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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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Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
The 10 Wildest Movie Plot Twists
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Laura Harring in Mulholland Drive (2001)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

An ending often makes or breaks a movie. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as having the rug pulled out from under you, particularly in a thriller. But too many flicks that try to shock can’t stick the landing—they’re outlandish and illogical, or signal where the plot is headed. Not all of these films are entirely successful, but they have one important attribute in common: From the classic to the cultishly beloved, they involve hard-to-predict twists that really do blow viewers’ minds, then linger there for days, if not life. (Warning: Massive spoilers below.)

1. PSYCHO (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock often constructed his movies like neat games that manipulated the audience. The Master of Suspense delved headfirst into horror with Psycho, which follows a secretary (Janet Leigh) who sneaks off with $40,000 and hides in a motel. The ensuing jolt depends on Leigh’s fame at the time: No one expected the ostensible star and protagonist to die in a gory (for the time) shower butchering only a third of the way into the running time. Hitchcock outdid that feat with the last-act revelation that Anthony Perkins’s supremely creepy Norman Bates is embodying his dead mother.

2. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

No, not the botched Tim Burton remake that tweaked the original movie’s famous reveal in a way that left everyone scratching their heads. The Charlton Heston-starring sci-fi gem continues to stupefy anyone who comes into its orbit. Heston, of course, plays an astronaut who travels to a strange land where advanced apes lord over human slaves. It becomes clear once he finds the decrepit remains of the Statue of Liberty that he’s in fact on a future Earth. The anti-violence message, especially during the political tumult of 1968, shook people up as much as the time warp.

3. DEEP RED (1975)

It’s not rare for a horror movie to flip the script when it comes to unmasking its killer, but it’s much rarer that such a film causes a viewer to question their own perception of the world around them. Such is the case for Deep Red, Italian director Dario Argento’s (Suspiria) slasher masterpiece. A pianist living in Rome (David Hemmings) comes upon the murder of a woman in her apartment and teams up with a female reporter to find the person responsible. Argento’s whodunit is filled to the brim with gorgeous photography, ghastly sights, and delirious twists. But best of all is the final sequence, in which the pianist retraces his steps to discover that the killer had been hiding in plain sight all along. Rewind to the beginning and you’ll discover that you caught an unknowing glimpse, too.

4. SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)

Sleepaway Camp is notorious among horror fans for a number of reasons: the bizarre, stilted acting and dialogue; hilariously amateurish special effects; and ‘80s-to-their-core fashions. But it’s best known for the mind-bending ending, which—full disclosure—reads as possibly transphobic today, though it’s really hard to say what writer-director Robert Hiltzik had in mind. Years after a boating accident that leaves one of two siblings dead, Angela is raised by her aunt and sent to a summer camp with her cousin, where a killer wreaks havoc. In the lurid climax, we see that moody Angela is not only the murderer—she’s actually a boy. Her aunt, who always wanted a daughter, raised her as if she were her late brother. The final animalistic shot prompts as many gasps as cackles.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS (1995)

The Usual Suspects has left everyone who watches it breathless by the time they get to the fakeout conclusion. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey), a criminal with cerebral palsy, regales an interrogator in the stories of his exploits with a band of fellow crooks, seen in flashback. Hovering over this is the mysterious villainous figure Keyser Söze. It’s not until Verbal leaves and jumps into a car that customs agent David Kujan realizes that the man fabricated details, tricking the law and the viewer into his fake reality, and is in fact the fabled Söze.

6. PRIMAL FEAR (1996)

No courtroom movie can surpass Primal Fear’s discombobulating effect. Richard Gere’s defense attorney becomes strongly convinced that his altar boy client Aaron (Edward Norton) didn’t commit the murder of an archbishop with which he’s charged. The meek, stuttering Aaron has sudden violent outbursts in which he becomes "Roy" and is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, leading to a not guilty ruling. Gere’s lawyer visits Aaron about the news, and as he’s leaving, a wonderfully maniacal Norton reveals that he faked the multiple personalities.

