Requiem for a Dream

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This article is about the film. For the novel on which it was based, see Requiem for a Dream (novel). For other uses, see Requiem for a Dream (disambiguation).
Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a dream.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Produced by
  • Eric Watson
  • Palmer West
Screenplay by
Based on Requiem for a Dream 
by Hubert Selby, Jr.
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Matthew Libatique
Edited by Jay Rabinowitz
Distributed by Artisan Entertainment
Release dates
  • May 14, 2000 (2000-05-14) (Cannes)
  • October 27, 2000 (2000-10-27) (US)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.5 million
Box office $7.3 million[2]

Requiem for a Dream is a 2000 American psychological drama film directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Hubert Selby, Jr., with whom Aronofsky wrote the screenplay. Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance. The film was screened out of competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival.[3]

The film depicts four different forms of drug addiction, which lead to the characters’ imprisonment in a world of delusion and reckless desperation that is subsequently overtaken by reality, thus shattering their hopes and dreams and leaving them as hollow shells of their former selves.[4]

Plot summary[edit]

During the summertime in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, elderly widow Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) is a lonely television addict whose only comfort is eating boxed chocolates and watching TV shows, particularly infomercials hosted by Tappy Tibbons (Christopher McDonald). One day Sara receives an unexpected phone call informing her that she has won a spot to participate on her favorite television game show. Sara is ecstatic and becomes obsessed with regaining the more attractive appearance she once possessed in an old photograph from her son Harry's (Jared Leto) graduation. In order to fit into her old red dress seen in the picture, (the favorite one of her deceased husband Seymour) she goes on a crash diet. In order to reach her goal sooner, Sara takes the advice of her friends and goes to a doctor to discuss weight loss. The doctor gives her a prescription for weight-loss amphetamine pills throughout the day and a sedative at night. Harry warns her about amphetamine dependence and risk of life-threatening consequences, but she rebuffs him and insists that the chance to be on television has given her a reason to live. As the months go by, Sara's tolerance for the pills adjust and she is no longer able to feel the same kick the pills once gave her. When wintertime comes, her invitation has still not arrived, so she wrongfully increases her dosage from double to triple and, as a result, begins to suffer from amphetamine psychosis. Soon, her delusions worsen and she is driven to the brink of madness when she suffers a bizarre hallucination that she appears on the game show as the principal subject while being attacked by her monstrous, anthropomorphized refrigerator.

Meanwhile, Harry is a young heroin addict, who regularly steals and pawns his mother's television set for dope money. He has a girlfriend Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), whose drug of choice is Cocaine. Both Harry and Marion dream of having a promising and adventurous future together. Harry's best friend and partner in crime Tyrone C. (Marlon Wayans) decide that in order to support themselves and their drug habit, they should enter the illegal drug trade around Coney Island. With the promised money, each addict hopes to achieve their dreams: Harry wants to start his own business, Marion wants become a Fashion Designer and escape her oppressive parents, and Tyrone just wants to move out of his family's low-income neighborhood and honor his late mother's memory. At first, the trio's drug dealing business thrives. However, Tyrone is imprisoned after fleeing the scene of a drug-gang assassination and Harry uses most of their earned money to post bail.

Having spent all their money, the three find it much more difficult to find heroin. Escalating drug-baron violence around New York City and rising drug prices make matters worse, which leads to a brutal state of deprivation. Harry suggests that Marion earn money by having sex with her psychiatrist, which she does, but as a result it strains their relationship. After one of Harry's drug deals goes awry due to unexpected gunfire (in which Harry is shot in the arm), he and Marion have a falling out and he leaves her after giving her the number of a pimp who would have access to heroin. Overnight, he and Tyrone flee the city and decide to travel to Miami in order to buy wholesale product and make their money back.

After her nightmarish hallucination, Sara immediately flees her apartment and wanders the snowy streets aimlessly. She takes a subway to a television studio in Manhattan to confirm when she will be on the show, only to be informed that there is a very long waiting list. Concerned about Sara's obvious psychotic state, the staff and the secretary at the studio calls for paramedic assistance, and Sara is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. In an attempt to bring her back to normalcy, she is force fed and put on several different medications, but all are unsuccessful. As a last resort, Sara is given painful shock therapy treatment, which is also unsuccessful, completely destroying her sanity to the point of no return.

On the way to Miami, Harry’s increasingly infected left arm from his daily heroin injections forces them to visit a hospital in Georgia. Seeing they are obvious drug addicts, a Doctor calls the police instead of treating them. Harry and Tyrone are arrested for drug possession and are incarcerated. Tyrone must deal with hard labor, racist prison guards, and severe drug withdrawal. Harry's arm worsens so he is transferred from prison to a hospital. His arm cannot be saved, therefore he goes into surgery to have it amputated.

Back in New York, Marion meets with Big Tim, a misogynistic pimp who supplies her with drugs in exchange for sex and her participation in a private and graphic sex show. Here, she shamefully partakes in performing degrading sexual acts with another woman as a large circle of business men watch and throw money at them, while cheering them on.

As the film comes to its intense climax, and then to its end, each character struggles with disappointment, despair and hopelessness. To cope with their pain, the four are shown curling into a fetal position ; Tyrone on a cot in jail, Marion on her living room sofa and Harry in his hospital bed with his left stubbed arm wrapped in layers of medical bandages. Altering back to Sara's story, two of Sara's elderly friends from her apartment building eventually visit her in the hospital. They are so shocked and horrified upon discovering the heartbreaking reality of what has happened to their friend, that they hug one another and sob heavily at the bus stop on the way back home.

In the final moments, the film enters into Sara's last dream where she is wearing her red dress and has won the grand prize on Tappy Tibbons. She is joined by her son who is the guest of honor. Harry is now a well dressed and successful business man. He and Marion are also engaged. Under the glowing stage lights, they embrace and declare their love for one another. Sara smiles and sheds tears of joy when the crowd claps and cheers for her.



The film rights to Hubert Selby, Jr.'s book were optioned by Scott Vogel for Truth and Soul Pictures in 1997 prior to the release of Aronofsky's film π.


The majority of reviewers characterized Requiem for a Dream in the genre of "drug movies", along with films like The Basketball Diaries, Trainspotting, Spun, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.[5][6] However, Aronofsky has said:[7]

Requiem for a Dream is not about heroin or about drugs… The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, what is a drug?' The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person's head when they're trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they're trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me. I thought it was an idea that we hadn't seen on film and I wanted to bring it up on the screen.

In the book, Selby refers to the "American Dream" as amorphous and unattainable, a compilation of the various desires of the story's characters.


One of the filmmaking techniques in Requiem for a Dream is the use of rapid cuts or a hip hop montage. Whenever the characters use street drugs, a rapid succession of images illustrates their transition from sobriety to intoxication. In this scene, Harry and Tyrone deal drugs and Marion uses cocaine while she designs clothes. The speed of the footage and the cuts alternates as the characters become intoxicated and sober.

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As in his previous film, π, Aronofsky uses montages of extremely short shots throughout the film (sometimes termed a hip hop montage).[5] While an average 100-minute film has 600 to 700 cuts, Requiem features more than 2,000. Split-screen is used extensively, along with extremely tight closeups.[5][8] Long tracking shots (including those shot with an apparatus strapping a camera to an actor, called the Snorricam) and time-lapse photography are also prominent stylistic devices.[9]

In order to portray the shift from the objective, community-based narrative to the subjective, isolated state of the characters' perspectives, Aronofsky alternates between extreme closeups and extreme distance from the action and intercuts reality with a character's fantasy.[8] Aronofsky aims to subjectivize emotion, and the effect of his stylistic choices is personalization rather than alienation.[9] "His camera serves as a vehicle for exploring the characters’ states of mind, hallucinations, visual distortions, and corrupted sense of time. The intertwining of narrative sequences with hallucinations pulls a spectator into the interval between objectively and subjectively perceived realities, making it unclear when the hallucination or dream starts."[10]

The film's distancing itself from empathy is furthered structurally by the use of intertitles (Summer, Fall, Winter), marking the temporal progress of addiction.[9] The average scene length shortens as the film progresses (beginning around 90 seconds to two minutes) until the movie's climactic scenes, which are cut together very rapidly (many changes per second) and are accompanied by a score which increases in intensity accordingly. After the climax, there is a short period of serenity, during which idyllic dreams of what may have been are juxtaposed with portraits of the four shattered lives.[8]


Requiem for a Dream premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2000 and the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival on September 13 before a wide release on October 27.


In the United States, the film was originally rated NC-17 by the MPAA, but Aronofsky appealed the rating, claiming that cutting any portion of the film would dilute its message. The appeal was denied and Artisan decided to release the film unrated.[11] An R-rated version was released on video, with the sex scene edited, but the rest of the film is identical to the unrated version.

In the United Kingdom, the film was given an 18 certificate by the BBFC.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

Requiem for a Dream received positive reviews from critics and has a "Certified Fresh" score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 133 reviews with an average rating of 7.4 out of 10. The critical consensus states "Though the movie may be too intense for some to stomach, the wonderful performances and the bleak imagery are hard to forget."[12] The film also has a score 68 out of 100 on Metacritic , based on 32 critics indicating "generally favorable reviews."[13] Film critic James Berardinelli considered Requiem for a Dream the second best film of the decade, behind the The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.[14] Roger Ebert gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of four, stating that "What is fascinating about Requiem for a Dream, how well he portrays the mental states of his addicts. When they use, a window opens briefly into a world where everything is right. Then it slides shut, and life reduces itself to a search for the money and drugs to open it again."[15] Elvis Mitchell, writing for The New York Times, gave the film a positive review, stating that "After the young director's phenomenal debut with the barely budgeted Pi, which was like watching a middleweight boxer win a fight purely on reflexes, he comes back with a picture that shows maturation."[16]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian, lauded the film. "His agonising and unflinchingly grim portrait of drug abuse, taken from a novel by Hubert Selby Jr (with whom Aronofsky co-wrote the screenplay), is a formally pleasing piece of work - if pleasing can possibly be the right word."[17] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote that "no one interested in the power and magic of movies should miss it."[18] Owen Gleiberman, writing for Entertainment Weekly, gave the film an "A" grade. "The movie, a full-throttle mind- bender, is hypnotically harrowing and intense, a visual and spiritual plunge into the seduction and terror of drug addiction."[19] IGN gave the film a 9.0 out of 10. "The reason it works so well as a film about addiction is that, in every frame, the film itself is addictive. It's absolutely relentless, from Aronofsky's bravura cinematic techniques (split screens, complex cross-cutting schemes, hallucinatory visuals) to Clint Mansell's driving, hypnotic score (performed by the Kronos Quartet), the movie compels you to watch it."[20]


Ellen Burstyn was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role as Sara Goldfarb,[21] but lost to Julia Roberts in the title role of Erin Brockovich. She was nominated for several other awards including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role.[22]

In 2007, Requiem for a Dream was picked as one of the 400 nominated films for the American Film Institute list AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)[23]


Listen to a clip from the soundtrack of "Requiem for a Dream."

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The soundtrack was composed by Clint Mansell with the string ensemble performed by Kronos Quartet. The string quartet arrangements were written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang.

The soundtrack has been widely praised and has subsequently been used in various forms in trailers for other films, including The Da Vinci Code, Sunshine, Lost, I Am Legend, Babylon A.D., and Zathura. A version of the recurring theme was re-orchestrated for the film trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.[24]

The soundtrack also confirmed its popularity with the album Requiem for a Dream: Remixed, which contains remixes of the music by Paul Oakenfold, Josh Wink, Jagz Kooner, and Delerium, among others.


  1. ^ a b "REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 2000-11-23. Retrieved 2013-01-01. 
  2. ^ "Requiem for a Dream (2000) - Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. 2002-01-01. Retrieved 2013-01-01. 
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Requiem for a Dream". Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  4. ^ "Requiem for a Dream :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
  5. ^ a b c Booker, M. (2007). Postmodern Hollywood. New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-275-99900-9. 
  6. ^ Boyd, Susan (2008). Hooked. New York: Routledge. pp. 97–98. ISBN 0-415-95706-0. 
  7. ^ "It's a punk movie". (2000-10-13). Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  8. ^ a b c Dancyger, Ken (2002). The Technique of Film and Video Editing. London: Focal. pp. 257–258. ISBN 0-240-80420-1. 
  9. ^ a b c Powell, Anna (2007). Deleuze, Altered States and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 75. ISBN 0-7486-3282-4. 
  10. ^ Skorin-Kapov, Jadranka (2015) Darren Aronofsky's Films and the Fragility of Hope,p.32 Bloomsbury Academic
  11. ^ Hernandez, Eugene; Anthony Kaufman (August 25, 2000). "MPAA Upholds NC-17 Rating for Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream"; Artisan Stands Behind Film and Will Release Film Unrated". indieWIRE. SnagFilms. Retrieved 1 November 2011. 
  12. ^ "Requiem for a Dream Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-12-12.
  13. ^ "Requiem for a Dream Reviews". Metacritic. n.d. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  14. ^ "Top 10 Movies of the Decade". Retrieved 2011-03-01
  15. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 3, 2000). "Requiem for a Dream Movie Review (2000)". Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  16. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (October 6, 2000). "Movie Review: Requiem for a Dream". The New York Times. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  17. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (January 18, 2001). "Living in Oblivion". The Guardian. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  18. ^ Travers, Peter (December 11, 2000). "Requiem for a Dream". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  19. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (October 13, 2000). "Movie Review: 'Requiem for a Dream' Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Review of Requiem for a Dream". IGN. October 20, 2000. Retrieved December 13, 2004. 
  21. ^ Lyman, Rick (March 4, 2001). "OSCAR FILMS/ACTORS: An Angry Man and an Underused Woman; Ellen Burstyn Enjoys Her Second Act". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ "Award Nominees – 2000". The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved March 22, 2012. 
  23. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Ballot
  24. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Answer Man". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved May 2, 2007.

External links[edit]