Requiem for a Dream  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Requiem for a Dream is a 2000 film adaptation of a 1978 novel of the same name. The novel was written by Hubert Selby, Jr.. The film adaptation was directed by Darren Aronofsky, and starred Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans.

The film is a harrowing tale different forms of addiction, leading to the characters' imprisonment in a dream world of delusion and reckless desperation, which is then overtaken and devastated by reality.



In the United States, the film was originally tagged with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA due to a scene of kinky sex in the film's finale (Marion shares a two-headed dildo as a party of businessmen cheer "Ass-to-ass!" and "Cum! Cum! Cum!"), as well as a brief frontal nude image of Marion. Aronofsky appealed the rating, claiming that cutting any portion of the film would dilute, if not outright destroy, its message. The appeal was denied, so Artisan decided to release the film unrated. An edited version of the film was released on video, rated R. This version had the sex scene shortened, but kept the rest of the movie identical to the un-rated version. This R-rated version was only distributed in video-store chains such as Blockbuster as well as some family-oriented department stores such as Target. The edited version contains an alternate title card featuring the words "Requiem for a Dream Edited Version" ensuring that the viewer is aware that the version they are watching is not the original.

In the DVD commentary, Aronofsky implies the "ass-to-ass" scene was based on something he actually witnessed; in the book the particulars of Marion's prostitution are not described.


Requiem for a Dream belongs to the genre of "drug movies", along with films like Trainspotting, Spun and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. However, the film is not only about substance abuse, but also about addiction in a wider sense: the characters are variously addicted as well to television, impossible dreams, old memories, sex, or to success. In the book, Selby refers to the amorphous and unattainable "American Dream," a compilation of the various desires of the story's characters.

All the characters use some form of addiction as a substitute for the actual fulfillment of a dream, choosing immediate sensory placation over a struggle for some higher good. Selby explains the title of his book in this context - it is a requiem for some specific dream ("A" dream) as opposed to the larger, overarching "American Dream" ("THE" dream). While a dream can wither and die (hence the ability to have a requiem for it), the American Dream is persistent and cannot be easily overcome, certainly not by those who are so entangled in it that they cannot see it. The story also asks political questions, mainly that of the relationship between the state and the individual. This is evident where Harry, Tyrone and Sara become institutionalized toward the end of the story, leaving Marion free to destroy her life with prostitution and heroin addiction. With a small number of exceptions (the kindly nurse who talks to Harry when he wakes up after his amputation, the young doctor who tries, unsuccessfully, to help Sara), these institutions are uncaring and impersonal, and ultimately do little to nothing to help the four addicts. There are also examples of structural racism, exhibited towards Tyrone in the southern hospital and prison.

All of the characters in the movie hold on to memories of better times and long for meaningful connection with others. These, along with the fantastic dream worlds and delusions they gradually withdraw into, are violently and jarringly shattered in the film's dénouement by the bleak and brutal reality of their present circumstances. In the DVD commentary for the film, Darren Aronofsky stresses the idea that by choosing to escape reality with denial and delusion, the characters are only destroying themselves further. The hopes they have for connection with each other and with their happier pasts give way as they are separated and subjected to indifferent and exploitative treatment at the hands of strangers.

The repetitive use of the color orange/red to contrast the dreary color of scenes (Sara's hair dye debate and red dress) and oranges (drug distributor peeling the fruit in the truck) is a nod to The Godfather series, where oranges portend disaster.


As in his previous film, π, Aronofsky uses montages of extremely short shots throughout the film (sometimes termed a hip hop montage). While an average 100 minute film has around 1,000 cuts, Requiem features more than 2,000. Split-screen is used extensively, along with extremely tight closeups. 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.

The montage shown when a character injects heroin contains a factual mistake: a closeup of the eye shows the pupil dilating when it actually contracts.

The movie's climactic scenes are cut together rapidly, and are accompanied by a score which increases in intensity. 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.

