Future Classic Movie: Requiem for a Dream [2000]

Paula over at Paula’s Cinema Club has presented the blogging world with an interesting question: what movies from 2000 to present day will endure to become a future classic? The 2000s have already been fruitful for great films, and there are an extraordinary amount of excellent options to choose from. After narrowing down my list, I kept eyeing one particular film:

Requiem for a Dream [2000]

Requiem for a Dream is director Darren Aronofsky’s second full-length film, and it is one that is unforgettable for those who have seen it. The film revolves around four Coney Island residents, all who struggle with their own personal addictions.

Ellen Burstyn, in an Oscar nominated role, stars as Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow who spends her days watching television and eating whatever is in her typically full refrigerator. After receiving a phone call saying she was selected to be a participant on her favorite game show, Sara begins obsessing over her weight, determined to fit into her old red dress. Her attempt to follow a diet plan fails miserably, so she goes to the doctor and gets a prescription of diet pills. She becomes addicted to them.

Her son, Harry (Jared Leto), is a heroin junkie who makes a habit of stealing her television and pawning it off for drug money. He regularly dreams of getting rich off a big score with his pal Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans). Harry’s girlfriend, Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly), hopes to open a fashion store and is relying on him to strike it rich. All three are users.

As the film progresses, all four main characters hit rock bottom, and we are there with them for every step of the way. This is a brutal movie experience, one that shows the extreme depths that addicts can ultimately reach.

So why will Requiem for a Dream be considered a classic in the future? Let’s take a look:

The Subject Matter
Drug abuse isn’t going away anytime soon. It has been over ten years since Requiem was released, and our country still has an out-of-control drug problem. I don’t see this changing at all, if ever, and Requiem’s message will ring true for countless years.

The Director
Darren Aronofsky is still young and should have a long career ahead of him, but there is no denying the man’s talent and repertoire already. Few people can capture the essence of self destruction like Aronofsky, and he uses some creative techniques to show the effects that drugs are having on these characters. Requiem has over 2,000 cuts (most movies of this length have 600-700), and it uses extremely quick shots to show the rapid effects of drugs entering the body. Take a look at this montage as an example:

On top of this, Aronofsky expertly uses a variety of long tracking shots, time-lapse photography, extreme closeups and faraway views. Looking at the film from a critical standpoint, this is some pretty innovative stuff. By the time all is said and done, I am confident Aronofsky’s name will be included in a list of the all-time greats.

The Credentials

  • IMDB: Overall rating of 8.4/10 based on over 280,000 votes (#66 on the Top 250)
  • 78% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes
  • Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations for Ellen Burstyn’s lead performance
  • Chlotrudis Award for Best Movie (plus another six nominations, including Best Director and Best Screenplay)
  • In total, the film won 23 awards and received 38 nominations. IMDB has the full rundown.

The Soundtrack
Who could ever forget composer Clint Mansell’s opening theme? Every time I hear this song, a rush of emotions comes over me. It’s such a beautiful song, but one that is equally devastating given the context. Listen to the theme in all its glory:

The rest of the soundtrack is equally impressive, a perfect fit for the film. It is so well-loved that it even got its own remix album with mixes by Paul Oakenfold, Delerium and Josh Wink, among others.

The Cast
I don’t care what anyone says, Ellen Burstyn should have won an Oscar for her performance. Sara Goldfarb’s transformation is just heartbreaking and cruel to watch. I can only imagine how difficult it was for Burstyn. Leto, Connelly and Wayans all deliver what are arguably the best performances of their careers. Special mention must also be made of Christopher McDonald as the TV infomercial host, Tappy Tibbons, in an especially memorable performance.

The Conclusion
In order to prepare this post, I gave Requiem for a Dream another watch last night. It had been at least four years since my last viewing, and it is just as amazingly disheartening as I remember. Requiem is a brutal, depressing film, but it is an incredible piece of art that its viewers will never forget. It can be argued that this is already a modern classic, and I am confident that it will hold up in the future as well.

47 thoughts on “Future Classic Movie: Requiem for a Dream [2000]

    • Eric says:

      Thanks PG. I need to give Traffic another viewing. I haven’t seen it in years, and I don’t think I gave it the proper attention back then.

  1. le0pard13 says:

    It’s a great choice for this future stable, Eric. Bar none, for this or any other decade, ‘Requiem for a Dream’ is one of the most devastating films I’ve ever seen. The testament to that is, as great as the film is (perhaps, Aronofsky’s best), I simply don’t know if or when I’ll ever re-screen it. Well done.

    p.s., of course, this also shows that Ellen Burstyn, in this film, was simply robbed of the Oscar that year. Don’t get me started ;-).

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Michael. Yeah, this is definitely one of those films that is technically impressive but damn if it isn’t hard to watch. I have seen it a few times, but I can totally understand why most will never want to see it again. It certainly has a lasting impact all the same.

  2. Pete says:

    Brilliant choice, brilliant film and brilliant justification! Hard to say such a harrowing film is one of my favourites seeing as the last time I tired to watch it, I had to turn it off but it is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. Probably my favourite soundtrack and second favourite female performance of all time. Burstyn should have won every acting award going that year! Also a case of style perfectly suited to substance!

    • Eric says:

      Thanks so much, Pete. When I watched it again the other night, I thought I would be able to multitask since I had seen it a few times already. Nope. I just sat there in awe, devastated at what was happening. The theme song gets me every time. I can’t think of a better soundtrack, honestly.

