Requiem for a Dream (2000): Aronofsky’s Grim Drama of Addiction, Starring Ellen Burstyn in Oscar Nominated Performance

Darren Aronofksy, who made a splash at the 1998 Sundance Film Fest with his indie debut, the paranoid black-and-white thriller “Pi,” makes a leap forward as a director in his second film, Requiem for  a Dream.

Based on the novel by Hubert Selby Jr., adapted to the screen by Aronofsky and Selby, this gritty, emotionally intense drama centers on four troubled individuals, each suffering from a form of addiction.

The tone of the film, which is relentlessly grim with not a single ray of hope, might have explained its limited appeal among viewers, despite critical acclaim and prestige accorded at showings at major festivals, such as Toronto.

Harry (Jared Leto), and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) are impoverished heroin addicts living in Coney Island, NY, while Harry’s girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) is a fellow addict trying to distance herself from her wealthy father. Harry dreams of scoring a pound of smack, from which he could make enough money to open a clothing boutique with Marion, but he and his friends can barely scrape by supporting their own habits.

The most interesting character (and the best acted) is Harry’s aging mother, Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn in her sixth Oscar nomination as Best Actress), who spends her days watching TV.  Deluded and brainwashed by the American Dream, Sara hopes to appear on her favorite game show, but first, she needs to lose weight so that she can fit into her red dress.  To that extent, Sara visits a doctor who gives her a prescription for amphetamines, and soon, she too becomes addicted to diet pills, with her life spiraling out of control before disintegrating.

“Requiem for a Dream” is a disturbing (but not provocative) critique of American pop culture and its huge addictive nature on innocent and ordinary individuals, brainwashed by the notion of easy success and quick gratification through various forms of obsession and addiction.

Stylistically, in his intense and vibrant direction, Aronofsky relies (too much?) on “hip hop montage. In the process, he uses split screen, fast cutting, rapid pacing.  End resulting is a film that unfolds like a collage, or assemblage of images and sounds, some of which quite arresting and occasionally even hypnotic. There are many more cuts in this movie than in the average Hollywood film that sometimes produce dizzying effects.

The energy and panache with which Aronofsky tackles his depressing subject occasionally backfire, giving the impression of thrills and excitement.  While the movie is downbeat and depressing, it’s not particularly provocative, intellectually.  Lacking subtlety and depth, it is too explicit, spells out and shows everything.

A graduate of Harvard University, and then a student at the American Film Institute (AFI), Aronofsky is a promisingly gifted director whose career should be watched.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Actress: Ellen Burstyn

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the 2000 Best Actress Oscar was the popular favorite Julia Roberts for the biopic “Erin Brockovich.”

End Note:

Hubert Selby Jr. also wrote the grim novel, “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” made into a bleak movie starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.


Released by Artisan

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

Editor: Jay Rabinowitz

Running time: 102 Minutes