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Requiem for a Dream

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Requiem for a Dream Movie Poster Image
Shocking, grim addiction saga worth discussing.
  • R
  • 2000
  • 102 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 30 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Principal characters are all doomed addicts and drug users, and their ethnicity and circumstances seem to cut across all genders and ages -- it could happen to anyone, is the implicit message. Nobody here makes a move to save themselves either, though their personal goals are empowerment, not the inevitable self-destruction. Ironically, drug dealer-addict Harry disapproves (quite rightfully) his mother taking diet pills.


Shootings, some at close range. Jailhouse beatings. A violent fantasy about stabbing a character through the hand with a fork. One character's arm develops ghastly, oozing wounds from his IV drug-use needle injections. Another is strapped, force-fed, and electrocuted in a hellish medical environment.


Brief, full-frontal female nudity (in some versions). One character is sexually active with her therapist, her boyfriend, and her pusher. In the unrated version she ultimately descends into full-blown prostitution and performs degrading sex acts -- which aren't shown in clear detail, but you get the idea --- with other women before a live audience. Another couple seen naked having intercourse in profile.


Frequent use of the F-word/MF-word, the S-word, "bitch," and "ass."


One character's mad devotion to a TV game show is key to the plot, though the show is not real.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Heroin use, cigarette smoking, and abuse of diet pills (amphetamines) are the central subject. Quick, punchy editing, macrophotography, and rhythmic cuts try to convey the jittery exhilaration of the narcotics. It's hardly intended as a favorable portrayal, of course.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 and 10 year old Written bydavid.wallace July 4, 2011

Positive Message: DRUGS ARE BAD

This is an excellent movie. It is also one of the most disturbing films I have seen- that is saying something. There is nudity, violence, and drug use like you... Continue reading
Adult Written bymyopinionisbest May 22, 2017

Amazing movie but NOT FOR KIDS

While this is quite possibly the most depressing, disturbing and emotionally draining movie I've ever seen, its also one of the best. As a work of art, thi... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old February 10, 2010

Good messages about drugs, extremely depressing and graphic with sex and language

First of all even this movie has a good message about drugs, it's very depressing and sexually graphic and contains muchos language. They say f--k, motherf... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bydemolitionlover13 October 12, 2011

Amazing movie, if you can handle it.

This is an amazing movie. I first saw it when I was in middle school, and it has changed my life. What do children see when they turn on the tv? Something glamo... Continue reading

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 addition, 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.

Movie details

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