Darren Aronofsky directed Requiem for a Dream, a 2000 American psychological drama film starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. It is based on Hubert Selby Jr.’s 1978 novel of the same name, for which Aronofsky co-wrote the script.
The film highlights four characters who are impacted by drug addiction and the physical and mental effects it has on them. Their addictions have trapped them in a world of deception and desperation. As the film unfolds, each character’s reality is gradually replaced by hallucination, concluding in disaster.
Aronofsky and producer Eric Watson optioned Selby’s work. Selby had always intended to make a cinematic adaptation of the novel and had even drafted a script before Aronofsky approached him.
Despite initial problems to get money for the film’s production, Aronofsky was thrilled about the story and collaborated with Selby on the script. He and the rest of the cast claim that the film is about addictions in general, not just drugs and that it has a theme of loneliness and avoiding reality in many ways.
Sara Goldfarb is played by Ellen Burstyn.
Harry Goldfarb is played by Jared Leto.
Marion Silver is played by Jennifer Connelly.
Tyrone C. Love is played by Marlon Wayans.
Tappy Tibbons is played by Christopher McDonald.
Mr. Rabinowitz is played by Mark Margolis.
Ada is played by Louise Lasser.
Rae is played by Marcia Jean Kurtz.
Arnold, Marion’s psychiatrist, is played by Sean Gullette.
Marion’s pimp, Big Tim, is played by Keith David.
As a Southern Doctor, Dylan Baker
Mailman Ajay Naidu
Tyrone’s mother, Denise Dowse
Dr. Spencer is played by Ben Shenkman.
As the Laughing Guard, Hubert Selby, Jr.
Visitor: Darren Aronofsky (uncredited)
Explanation of The Ending
The physical conclusion of the film begins exactly after the metaphorical end of the film, “Winter.” Sara has a terrifying nightmare at home and decides to rush to Malin and Block’s office to find out why she hasn’t been called on the show yet.
By this time, she is mostly seen in a demented state, with her hair greying from the roots, and her behavior at the agency lands her in a psychiatric facility, where, after forced sessions of oral and nasal feeding fail, she is subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, even though she signs the agreement for it in a vegetative state.
The state of Harry’s diseased arm increases as he continues to put the needle in it while driving to Miami to secure it from the dealer himself with Tyrone. Tyrone subsequently takes him to a hospital, where the doctor notifies the cops and has them arrested for drug possession after examining Harry’s arm.
Marion, on the other hand, continues to prostitute herself for Big Tim, and the more she engages in vulgar behavior, including participating in a sex display, the more narcotics she receives.
The film features two strange episodes featuring the mother and son duo in the last act. In the first, just before Harry’s plight with the amputated arm is disclosed, he is shown in the same sequence as earlier in the film, nearing the end of the Steeplechase Pier where Marion is meant to be standing, but the yet-to-be-shown woman appears to have her back to him.
She vanishes as Harry rushes up to her, yelling Marion’s name, and he is shown plunging into a metaphorical abyss as he flees; a visual reflection of his elusive fantasy and its tragic end.
The second sequence is a type of wish-fulfillment daydream for Sara, who dreams that she wins the grand prize on the show she’s always longed to witness from her mental facility bed. As she is reunited with a sober, repentant, and prosperous Harry, she is wearing a red dress and looks just as slender as she wished.
As the silent titles for the film roll, the two hug in a pretty ironic ending. The silence is soon broken up by the sounds of seagulls and waves, implying a beach setting, but no pictures are shown. It’s what I call the “what may have been” sound. There isn’t much left to the imagination.
What You Should Know
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, based on the novel LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN, begins at Coney Island with the lonely Sarah Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn) watching a TV game show. Her black friend Ty and her son Harry steal her TV and pawn it to get their next heroin dose. Sarah reclaims the television. She receives an unexpected call informing her that she has been picked to appear on a television game show.
Her life is abruptly altered. She goes to get her beloved red dress, only to discover that she is too big to fit into it. She visits a doctor, who prescribes diet pills and tranquilizers. Sarah eventually goes insane from using pills; Harry ends up in jail with a gangrened arm; Harry’s girlfriend turns to prostitution, and drugs ultimately destroy everyone.
REQUIEM FOR A DREAM is a harsh, tough film. It depicts what happens to persons who are addicted in minute detail. This is terrifying stuff. Unfortunately, the film has far too much sex, violence, and terrible language. With some careful editing, this film may have been a powerful warning story. It is already overdone.