  3. Chris says:

    That’s a bold choice, because indeed as you say, the film is very original, a technical achievement, and loved by many on IMDB(including me).
    But also on the flipside there are a lot of people who can’t stomach the graphic nature of Requiem for a dream. I wouldn’t watch it too often, but agree about it being a brilliant contemporary film.

    • Eric says:

      Yeah, it’s a brutal watch for sure, but I can’t think of a better film that depicts the inevitable self destruction brought on by drug abuse. Even though it’s not for everyone, it should have incredible lasting power for those brave enough to seek it out. Thanks Chris.

  4. Brett Hackett says:

    I’ve not seen Requiem yet but after reading your review I definetly want to give it a watch. In terms of modern classics I’d also give Memento and Trainspotting a mention.

    • Eric says:

      Memento and Trainspotting are excellent choices! Requiem is depressing (and disturbing) as all hell, but it’s an amazing film. One of the rare films I would undoubtedly give a 10/10.

  5. Paula says:

    Thanks for this great FCM post! I definitely agree that sadly, drug abuse will probably always be an issue and with your assessment of REQUIEM as brutal and depressing. I’ve only seen it once, but some of the scenes are burned into my mind, that when I was reading this it was like I’d seen it yesterday. not years ago. Along with Trainspotting, this film is one that makes me afraid to take an aspirin sometimes.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks again for setting up this blogathon, Paula. My girlfriend had a similar experience when we watched Requiem the other night. She had only caught parts of it a few years ago, but she vividly remembered each of those scenes. It’s an unforgettable film.

  6. impsndcnma says:

    This is one of those films I had on my list that are incredible, but too difficult to watch multiple times. I’ve actually seen it a few times and feel the sheer hopelessness of these characters. It’s an extremely difficult film, but the soundtrack, Burstyn, and direction from Aronofsky make this a true classic. Awesome selection.

  7. sanclementejedi says:

    Awesome movie and a sure way to keep the kids off the smack. I would have to be in the right frame of mind to watch this again. I did however, really enjoy your review, a powerful film indeed.

  8. tranquilspace says:

    I keep thinking I’ve seen this one, and then wondering if I really have….bit of a blank. I remember being totally blown away by Pi. Still am. The Clint Mansell ST on it is one of my favourites. Well, of a certain type anyway πŸ™‚

    • Eric says:

      For some reason I think you would remember this movie if you saw it. πŸ˜€ But glad to hear you are a fan of the soundtrack — it’s one of the best I have ever heard. Mansell is amazing.

  9. CMrok93 says:

    I’ve seen this flick about 4 times now, and it still gets in my head. There’s just something so powerful and thrilling about this movie that makes you want to agree with everything it’s saying and talking about. Perfect performance from Burstyn, too. Don’t know how the hell they got her to sign onto this. Good review Eric.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Dan. This was the first movie I ever saw Burstyn in, and now after seeing some of her early work it just blows me away that she ended up doing this. She really deserved an Oscar.

  10. ruth says:

    Glad you’re participating in FCM, Eric! I have not seen this film but not sure I could handle it. It deals with such a devastating subject matter and obviously an indelible film. I think I’ll just take your word for it πŸ˜€

    • Eric says:

      Thanks! It was interesting to see this again with a more critical eye. It made me appreciate Aronofsky’s direction even more. Just an amazing piece of film making.

  11. vinnieh says:

    After reading your outstanding and very informative post, I really need to watch this film. I have been meaning to watch it for ages but haven’t found the time.

  12. gotounknown says:

    I remember seeing Requiem a while ago, but after reading your very well written post on it I replay many parts in my mind; man was it strong! If anyone would make a top list of “good”, dark and depressing movies, this one would sure be among the top titles.

    But apart from the depressing feeling it give you, it is also, as you point out, a brilliant movie; superbly cut, amazing cast and wonderful sound/music. Great choice!

    • Eric says:

      Thank you! It was a trip watching this years later from a critical standpoint. Focusing on Aronofsky’s unique tactics made me appreciate the overall film even more.

      I have also read a good chunk of Selby’s book, and damn did this movie nail it! It was like I was replaying the movie in my head as I was reading along.

    • Eric says:

      Hi Vern, thanks so much for stopping by and checking out some of my posts! Your description nailed this film — it’s an exceptional piece of filmmaking, but man, it’s downright brutal.

  13. Kayla says:

    I came across your blog trying to decide if I wanted to view this film. I’ve read some crazy books but Requim was definitely the most disturbing. I couldn’t put it down it was like watching a train wreck. I have had struggles with drug addiction and it just stuck with me for ages. I really want to see the film adaptation but I’m a little nervous that I won’t be able to shake it. The book was so intense it still gets at me sometimes. Thanks for your review I think it’s time to sit ALONE and attempt to watch this film!

    • Eric says:

      Hi Kayla, thanks for the comment! I never did finish reading Requiem for a Dream, but from the first 50 pages or so I couldn’t help but play out the movie in my head. Based on that small sample size, it seemed to be a pretty accurate portrayal of the novel. But yeah, it’s a brutal watch, and if you have struggled with addiction I imagine it will be even more difficult. That being said, it’s a fantastic film — one of the best of the 2000s.

  14. durbaq says:

    Ellen Burstyn was very good in this film. I find it to be a fantastic display of raw cinematic talent and, despite some over-zealous montage cutting in the middle portion of the film, I’m glad I saw it.

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