A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that drug abuse permeates this downbeat drama about people in seemingly hopeless descents. As a final descent into degradation one girl performs in a grotesque lesbian stage-sodomy act to continue getting her heroin -- the "edited version" only cuts out a few microseconds of this. Both versions of this film have enough language, explicit sex, violence, blood, and nudity (included female full-frontal) to merit an R. Both versions try with hypnotic imagery and music to capture both the allure and the insidious damage of intoxicants.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In the Coney Island neighborhood of New York City, four interrelated characters fall prey to chemical addiction over a year. Harry (Jared Leto) and Marion (Jennifer Connelly) are childhood sweethearts, he from the lower classes, she from a rich family, but both are addicted to heroin. Harry nurtures Marion's career goal to open a designer-dress emporium and tries with his friend and fellow addict Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) to peddle drugs to finance the venture. Soon their own cravings and gang-turf wars deplete their supply, and the men go on a disastrous trip to Florida in search of a fresh pipeline, as Marion loses herself in addiction. An unlikelier addict is Harry's middle-aged mother Sarah (Ellen Burstyn) who becomes obsessed with shedding weight to appear slim and pretty on TV. She herself gets hooked on diet pills that alter her thinking and perceptions of reality.
Is it any good?
There's no question this is a movie of extremes; it uses punchy editing and camera tricks to convey the rush of drugs of the characters, right down to the cellular level. By the end the protagonists are literally curled in fetal positions, robbed of everything by their habits (bad drugs, bad!). The conundrum for filmmakers trying to depict the seductive power and destruction wrought by drugs is walking that fine line between making "getting high" look too good on one hand, and on the other hand going too far with the Message Stuff and preaching a finger-wagging sermon.
But the skillful, surreal camerawork, and the sympathetic characters -- none of them want to be Scarface, they just want to be happy -- make this more than just the proverbial "classroom scare film." Perhaps the most important story, in fact, is Sarah's, who breaks no law in her addiction to amphetamines (diet pills) but ends up as brain-damaged and ruined as any junkie thanks to an impersonal medical-institutional establishment that hands out pills like candy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the effects of drug addiction, in real life and in the media, running the gamut from The Man With the Golden Arm to Trainspotting to countless preachy After-School Specials and even superhero comic books. How effective is Requiem for a Dream as a cautionary tale? Do you think any mere film has the power to change or dissuade an addict? What do kids think of Sarah's "legal" addiction compared to the unlawful activities of the reckless Harry, Marion, and Tyrone? Why do so many real-life celebrities fall into traps of drug habits? You could try to get adventurous readers to tackle the difficult source novel by Hubert Selby Jr. -- but watch out, it's rough, raw stuff too.
- In theaters: October 27, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: August 8, 2001
- Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly
- Director: Darren Aronofsky
- Studio: Artisan Entertainment
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: extensive depiction of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence
- Last updated: February 8, 2021
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