12 Facts About Requiem for a Dream For Its 20th Anniversary

Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000).
Jared Leto and Jennifer Connelly in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000).
Artisan Entertainment/Courtesy of Getty Images

Before The Wrestler and Black Swan, before The Fountain and Noah, there was Requiem for a Dream, the harrowing heroin film that brought Darren Aronofsky to the attention of mainstream moviegoers in 2000. (His first film, Pi, had been an underground hit.) Few who have experienced the film’s tragic stories of addiction have forgotten it, the images seared on our brains forever like the scars on a junkie’s arm. So let’s dive deeper into this turn-of-the-century masterpiece.

1. Darren Aronofsky was a newly minted Hollywood hotshot, yet nobody wanted to make Requiem for a Dream.

Ellen Burstyn and Darren Aronofsky on the set of Requiem for a Dream (2000).Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Darren Aronofsky’s first movie, Pi, won the Directing Award at Sundance in 1998, and was nominated for the festival’s Grand Jury Prize, earning him some serious attention within the indie world. When Pi also turned out to be a financial success—it cost $60,000 to make; sold to Artisan Entertainment for $1 million; and earned $3.2 million at the box office—Hollywood really sat up and listened. Financiers told the then-29-year-old filmmaker that his next project could be anything he wanted. But when he sent the Requiem for a Dream screenplay around, no one called him back. Turns out when Hollywood says “anything,” they mean “anything that’s commercially marketable.”

2. Darren Aronofsky had a long history with the author of Requiem for a Dream.

The director was in college when he discovered Hubert Selby, Jr.’s 1964 novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, a controversially explicit look at life in one of the city’s neighborhoods. Aronofsky, a Brooklyn native himself, said he became obsessed with the book, and found Selby’s 1978 novel Requiem for a Dream a little later, when he was in film school.

3. Darren Aronofsky and Hubert Selby, Jr. wrote separate screenplay adaptations of Requiem for a Dream that turned out to be remarkably similar.

Selby supported Aronofsky’s desire to turn his book into a movie. Selby had actually begun writing an adaptation himself years earlier, but had lost it. Aronofsky said that when he was about three-quarters finished writing his version, Selby found his own old draft. Comparing them, Aronofsky was surprised to find they were “about 80 percent” the same.

4. Requiem for a Dream’s 20-second cleaning-the-house-on-speed scene came from a 40-minute timelapse.

One of the film’s many trippy visuals is the scene where Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), jacked up on diet pills, cleans her apartment in fast motion. Using a timelapse camera and some tricky lighting effects to mimic the changing sunlight, Aronofsky had Ellen Burstyn bustle around while the camera very, very slowly panned across the set. Burstyn moved in a rapid, jerky manner, so it would look even faster when it was sped up. A single take took 40 minutes, and Aronofsky had her do it three times. That fake apartment was clean.

5. Someone got hurt during the scene in Requiem for a Dream where Harry and Tyrone play keep-away with a cop’s gun, who warns them that “someone’s gonna get hurt!”

Indeed, while Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans were tossing the gun back and forth, an errant throw caused the gun to hit Wayans in the head. That’s one of several reasons not to take a cop’s gun, even in a heroin-induced fantasy.

6. Tappy Tibbons wasn’t in the original Requiem for a Dream book.

The charismatic infomercial host on whom Sara Goldfarb is fixated was Aronofsky’s invention. In the novel, Sara has the traditional housewife viewing habits: soap operas and game shows. But Aronofsky worried that showing clips of then-current programs would date the film, irrevocably marking it as a product of the year 2000. He wanted something less specific, something that could theoretically have been on TV anytime in the last few decades.

7. Marion and Harry’s last phone conversation in Requiem for a Dream wasn’t in the book, either.

Aronofsky wanted a way for those two characters to connect in the third act of the movie, when Harry (Jared Leto) has left town for Miami and Marion (Jennifer Connelly) is getting involved in the sex-for-drugs world. (In the book, they simply drop out of each other’s lives.) The director and his actors wrote the scene together through improvisation. For added authenticity, Aronofsky shot both halves of the conversation simultaneously, on adjacent sets, so Leto and Connelly could really be talking to one another.

8. Requiem for a Dream featured real junkies as extras.

If the scene where a fresh shipment of heroin is distributed to a mob of eager junkies in the back of a supermarket seems particularly realistic, it might be because most of those extras were actual junkies.

9. Ellen Burstyn spent four hours a day in the makeup chair for Requiem for a Dream.

That’s how long it took to apply the various prosthetic necks (there were four of them) that helped make the actress look older, heavier, thinner, or unhealthier, depending on the scene. There were also two different fat suits (a 40-pounder and a 20-pounder) and multiple wigs.

10. Darren Aronofsky’s college roommate provided the special effects for Requiem for a Dream.

Aronofsky credits one of his Harvard roommates, an animator named Dan Schrecker, with turning him into a filmmaker. Schrecker’s company, Amoeba Proteus, did the special effects for Requiem for a Dream (there are about 150 of them) and for most of Aronofsky’s subsequent movies, including Black Swan and Noah.

