Study Guide

Requiem for a Dream Sara (Ellen Burstyn)

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Sara (Ellen Burstyn)

Bad Diet

South Beach. Weight Watchers. The Zone. Atkins. Paleo. There's a fad diet for every day of the year. For leap years, when you need a 366th fad diet, we suggest the Requiem for a Dream diet, where you watch this movie until you get sick to your stomach (about twelve minutes) and you're unable to eat, sleep, or even function ever again.

You'll slim down in no time, and this is (marginally) healthier than eating like a caveman.

Sara Goldfarb is in the market for a diet after leading a sedentary lifestyle of chomping chocolates in front of the television. (That's what we call around here "a day ending in y.")

But it's unhealthy. Sara wants to fill holes in her life left by the death of her husband and her absentee son. She attempts to fill them with chocolate, but all she's really doing is making them bigger. Her waistline is getting bigger, too.

Queen for a Day

Sara is mostly content gorging herself in front of the TV, until she gets a wake-up call. It's a literal phone call, and the man on the other end of the line has some surprising news for her.

MAN ON PHONE: I'm calling to tell you, you've already won.

What she's won is a chance to be on TV. It's pretty vague, but Sara assumes she is going to be on a game show where she can win fabulous prizes. Sadly for Sara, she doesn't want a new car, a trip to Tahiti, or a Flokati rug. She wants her family back. She thinks that if she can go on TV and brag about her son being successful, then it will be true.

Hmm. When we go on YouTube and say we have a million dollars, our bank account balance doesn't get any bigger.

Sara misses the days when she used to be a caretaker: a mom and a wife. The opportunity to be on TV convinces Sara she'll be back in the spotlight once again. She wants to feel needed and desired, which is why she obsessively tries to fit into her old red dress. (More on that in our "Symbols" section.)

Sara doesn't want to be world-famous like a Kardashian. She's just a lonely woman who wants attention. And any attention will do. She's even happy to have the best seat on the sidewalk in a row of wrinkly old ladies. She brags about it to Harry.

SARA: I got the best place in the sun.

The sun is the spotlight of attention. Remember the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun? Sara's Icarus wings are her diet pills. She consumes them recklessly, and when she gets close to the sun, she falls.

We don't even want to think about what a killer sunburn that would cause.

An Enabling Fable

So how does Sara Goldfarb go from loving but lonely old lady to crazy woman wandering the streets? The short answer is that she falls through the cracks. And no, this isn't a crack about crack. (Hey, this is a drug movie. We have to clarify.)

One way to look at it would be to see Sara as a victim of medical negligence and her friends either enabling her obsessive behavior or ignoring it. During the scene where Sara gets the prescription for diet pills, the doctor doesn't look at her. Not once. He's the type of medical "professional"—those quotes are sarcastic—who prescribes drugs instead of trying to get to the root of the problem.

But let's face it. Every character in this movie wants to use drugs instead of getting to the root of the problem. Another way to look at Sara's fate is to see it as something she actually wants.

And Sara's M.O. is to ignore issues. At the beginning of the movie, after she lets her son steal her TV, she has this conversation with Mr. Rabinowitz, the man whom she buys her TV back from.

MR. RABINOWITZ: Why don't you tell already the police? Maybe they could talk to Harry. He wouldn't be stealing no more the TV.

SARA: Mr. Rabinowitz, I couldn't do that. Harold's my only child. He's all I have.

Who would've thought that a guy who runs a pawnshop would be sharing peals of wisdom? Sara is enabling Harry's bad behavior by not punishing him. She doesn't want to have to do the hard work to get results. This is the same mentality some people have when they want to be on television—like Sara. They want to win a fabulous prize instead of having to actually work for it.

Sara wants her son to be successful, but she doesn't want to push him. Sara wants to fit into her red dress, but she doesn't want to exercise and eat right. Sara wants her dead husband back, but she doesn't want to get a Master's degree in Necromancy. So she retreats into the fantasy world inside her head until it becomes her reality.

This is how Sara sees herself in her fantasy, as introduced by her favorite TV host Tappy Tibbons.

TAPPY: She's a beautiful woman with a winning sense of a humor and a magical smile straight from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Let's give a juicy welcome to Mrs. Sara Goldfarb.

In reality, her hair is gray and stringy, her housedress is dirty, and everyone thinks she's crazy. But at the very end of the movie, Sara's lying in her bed, smiling, and believing that everything turned out okay. For her, it did.

Inside her head, where she now lives, everything is perfect.

But it's up for you to decide. Is she a victim? Or does she get what she really wants in the end?

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