The movie's montage style has been widely imitated and parodied since the film's release. The Simpsons parodied the effect in the episode I'm Spelling as Fast as I Can in which Homer becomes addicted to Krustyburger's new sandwich, the Ribwich. It was also parodied in an episode of Drawn Together, an episode of Sealab 2021, and a commercial for Nescafé.


Main articles: Requiem for a Dream (soundtrack) and Lux Aeterna (Requiem for a Dream)

The soundtrack was composed by Clint Mansell and performed by the Kronos Quartet. It is notable for its use of sharp, string instruments to create a cold and discomforting sound from instruments frequently used for their warmth and softness (an effect pioneered in film soundtracks by Bernard Hermann).

The soundtrack has been widely praised and has subsequently been used in various forms in trailers for other films and series, including The Da Vinci Code, Sunshine, Saw, and Lost. More specifically, a version of the recurring theme was re-orchestrated for the The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers film trailer. This version is often known as "Requiem for a Tower". It has also been featured in many other adverts and trailers, and as re-mixes on other artists' albums.

The soundtrack also confirmed its popularity with the remix album Requiem for a Dream: Remixed, which contained new mixes of the music by Paul Oakenfold, Josh Wink, Jagz Kooner, and Delerium, amongst others.


The story's main characters are mother and son, Sara (Burstyn) and Harry Goldfarb (Leto), Harry's girlfriend Marion Silver (Connelly), and Harry's friend Tyrone C. Love (Wayans). The novel and the movie both deliberately move through three phases: summer, fall, and winter.

The story begins in summer with Sara. Sara is an elderly widow who lives alone in an apartment in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, spending all day in front of her television watching a repetitive and insipid weight-loss infomercial. Her only other comfort is food, which has led to her being (in her own view) somewhat overweight. Harry only shows up at her apartment periodically to pawn her television in order to finance his heroin habit.

When she receives a phone call purporting to be from Malin & Block, a television studio, her life suddenly takes on new purpose. She believes she is to be invited as a guest on an infomercial she watches. She still has the red dress that she wore to Harry's bar mitzva (in the movie it was graduation), one of her proudest moments, and she becomes obsessed with her dream of wearing it on the show, for which she must lose weight to fit into the dress. She dyes her hair a vibrant red (to match the dress), and after initially failing her diet, she starts taking diet pills at the recommendation of one of her friends. She gets a prescription from an irresponsible doctor. Harry later notices from Sara's behavior (a newfound effervescence, as well as compulsive teeth grinding) while visiting her that they probably contain addictive stimulants (probably amphetamines) and begs her to stop taking them. Sara, in an impassioned monologue, explains to Harry the loneliness she's felt since the passing of her husband, and that the weight she has lost and the chance to be on television give her purpose and a reason to live. Harry promises afterwards to come and visit more often, with Marion. On the ride home, Harry is visibly upset, but soothes himself by injecting heroin.

Meanwhile, Harry and Tyrone start to earn their money as drug dealers. Excited for the future, Harry and Marion begin making plans to open a store to sell Marion's clothing designs. Tyrone views the sudden success as the key to escaping the harsh realities of the street.

As the fall arrives, Sara becomes gradually more dependent upon her pills, progressively increases her dosage and starts having hallucinations. When she takes her concerns to her doctor, he gives her a prescription for valium. Her hallucinations become increasingly severe and unsettling, frequently featuring herself as a guest on the infomercial (Tappy Tibbons' Hour of Power') or else her refrigerator moving violently, and she steadily slips into psychosis.

The others' dreams soon burst as well; Tyrone is arrested, while Brody, his friend and main drug source, is murdered by rival dealers. Harry and Marion spend the money they have saved so far to bail Tyrone out of jail. Over the next few months, it becomes far more difficult to score, as uncut heroin is no longer available from regular dealers. They struggle to buy enough each day to support their growing habits, gradually forgetting about their plans for the future. As heroin begins controlling their lives, Harry's relationship with Marion deteriorates; at its lowest point, Harry persuades Marion to have sex with her former therapist to earn money for a supply of drugs.

