Requiem for a Dream

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, Christopher McDonald.
MPAA Rating: Not rated (director refused an NC-17 for sexual imagery and drug content)

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
November 28, 2000

I'm still uncertain about giving this film four stars because I'm quite certain that most people would hate it. Some may scoff and walk out early. Some may be too repulsed to keep their eyes open for its duration. Still others may require medical attention. However, I do believe that there will be those that can appreciate Requiem for a Dream for what it really is: a bold, breathtaking new film from one of today's best young filmmakers.

Darren Aronofsky, the award-winning auteur of the low-budget thriller Pi, has now made his first multi-million-dollar film, based on a novel by Hubert Selby Jr. (who co-wrote the screenplay). Ellen Burstyn stars as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow living in Brighton Beach, New York, whose only companion throughout the day is television. Her only son, Harry (Jared Leto), is a heroin addict, and often comes by only to take the TV and pawn it for another fix. Each time, Sara dutifully goes to the pawnshop to buy it back and start watching again.

Her favorite show is a series of dieting infomercials starring self-help guru Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald). While watching, she receives a phone call inviting her on the show, soon to be followed by a letter. She wants to look her best, so she dyes her hair and goes on a diet. The only one that seems to work is a series of pills prescribed by a shady doctor. She takes uppers throughout the day to keep from eating and downers at night to sleep.

Harry, meanwhile, is trying to cut back on drugs by starting a little business. He and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) decide to buy a full kilo of pure heroin to cut and sell on their own. The sudden abundance of drugs only gets them further addicted, and Harry's girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) goes down with them.

Most of the film deals with the descent of these four characters into drug-induced madness. One could compare Requiem for a Dream to similarly-themed films like Panic in Needle Park and Trainspotting, but that would reduce Aronofsky's film to just another entry in the genre. This film creates its own genre: psychological action. It's a rare example of a film that hits you in both the mind and the gut. Only Fight Club has given me a remotely similar sensation. Maybe there's a connection with Jared Leto, but I digress.

Aronofsky has seemed to tap into that ability that Hitchcock had to play with the audience's emotions. With vivid performances from the cast and sharp visuals set to a precise rhythm, this film can evoke laughter, paranoia, fear, sympathy, or whatever the director wants.

Yet it is this intense connection with the psyche that could repel, or even disgust, many people. Its depiction of sex and drug use would be overwhelming to some people, and probably harmful for children. That's why it originally received an NC-17 rating; children under 17 shouldn't see Requiem for a Dream, even if it would be the most powerful anti-drug message they have ever encountered. However, since commercial theatres and the filmgoing public view NC-17 films as pornography, the stigma would have kept the film from being seen. Aronofsky could have re-edited to get an R-rating, but I support his decision to disregard the MPAA and release his film as unrated. It now has a greater potential for decent distribution, and his film can remain the provocative masterpiece he envisioned.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Requiem for a Dream (2000) -- VHS
Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Director's Cut -- DVD
Requiem for a Dream (2000) - R-Rated Version -- DVD
Requiem for a Dream, a novel by Hubert Selby Jr. -- Paperback
Requiem for a Dream, a screenplay by Darren Aronofsky and Hubert Selby Jr. -- Paperback
Requiem for a Dream: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan