Requiem For A Dream

500 Days Of Film Reviews Drama, Requiem For A Dream, Starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly And Marlon Wayans

Drug addict, Henry (Jared Leto), is sick of living from one fix to the next. He dreams of a better life - a way to support his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), and make his mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), proud.


As a result, Henry teams up with Marion and his best friend, Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). The three addicts decide that dealing drugs will enable them to buy their American dream. Tyrone just wants to make something of himself, Henry and Marion want to open a shop selling Marion's own fashion designs.


Meanwhile, Sara lives a lonely existence in her New York apartment, watching television and eating chocolates. However, a surprise telephone call changes everything when she is invited to be part of a television show. Sara sees this as her chance to live a better, happier and more fulfilled life.


As Henry and Sara go to increasingly desperate lengths to pursue their own dreams, they start to lose touch with each other and with reality - gradually falling victim to their monstrous addictions.

Is It Any Good?

Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream proved controversial from the outset. So much so that the Motion Picture Association Of America (MPAA) refused to give this dark and disturbing movie (based on the book by Hubert Selby Jr.) a rating on its release in 2000. 


MPAA's main problem concerned a shocking three minute montage that takes place at the end of the film. Thankfully however, despite coming under pressure, Aronofsky refused to alter his work.


For, tough as they are to watch, these heartbreaking minutes are crucial to what Requiem For A Dream has been building towards: a depiction of the struggle we all have with our life expectations and the devastating consequences of addiction.   



Ellen Burstyn gives one of the greatest acting performances in cinema in Requiem For A Dream. While Aronofsky uses many inventive techniques in his film, she is clearly his biggest asset.


Burstyn’s portrayal of Sara is utterly devastating - a distressing depiction of human existence that lingers long in the mind and possibly never truly leaves. How she didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar for this role is still a mystery (she lost to Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich).


Meanwhile, Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans also give powerful performances. However, among the three young addicts, it is Jennifer Connolly’s brave portrayal of Marion (and the terrible predicament she faces) that stands out. After Sara, Marion’s is the story we remember. 


Style Over Substance?

One of the criticisms of Requiem For A Dream is that the film is all style and no substance. I couldn't disagree more - boy is there substance. This is a movie that will play on your mind for days, if not weeks… or longer.


However, the film's digital effects also have an important role in this incredibly (sometimes overwhelmingly) stylish film. Aronofsky started a digital effects company, Amoeba Proteus, in order to create the 150 effects seen (and felt) in Requiem For A Dream. The result is a truly visceral cinematic experience. 


The film starts with a wonderfully effective split screen, showing us the perspective of both Henry and Sara, whose stories we will then follow. Aronofsky also uses this technique later on in the movie - in a beautifully intimate love scene between Henry and Marion.


From these opening moments, cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s camera never stops moving. We are subjected to jarring jump cuts, image vibrations, montages (often used to convey how drugs offer a temporary escape from pain) close-ups and unsettling hallucinations. The pace is often so frenetic it feels dizzying - an all out visual assault.   


Iconic Sound

Meanwhile, Clint Mansell’s powerful and iconic score - the main theme, Lux Aeterna, is stunning - and Brian Emrich’s innovative sound design are also crucial to the storytelling in the film, following Sara, Henry, Marion and Tyrone on their dark and disturbing descent. 


However, Requiem For A Dream’s most powerful scene is remarkably quiet and devoid of effects. Taking place in Sara’s apartment when Henry comes to visit, this is an emotionally devastating moment. We watch as the two delude themselves and each other - unable to connect, despite Sara’s heartbreaking confession. 


Nothing can stop Sara, Henry, Marion and Tyrone from hurtling towards that famous three minute montage. The film’s climax is unquestionably shocking and yet never gratuitous. At no point does Aronofsky glamourise the world of drugs and addiction - indeed, quite the opposite.


At the end of my first viewing of Requiem For A Dream, I sat in stunned silence, trying to process all that I had just seen. Both the style and the substance combine to create an incredibly powerful and thought-provoking film. Not a cinematic experience to enjoy, perhaps, but absolutely one to admire.


You may just need a rainbow and unicorn chaser...


Random Observations

Oh that fridge haunts me still…


Darren Aronofsky has, in interviews, lamented the fact that Clint Mansell’s Lux Aeterna has been used in many ways outside of Requiem For A Dream. He worries that this dilutes its impact in the film. However, he also respects Mansell’s decision to allow its wider use.


Have you seen Requiem For A Dream? 


If you have, what do you think of this film? Style over substance or both style and substance? Let me know in the comments section below. Or let’s talk over on Facebook or Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm)! 

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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