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Published January 1st, 2005 | by Mike Barnard

Requiem for a Dream/Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow Review

Classification: 18 Director: Darren Aronofsky/Michael W. Dean, Kenneth Shiffren Rating: 4/5

Hubert Selby Jr’s acclaimed novels were disturbing tales of American life destroyed by drugs. The writer of classics Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream drew on his own painful battles with drug addiction to become one of the most celebrated and controversial authors of the 20th century. Here an exploration of his life is packaged with Darren Aronofsky’s gritty and emotionally charged imagining of Requiem for a Dream that Selby co-wrote. Together they reveal that behind the desperation of Requiem was a man who overcame incredible odds to get the most from living.

It/ll Be Better Tomorrow is named after a quote from Selby’s writing; he always used a “/” in place of an apostrophe because he felt it looked better. Quirks like this are perhaps unsurprising from a man who spent his early years bedridden fighting tuberculosis. In this biopic he describes how it was during these moments he realised he had to do something with his life, and set out to do it his own way. Despite constantly being told by doctors that his outlook was bleak and a period of heroin addiction, he lived until he was nearly 80-years-old agreeing to all invitations to do book readings and teaching creative writing at the University of Southern California. Narrated by fellow reformed drug addict Robert Downey Jr. and featuring interviews with Selby along with friends Lou Reed, Uli Edel, Aronofsky and even Henry Rollins, it is a touching yet penetrating documentary. Selby Jr. was a man who was told he would die young, but battled to become a warm and plucky old man.

Requiem for a Dream is set in the abandoned beaches and faded glory of Coney Island, Brooklyn. Linking the story of widowed mother Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) with her son Harry (Jared Leto), girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), it explores the pressures of addiction and lengths they go to fuel self-destructive desires. Aronofsky’s movie is as hard-hitting and relevant today as it was seven years ago. This honest depiction of drugs use and the mentality of users is horrifying but made uniquely engrossing through split screen editing techniques as well as a dark and brooding score by the brilliant Clint Mansell. If you ever needed a reason to stay away from drugs, this shows you the depths to which you could potentially plummet. It is also probably the only decent film Marlon Wayans will ever make and features a cameo from Hubert Selby Jr. himself.

Although it is a shame that the film version of Last Exit to Brooklyn directed by Uli Edel is not included in this collection, it is an excellent coupling that helps take the gruelling fiction of Requiem and give it a very real side through It/ll Be Better Tomorrow. Requiem may be a little too remorseless for many when it reaches its near-terrifying conclusion, but as explorations of the pitfalls of drugs they are both hits that are addictive in the right way.

Both DVDs have generous features. Requiem for a Dream includes director’s commentary, deleted scenes and features. It/ll Be Better Tomorrow has additional interviews with Uli Edel, Michael Silverblatt and Selby Jr.

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