The film focuses on drug addicts and the extents that they'll to go feed their addictions. Firstly, there's the protagonist Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion, (Jennifer Connelly) and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Waylans.) All three of them are heroin addicts. Lastly, there is Harry's mother, Sara, who becomes addicted to diet pills.
What's fascinating about this film is how engrossing it is, despite how it doesn't have a plot in the traditional sense. Whilst a conflict is introduced in the first act with the drug addicts, it isn't resolved by the film's conclusion. That is to say, this film doesn't have a fairy-tale ending. Things start badly and only get worse. Furthermore, the characters don't go through any major or story-arcs or transformations. They start the film as drug addicts and end it as drug addicts. Sure you could argue, that this lack of transformation makes them two-dimensional, but I wouldn't agree. For so many drug addicts, like Harry, Tyrone, Marion and Sara, they end up in a hospital, prison or having to prostitute themselves. To change this into some romanticised, fairy-tale ending would be an insult to real-life addicts and would seriously damage the film's gripping realism-another of the film's strengths.
I also really liked how Aronofsky portrayed the addicts for exactly what they were: addicts. There was no romanticising or demonising, but rather a straight portrayal. To do anything else would again be insulting to real-life addicts who have gone through the same journey. Aronofsky is unflinching in what he shows the audience and rightly so. For example, Harry's arm becomes so badly infected that it has to be amputated and Marion is forced to prostitute herself in a humiliating sex scene where she has to go "ass to ass" with another girl-all for the pleasure of her pimp who will trade her humiliation for heroin. Many addicts go through the same pain and I think it was great that Aronofsky portrays as many facets of addiction that he could.
However, if the film fell down anywhere, I'd say it was in the scenes with Sara in the hospital. They just didn't feel as realistic as the rest of the film. Sara is subjected to a range of brutal tortures/treatments from force-feeding to electric-shock therapy, of which she is too doped up to give informed consent for. Is this realistic? Can/would doctors really administer shock therapy to a patient who obviously isn't in her right mind?
But to end positively, Sara's addiction highlighted something that is regularly glossed over in favour of heroin and ecstasy: prescription pills addiction. Whilst it isn't on the same scale as illegal drugs, prescription pills can be just as dangerous and can ruin just as many lives. Hell, you're always hearing stories of people killing themselves by overdosing on pills and drinking alcohol.
This film was a tour-de-force. It was challenging and asks a lot of the viewer. Whilst it wasn't always the easiest to follow, it was a raw and revealing look into the dark twisted world of drug addicts. Watch it and you'll be coming down from the high for days. Hell, I know I will.