Requiem For a Dream: “Let it all go”


Excerpt from Lessons in Becoming Myself, by Ellen Burstyn.

About Requiem For A Dream:

The most difficult scene was one in which my son realizes I’m on speed. It was a nine-page scene, but the last three pages were my soliloquy. I told Darren [Aronofsky] I wanted to do all the coverage of the entire scene, except three pages that would be shot in close-up. I wanted that close-up to be last. That was not the economical way to shoot the scene. Normally, the director shoots everything in one direction and then turns the camera around and shoots everything in the other direction. I was asking for walls to be put up, taken down, and then put up again. That takes time, and in movies, time costs money. But this was a pivotal scene that was beautifully written, and I knew what I needed to do it right. I had never before asked for my creative needs to take precedence over economic considerations. But I had learned to stand up for what I truly needed in order to do my best. I had been testing myself for the last couple of years; testing both my talent and my technique. I knew what I was working with and what I could deliver. Darren and I trusted each other. He told the producer, his friend and partner, Eric Watson, that he wanted to do it my way. They scheduled a whole day for those three pages. I could feel what was there waiting to be expressed. It was my own feeling about aging that I hadn’t been aware of, but which surprised me one day in rehearsal. As soon as I felt that little rise in emotion when I said, “I’m old,” I knew where the reality of the scene was for me. I had to bank that fire, then wait for the right moment. I had to ask for the right conditions to let that slender shoot of truth expose itself at just the precise moment. All my training and effort I’d put in over the years blossomed in that moment of truth. We got it on the first take. We were finished with our day’s work by lunchtime. It ended up costing less time and less money by doing it right creatively. There’s a big lesson here.

On May 5, 1999, Darren showed me some footage. When I told him how much I liked the film, he returned the compliment and repeated something the producer said as he watched my dailies: that I was one of the greatest living actors. I could feel the inflation rise in me and knew I was getting all puffed up, so I went and sat in my trailer and meditated on the image of polishing the mirror and then leaving so that God’s face can shine through. That’s the charge in all of this: to remember that when it comes through, it is God who is shining through, not one’s personal ego.

It’s such a paradox. We must put in all the effort to shine the mirror and then walk away. But isn’t that the same as one’s work in life – to learn how to die consciously? To build the entire structure of one’s life, then breathe – let go – breathe – let go – breathe and then finally, let it all go.

It takes practice.

I shot for two weeks in my fat suits. One added fifty pounds and then, after Sara began her addiction to diet pills, the second fat suit added only twenty-five pounds. Then I was off for two weeks. While Darren shot other stuff, I went on the cabbage soup diet and managed to lose ten more pounds.

When we finished shooting, I wrote Darren a letter and thanked him for the opportunity “to mobilize my entire army, and for wanting what I got and letting me give it.”

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3 Responses to Requiem For a Dream: “Let it all go”

  1. tracey says:

    /I had to ask for the right conditions to let that slender shoot of truth expose itself at just the precise moment./

    There’s so much courage and wisdom in this thought; it kinda staggers me.

  2. Ms Baroque says:

    Looking at the picture I kind of can’t help thinking: “Lessons in Becoming Myself: 1, plastic surgery.” It’s just a shame.

  3. red says:

    Tracey – that’s one of the lines that really strikes me in this excerpt. Her feeling something happening inside her when she says “I’m old” and knowing that that will be her ace in the hole … and she needs to save it for the right moment. That is such a mixture of technique, experience, and genius that I am in awe.

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