, and other 'anti-drug' films, I made up my mind and vowed to never do hard drugs (especially heroin). Upon seeing The Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, and now, this film especially, my pledge was reinforced 10,000 times over.
This is based on a novel by co-screenwriter Hubert Selby, Jr. and the loose plot of this uber tragic saga chronicles a lonely widow's growing dependence on amphetamines and a self-help television show, and how it parallels the struggles of her son, his girlfriend, and his best friend, all of whom are junkies. In the case of the trio, even though they use drugs, they are primarily relying on distribution as a means to helping them finance a business they want to open. With the widow, her addictions stem out of a desire to look pretty and slim when she finds out she'll be on her favorite television program.
This film is extremely painful to watch, but damn-near impossible to avert one's eyes from. It's extremely intense, harrowing, and the best depiction of the true, unflinching, and hellish effects of the grips of drug addiction that I've ever seen,. The whole controversy over why the censored version exists is stupid, because a film like this doesn't need to be censored, because the message of the film is (slightly) tarnished. The R-rated 'edited' version is slightly cut, but cut nevertheless. The audience still gets the point, but that's still not an excuse to unflinchingly and graphically depict how much ruin drugs cause. Not watching this film (any version, but especially the unrated) is an unforgivable crime.
I'll admit that the film is light on character development and plot, but what really makes sells this film are the strong performances from Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans, the latter being a nice surprise. There's also supporting appearances from Christopher McDonald, Louise Lasser, Keith David, and Dylan Baker. Another reason this film is so successful, influential, and important are the strong direction from Darren Aronofsky, and the sharp editing, and of course, the cinematography, complete with lots of snorricam, fast and slo-motion, various types of lenses, filters, and numerous montages. There's also that really memorable, and now oft-used music from Clint Mansell with support from the Kronos Quartet.
Okay, so yeah, I've praised this film a lot. I'll admit though that it's not perfect. Even with the uncut version, this film is such a downer you don't want to watch it often. I think it would be possible to do that, but who would want to? This is probably one of the most tragic films I've ever seen. And, while I can appreciate how the film really puts you in the mindset of someone in the hazy and frenzied grips of addiction, it's also rather pretentious, fairly repetitive, and rather jarring with how unsubtle it is.
In the end though, I gotta go with my gut and say that, despite my gripes, and the fact that this film is already praised enough, it really is a gem, and a damn important one.