11. Darren Aronofsky says Requiem for a Dream is not a “drug movie,” and has a list of things it is instead.

“I was never interested in making a movie about junkies,” Aronofksy said in a 2000 interview. “I find junkies really boring.” So what is the film? “In a lot of ways, we looked at [it] as a monster movie. The creature was invisible; it lived in their heads. Addiction.” And what else is it? “It’s a punk movie where the audience is a mosh pit of emotion.” And what else? “Ultimately the film is about the lengths people will go to escape their realities, and what happens when you chase after a fantasy.” Anything else? “Mostly, it’s about love. More specifically, it’s about what happens when love goes wrong.”

12. Requiem for a Dream almost had a hip-hop soundtrack.

Like a lot of Jewish kids from Brooklyn in the 1980s, Aronofsky grew up loving hip-hop music. Composer Clint Mansell said Aronofsky originally wanted Requiem for a Dream to have a score consisting of reworked classic hip-hop songs, much the same way his later film Black Swan would use music from Swan Lake. But none of the hip-hop they paired with Requiem had the right feel (and besides, Mansell said hip-hop “was never my strong suit anyway”), so they tried some instrumental pieces Mansell had been working on as samples.

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8 Great Gifts for People Who Work From Home

World Market/Amazon
World Market/Amazon

A growing share of Americans work from home, and while that might seem blissful to some, it's not always easy to live, eat, and work in the same space. So, if you have co-workers and friends who are living the WFH lifestyle, here are some products that will make their life away from their cubicle a little easier.

1. Folding Book Stand; $7

Hatisan / Amazon

Useful for anyone who works with books or documents, this thick wire frame is strong enough for heavier textbooks or tablets. Best of all, it folds down flat, so they can slip it into their backpack or laptop case and take it out at the library or wherever they need it. The stand does double-duty in the kitchen as a cookbook holder, too.

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2. Duraflame Electric Fireplace; $179

Duraflame / Amazon

Nothing says cozy like a fireplace, but not everyone is so blessed—or has the energy to keep a fire going during the work day. This Duraflame electric fireplace can help keep a workspace warm by providing up to 1000 square feet of comfortable heat, and has adjustable brightness and speed settings. They can even operate it without heat if they just crave the ambiance of an old-school gentleman's study (leather-top desk and shelves full of arcane books cost extra).

Buy It: Amazon

3. World Explorer Coffee Sampler; $32

UncommonGoods

Making sure they've got enough coffee to match their workload is a must, and if they're willing to experiment with their java a bit, the World Explorer’s Coffee Sampler allows them to make up to 32 cups using beans from all over the world. Inside the box are four bags with four different flavor profiles, like balanced, a light-medium roast with fruity notes; bold, a medium-dark roast with notes of cocoa; classic, which has notes of nuts; and fruity, coming in with notes of floral.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

4. Lavender and Lemon Beeswax Candle; $20

Amazon

People who work at home all day, especially in a smaller space, often struggle to "turn off" at the end of the day. One way to unwind and signal that work is done is to light a candle. Burning beeswax candles helps clean the air, and essential oils are a better health bet than artificial fragrances. Lavender is especially relaxing. (Just use caution around essential-oil-scented products and pets.)

Buy It: Amazon

5. HÄNS Swipe-Clean; $15

HÄNS / Amazon

If they're carting their laptop and phone from the coffee shop to meetings to the co-working space, the gadgets are going to get gross—fast. HÄNS Swipe is a dual-sided device that cleans on one side and polishes on the other, and it's a great solution for keeping germs at bay. It's also nicely portable, since there's nothing to spill. Plus, it's refillable, and the polishing cloth is washable and re-wrappable, making it a much more sustainable solution than individually wrapped wipes.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Laptop Side Table; $100

World Market

Sometimes they don't want to be stuck at a desk all day long. This industrial-chic side table can act as a laptop table, too, with room for a computer, coffee, notes, and more. It also works as a TV table—not that they would ever watch TV during work hours.

Buy It: World Market

7. Moleskine Classic Notebook; $17

Moleskin / Amazon

Plenty of people who work from home (well, plenty of people in general) find paper journals and planners essential, whether they're used for bullet journaling, time-blocking, or just writing good old-fashioned to-do lists. However they organize their lives, there's a journal out there that's perfect, but for starters it's hard to top a good Moleskin. These are available dotted (the bullet journal fave), plain, ruled, or squared, and in a variety of colors. (They can find other supply ideas for bullet journaling here.)

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nexstand Laptop Stand; $39

Nexstand / Amazon

For the person who works from home and is on the taller side, this portable laptop stand is a back-saver. It folds down flat so it can be tossed into the bag and taken to the coffee shop or co-working spot, where it often generates an admiring comment or three. It works best alongside a portable external keyboard and mouse.

Buy It: Amazon

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Get Playstation Plus and 12 Other Subscriptions for 80 Percent Off With This Entertainment Bundle

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Photo by EVG Culture from Pexels

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. If you haven't received your voucher or have a question about your order, contact the Mental Floss shop here.

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