7. FIGHT CLUB (1999)

Edward Norton is no stranger to taking on extremely disparate personalities in his roles, from Primal Fear to American History X. The unassuming actor can quickly turn vicious, which led to ideal casting for Fight Club, director David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel. Fincher cleverly keeps the audience in the dark about the connections between Norton’s timid, unnamed narrator and Brad Pitt’s hunky, aggressive Tyler Durden. After the two start the titular bruising group, the plot significantly increases the stakes, with the club turning into a sort of anarchist terrorist organization. The narrator eventually comes to grips with the fact that he is Tyler and has caused all the destruction around him.

8. THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)

Early in his career, M. Night Shyamalan was frequently (perhaps a little too frequently) compared to Hitchcock for his ability to ratchet up tension while misdirecting his audience. He hasn’t always earned stellar reviews since, but The Sixth Sense remains deservedly legendary for its final twist. At the end of the ghost story, in which little Haley Joel Osment can see dead people, it turns out that the psychologist (Bruce Willis) who’s been working with the boy is no longer living himself, the result of a gunshot wound witnessed in the opening sequence.

9. THE OTHERS (2001)

The Sixth Sense’s climax was spooky, but not nearly as unnerving as Nicole Kidman’s similarly themed ghost movie The Others, released just a couple years later. Kidman gives a superb performance in the elegantly styled film from the Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar, playing a mother in a country house after World War II protecting her photosensitive children from light and, eventually, dead spirits occupying the place. Only by the end does it become clear that she’s in denial about the fact that she’s a ghost, having killed her children in a psychotic break before committing suicide. It’s a bleak capper to a genuinely haunting yarn.

10. MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

David Lynch’s surrealist movies may follow dream logic, but that doesn’t mean their plots can’t be readily discerned. Mulholland Drive is his most striking work precisely because, in spite of its more wacko moments, it adds up to a coherent, tragic story. The mystery starts innocently enough with the dark-haired Rita (Laura Elena Harring) waking up with amnesia from a car accident in Los Angeles and piecing together her identity alongside the plucky aspiring actress Betty (Naomi Watts). It takes a blue box to unlock the secret that Betty is in fact Diane, who is in love with and envious of Camilla (also played by Harring) and has concocted a fantasy version of their lives. The real Diane arranges for Camilla to be killed, leading to her intense guilt and suicide. Only Lynch can go from Nancy Drew to nihilism so swiftly and deftly.

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iStock
Hollywood's 5 Favorite Movie Villains
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iStock

Movie villains are meant to bring out the best in a hero, but with the right script, director, and performer in place, these bad guys can sometimes steal the show from their clean-cut rivals.

Take any horror movie, for example—chances are you’re not watching Friday the 13th to root for the absentminded teenagers down at Camp Crystal Lake. And Steven Spielberg certainly didn’t become a household name by directing a shark movie titled Three Guys on a Boat Drinking Narragansett.

The Hollywood Reporter set out to celebrate these iconic agents of evil by surveying 1000 professionals in the entertainment industry (directors, producers, entertainment attorneys, etc.) on their favorite movie villains. A rogues' gallery of murderous AI, mafia bosses, and a diabolical fashion magazine editor all made the top 25 list as the worst of the worst, and while they’re all deserving, the top five are the gold standard. They include:

5. Nurse Ratched: Played by Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
4. The Joker: Played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Wicked Witch of the West: Played by Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
2. Hannibal Lecter: Played by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001), and Red Dragon (2002)
1. Darth Vader: Played by David Prowse and James Earl Jones in the Star Wars movies (Prowse 1977-1983, Jones 1977-present)

That top spot might not come as a surprise to most, unless you’re still in your twenties: According to The Hollywood Reporter, survey respondents in that age group put Darth Vader in the sixth spot—behind Regina George from Mean Girls.

To check out the entire list, head to The Hollywood Reporter.

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