Tyrone receives information that a new batch of drugs will soon be available. The drugs are being sold by one of the few dealers with high-quality heroin left, as a 'gift' (though the price has doubled from its previous level) for the addicts during the Christmas season. At the meeting, in the stock room of a grocery store, Harry and Tyrone arrive to buy, but a violent confrontation drives away the dealer before they can get anything. Marion, meanwhile, is waiting at home, destroying her designs and the rest of the house in a fit of withdrawal-induced rage.

Sara, meanwhile, has still not received an invitation to be a contestant, and addiction to her diet pills has also been growing. She has been taking more and more pills, and her hallucinations have been intensifying accordingly. She takes her largest dose so far, and has an especially disturbing hallucination, in which the studio set of the infomercial she has been watching takes over her apartment, and exaggerated, cruel versions of the crew, audience, and even herself (as a guest on the show) mock her. Her refrigerator lurches forward and opens up as if to eat her. Sara, terror-stricken, runs from her apartment and heads for the studio in a desperate attempt to find out what is going on.

During the winter, Harry and Tyrone try to drive to Florida, where they believe heroin will be more easily available. Harry realizes that the arm he injects heroin into is becoming severely infected. Ignoring the problem, he injects directly into the wound. His condition worsens rapidly, and Tyrone insists that they find a hospital. After Harry checks in, the doctor realizes from the nature of his infection that he is a drug addict. The doctor reports Harry and Tyrone to the police without providing treatment, and the two are arrested.

Meanwhile, Marion pays a visit to a pimp, Big Tim (Keith David), who, Harry told her before they left, has heroin but is not selling it, instead giving it away for sexual favors. After the encounter with Big Tim, he gives Marion a modest supply of heroin, and informs her she can get more at a party he's throwing next Sunday. He doesn't specify what exactly she will have to do to earn it, but she knows it will be sexual in nature. At first, Marion declines the offer, and leaves Big Tim's place feeling physically sick, presumably from a combination of withdrawal and disgust at her degradation. Big Tim, no stranger to addicts, says to her, "See you on Sunday." When her initial stock of drugs runs out, she indeed returns for the party.

Sara is hospitalized, after a dramatic incident at the television station. While in the hospital, Sara is restrained, drugged and force-fed by the indifferent medical staff. One doctor tries to communicate with her, to find out what she has taken in order to help, but by this point she is quite unable to make any coherent reply.

In jail, Harry uses his one phone call to finally contact Marion again. The two share a heartbreaking moment of connection.

The story climaxes as the lives and dreams of the four chief protagonists finally and decisively collapse. Harry's arm is amputated in hospital after his infection, worsened by the refusal of treatment at the hospital and in jail, leads to gangrene; Sara receives painful and ineffective electroconvulsive therapy and almost completely withdraws from reality; Tyrone stays in jail, where his withdrawal and labor are both punishing, and is subject to mocking at the hands of racist jail officers; and Marion attends Big Tim's party, where she and another woman perform sex acts on a table surrounded by drunken and aggressive men.

Following these scenes, the film concludes with a last look at the four protagonists. Harry wakes up in the hospital, asking for Marion. The nurse by his side assures him she will be sent for, but Harry realizes that any hope of getting her back is now gone. Sara, emaciated and catatonic, is now in a mental hospital. Some of her friends from the apartment building where she used to live visit her, and are aghast to the point of tears by the state she has been reduced to. Tyrone is shown lying down for his first night in jail, obviously in a great deal of pain from withdrawal, dreaming of his long-gone mother. Marion is seen back at the apartment after the party, hugging a substantial bag of heroin with a haunted smile. The last sequence of the movie shows Sara's last dream: her long-awaited infomercial show appearance. She wins a prize: her son Harry, now a successful young man. Mother and son hug and say how much they love one another through the cheers of the crowd and the glowing stage lights, but the scene is underscored by bleak reality, and the ending is ultimately a depressing one for all involved.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Requiem for a Dream" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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