If Ellen Burstyn's performance as Sara Goldfarb doesn't crush you in every way emotionally, what makes you tick? What kind of machine pumps blood through your veins?
Darren Aronofsky's 2000 breakthrough film, Requiem for a Dream, is aggressively downbeat, presenting the downward-spiraling lives of four NYC drug addicts, the eldest being Sara Goldfarb. A widow and the mother of narcotics dealer/absentee son Harry (Jared Leto), Sara wastes away alone in her Brighton Beach apartment. A phone call inviting her to appear on one of her favorite TV game shows inspires Sara to start weight-loss pills, to fit into the old red dress her late husband, Seymour, loved so much on her. Maybe, just maybe, if she goes on TV and wins, Harry will pay more attention to her, and she'll finally have a purpose in her otherwise depressing post-Seymour world.
Sara never makes it onto that game show—instead, she starts losing her mind from all the pills, to the point where she thinks her refrigerator has come alive. The fridge bits border on the ridiculous, but Burstyn keeps those scenes grounded in her character's sad, hopeless reality. Sara's life goes from bad to worse to hospitalized vegetable, and it's difficult to watch. Yet, with Burstyn giving such a towering, all-in performance, you can't look away. Even if tears begin to cover your eyes. —Matt Barone