Every night since seeing Darren Aronofsky's harrowing Requiem for a Dream, I have had cold-sweating, bone-chilling nightmares. Nightmares with nauseating images both unbearable and transfixing, that linger in the first moments of consciousness like the spine-scraping Kronos Quartet score. At the very least, I can vow never to do heroin ever again.

It is only too rare that a movie unflinchingly batters open the limitations of its medium to achieve such a profoundly affecting result. Forget entertainment or escapism-this film shoots its stuff right into your aorta, a visual injection of such visceral power that by its end you too will feel like you are lying on a hospital bed, breathing only through a machine.

The drug-movie genre has proven particularly rich, with films like Trainspotting, Drugstore Cowboy, Jesus Son and others. Requiem goes beyond the lines and needles into the very psyche of the addict. It's within that splintered, desperate mindscape that the center of conflict emerges. This is a horror movie, with the monster of addiction mercilessly hounding its prey.

The story follows four characters and their descent into madness: Harry (Jared Leto, redeeming himself from years of mindless teenage fawning), his girlfriend Sara (Jennifer Connelly), his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans, excellent as an aspiring drug dealer in a role far removed from anything on the WB) and his mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn, giving a performance that can only be described as devastating).

The movie is not merely about the drugs. Burstyn's story of an old, lonely woman's fantasies of television stardom and her resulting addiction to diet pills creates the film's emotional center-if any female lead this year makes a powerful demand that golden statues be flung at her, it is this one. Her unraveling makes a point that the needles can't-that our addictions come not from the drugs themselves, but from our desperation for love and misguided pursuits of impossible, empty dreams.

Let this be a warning: Do not plan a date around Requiem for a Dream. Go alone (it will be hard enough to find, given its NC-17 rating) or with someone you trust, and sit in the back corner of the theater and prepare to have the shit kicked out of you. Aronofsky, as hot as they come on the heels of the film school claustrophobia of Pi and going into production of the next Batman film, will surely be accused of excessive style and manipulation in his hyperkinetic pacing (whereas most movies average 600 cuts, Requiem clocks in with over 2000). But if overkill can ever be used to great effect, it's here. At the end of the 100 minutes, both characters and audience lay stripped bare of all emotional outer casing, in a state of raw fetal shock.

-By Greg Bloom