'Requiem for a Dream'

By Jeff Gordinier
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Strapped into a fat suit, she is so bloated that her walk becomes a waddle. Her hair, expressed by a grotesque series of wigs, eventually turns into a crinkled bride-of-Frankenstein nimbus. As her character goes insane, her eyes dart and squint and finally wash out into a dead daze. ”Unflattering” is too wimpy a euphemism to describe Ellen Burstyn’s transformation into tormented diet-pill addict Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream. She disintegrates in front of your eyes. ”Here’s a woman in her 60s who allows the camera to be an inch from her face — without makeup, or with makeup making her look worse than she does,” marvels director Darren Aronofsky. ”You find me a 22-year-old actor who doesn’t have an issue with that.”

Burstyn has no qualms with her mournful metamorphosis in Requiem. Although she is, at 68, a woman of striking beauty, she doesn’t hesitate to scrape away the self for a role. ”You know, there’s an old superstition in the theater that it’s bad luck to have peacock feathers in the dressing room,” says Burstyn, who won the Best Actress trophy in 1975 for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. ”What that means is that vanity has no place in an actor’s artistry. Vanity will stand in the way of real expression. I didn’t have a sense at any time while I was making this film that it was ‘brave’ or ‘courageous’ or ‘fearless.’ Those are words that I’ve heard since. To me, it’s what our job is: to embody that character.” In fact, here’s a telling testimonial: The novelist who created Sara Goldfarb, author Hubert Selby Jr., couldn’t stop crying when he finally saw the film. ”You can’t think, ‘Oh, she should’ve been more this or less that,”’ Selby says of Burstyn. ”She’s just so totally Sara.”

Requiem for a Dream

  • Movie
  • 102 minutes
  • Darren Aronofsky