12 Addictive Facts About Requiem for a Dream

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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. THE DIRECTOR WAS A NEWLY MINTED HOTSHOT, YET NOBODY WANTED TO MAKE HIS MOVIE.

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. ARONOFSKY HAD A LONG HISTORY WITH THE BOOK’S AUTHOR.

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. THE NOVELIST AND THE FILMMAKER WROTE SEPARATE SCREENPLAY ADAPTATIONS 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. THE 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 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 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 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. THEY USED 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.

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. ARONOFSKY’S COLLEGE ROOMMATE PROVIDED THE SPECIAL EFFECTS.

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. ARONOFSKY SAYS IT’S 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. IT 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 Facts About Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon
Bloomsbury Children's Books via Amazon

Longtime Harry Potter fans who feel like first-years at heart may find it hard to believe, but the books have been around for decades. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series, which follows Harry as he faces Dementors, investigates the mysterious Sirius Black, and gets through his third year at Hogwarts.

From Rowling’s writing process to how it changed The New York Times Best Sellers list, here are some facts you should know about the wildly popular book.

1. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was J.K. Rowling’s "best writing experience."

In a 2004 interview with USA Today, Rowling described the creation of Prisoner of Azkaban as “the best writing experience I ever had.” This had more to do with where Rowling was at in her professional life than the content of the actual story. By book three, she was successful enough where she didn’t have to worry about finances, but not yet so famous that the she felt the stress of being in the public eye.

2. The Dementors represent depression.

Readers who live with depression may see something familiar in Prisoner of Azkaban’s soul-sucking Dementors. According to the book, “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself ... soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life."

Rowling has stated that she based the Dementor’s effects on her own experiences with depression. "[Depression] is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again," she told The Times in 2000. "The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad. Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It's a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."

3. Rowling regretted giving Harry the Marauder’s Map.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Marauder’s Map is introduced as a way for Harry to track Sirius Black and learn of the survival of Peter Pettigrew. But this plot device proved problematic for Rowling later on this series. In Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide, she wrote, “The Marauder’s Map subsequently became something of a bane to its true originator (me), because it allowed Harry a little too much freedom of information.” She went on to say that she sometimes wished she had made Harry lose the map for good in the later books.

4. Rowling was excited to introduce Remus Lupin.

One of the aspects Rowling most enjoyed about writing Prisoner of Azkaban was introducing Remus Lupin. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and secret werewolf is one of the author's favorite characters in the series, and as she told Barnes & Noble in 1999, “I was looking forward to writing the third book from the start of the first because that's when Professor Lupin appears.”

5. Crookshanks is based on a real cat.

Harry had Hedwig the owl, Ron had his pet rat Scabbers, and in book three, Hermione got a pet of her own: an intelligent half-Kneazle cat named Crookshanks. J.K. Rowling is allergic to cats, and she admits on her website that she prefers dogs, but she does have fond memories of a cat that roamed the London neighborhood where she worked in the 1980s. When writing Crookshanks, she gave him that cat’s haughty attitude and smushed-face appearance.

6. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book Americans had to wait for.

Harry Potter fans based in America will no doubt remember waiting months after a book’s initial release in England to buy it from their local bookstore. Prisoner of Azkaban was the last Harry Potter book with a staggered publication date: Beginning with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the rest of the books in the series were published in both markets on the same date.

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban broke sales records.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban sold 68,000 copies in the UK within three days of its release, making it the fastest-selling British book of all time in 1999. The book has since gone on to sell more than 65 million copies worldwide and helped make Harry Potter the bestselling book series ever.

8. It changed The New York Times Best Sellers List.

For part of 1999, the first three Harry Potter books—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (which is known as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone pretty much everywhere besides America), Chamber of Secrets, and Prisoner of Azkaban—occupied the top three slots on The New York Times Best Sellers list. It didn’t stay that way for long, though: Prisoner of Azkaban was the book that pushed the paper to create a separate list just for children’s literature, leaving more room on the original list for books aimed at adults. That’s why Harry Potter is missing from the famous bestsellers roundup during the 2000s, despite dominating book sales at this time.

Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke Turned Down the Lead in 50 Shades of Grey

Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images
Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images

Though Emilia Clarke is undoubtedly best known for her starring role on Game of Thrones, she has landed some other plum parts over the past several years, including Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys, the role of Qi'ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the lead in Phillip Noyce's upcoming Above Suspicion opposite Jack Huston. But there's one major role Clarke passed on, and has no regrets about it: Anastasia Steele in the 50 Shades of Grey franchise.

The movies, based on E. L. James's erotic book series, trace the sadomasochistic/romantic relationship between college graduate Anastasia Steele and millionaire businessman Christian Grey. Both the books and the movies have garnered a lot of criticism for their graphic nudity and sex scenes. While Clarke is no stranger to appearing nude on film for her role as Daenerys Targaryen, she said that 50 Shades of Grey would have taken her too far out of her comfort zone.

“There is a huge amount of nudity in the film,” the British actress told The Sun of her reasons for not wanting to get involved with the film series. “I thought I might get stuck in a pigeonhole that I would have struggled to get out of.”

Even without 50 Shades of Grey on her resume, Clarke says she has dealt with a lot of negative backlash because of the nudity in Game of Thrones. “I get a lot of crap for nude and sex scenes,” the 32-year-old star said. “Women hating on women. It’s so anti-feminist.”

When we last left Daenerys, she seemed to be getting serious about Jon Snow—who, unbeknownst to the two of them, is her nephew. We'll see how that unpleasant discovery plays out when Game of Thrones returns on April 14, 2019.

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