Writer Loves…. Requiem For A Dream. New Blog Series.
Posted on April 14, 2014
I’ve been blogging for around two years now and what has made the biggest impression on me is simply how much passion the blogging community has for the movies – independent film, foreign flicks, blockbusting epics… the list goes on. To celebrate this I’d like to create a section of the blog that captures what we all love about cinema. And so this post is part of a new series that I’m excited to open up to guest posts from you, fellow bloggers. The aim is to record our personal connections to the films we most admire and to create a space where we can reflect on why we love cinema.
So if you’d like to talk about your favourite films and why you love them, please get in touch. You can contribute your ideas in a straightforward feature, a list post or any other format you’d like. Maybe you would like to talk about the movie as a whole, or just share your thoughts about a few key scenes. You’ll be able to find all of the posts in the series on this dedicated page, which I hope will become an homage to everything we adore about movies.
I’m going to kick off the series by talking about my personal connection with one of the films I most admire: Requiem For A Dream.
Requiem For A Dream
My first entry into this series is one of my personal favourites, Darren Aronofsky’s visceral, harsh and disturbing drugs drama, Requiem For A Dream. It’s one of those rare films that actually caused my hair to stand on end as it reached its conclusion. Requiem For A Dream made me look at the idea of film in an entirely different way, largely due to Aronofsky’s very individual creative decisions.
Plot & Themes
Requiem For A Dream is not just another straightforward story about drugs. It’s a much more complicated narrative about addiction. Based on the book by Hubert Selby Jr. and adapted by the author and Aronofsky himself, it follows three heroin addicts as they are drawn deeper into their addictions while simultaneously trying to create themselves a better life. Harry (Jared Leto) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) think if they can sell enough drugs to buy themselves some ‘pure’ they will be able to get out of this illegal game altogether. Harry plans to use the money to help his girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly), who’s also an addict, set up her own clothes store.
Yet the most interesting story in Requiem lies with that of Harry’s mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn). Widowed, lonely and obsessed with television show ‘Juiced’ – a kind of self help, mantra show – she receives a phone call inviting her to be on TV. The idea of being able to reclaim her dreams through the glamour of television leads to a fixation with the red dress she wore at Harry’s graduation. Determined to wear it during her time in the limelight, Sara finds herself dependent on diet pills (uppers) as she tries to quit the temptation of food. In Requiem For A Dream addiction very honestly transcends age groups, gender and personality.
It’s an incredibly rich narrative that draws on family ties, friendship, love, loneliness, dependency and ambition. Even if you haven’t already seen this, you can probably gather that it doesn’t end well. The characters’ efforts to attain their dreams is met first with small triumphs only to result later in degradation and humiliation – it’s a poignant angle that elicits a fair share of sympathy for the characters. I found the final shots, particularly those relating to Sara, some of the most moving I’ve seen in film.
The sheer brilliance of Requiem is the way the characters’ dependencies escalate. Structured into chapters – Summer, Fall and Winter – Requiem charts the characters’ rise and fall with each chapter becoming more intense and frantic than the last. But it’s impossible to separate Requiem’s sharp plot from Aronofsky’s innovative camera choices in the film’s success as a whole.
Split screens can be cheesy. We all know this. Yet Darren Aronofsky uses a split screen within the first few moments of his drama. Sara, on one side of the screen, barricades herself into her apartment. On the other, Harry steals her television. That both actors are in complete command of their half of the screen undoubtedly helps this technique to deliver.
Aronofsky uses everything in his power to put us inside his character’s heads. It’s this commitment that makes Requiem such a powerful viewing experience. Quick shots cut together rapidly with sound effects are one of the most successful tools Aronofsky utilises. This ‘fast cutting’ is first used to condense Harry and Tyrone’s heroin use, followed by their drug sales and the accumulation of their wealth. In Sara’s case we see food disappearing quickly off the plate in rapid jump cuts before more fast cuts summarise her excessive daily pill popping. These fast cuts provide not only a quick transition between sober and high moments but a powerful reminder of the addictions’ demands. This one minute clip from the film shows pretty much what I’m talking about here.
Aronofsky also uses time lapse to illustrate Sara’s frenzied highs. But when her uppers stop working we experience her withdrawal through a distorted, fish-eye lens. Aronofsky slows down and speeds up the footage and speech. The visuals take on a surreal quality, delving deep into the power of the mind as Sara hallucinates and her fridge turns monstrous. It’s shocking, disturbing and uncomfortable to witness.
As Requiem nears its climax Aronofsky introduces snorricam – tracking shots with the camera mounted on the body. The head appears fixed in the centre of the screen, while the backgrounds rush behind it as the character moves. Through this technique we become intimate observers of Sara’s madness – her red hair in disheveled curls silhouetted against flickering lighting – and experience her jumpy, distorted relationship with her environment. In all its jarring sense of reality, we’re reminded of a horror movie.
Requiem becomes very difficult to watch as it escalates towards an intense and frantic climax. It’s impossible to look away, despite the horrifying developments.
Even considering the film’s shocking revelations, the scene that lingers most in my memory remains a much quieter one. It takes place in Sara’s living room when Harry visits to make good on his previous behaviour. It’s a moving performance from Ellen Burstyn who delivers an emotional monologue about her desire to be on television, an opportunity to brag about her son and deceased husband. Leto too shows his very capable range here. Despite his misdeeds, Harry clearly loves his mother and shows much concern for her reliance on medication. The film’s first truly poignant moment arrives when Harry breaks down in a cab on the way home.
Jennifer Connelly is similarly at her best. Her role requires a significant amount of character development which she delivers with increasing vulnerability as Marion begins to trade the only thing she has left and is enticed into performing at a sex show.
Even so, Requiem For A Dream is not without its faults and Tyrone remains the film’s most underdeveloped character in spite of a convincing performance from Marlon Wayans.
Despite its recent overuse on reality television shows – X Factor springs to mind – Clint Mansell’s iconic score still holds its own within the film. The mix of electronic sounds and high strings combines to create a foreboding atmosphere and contributes to the film’s biting climax. It remains one of the greatest scores I’ve ever heard.
Although Requiem For A Dream is an uncomfortable watch, what I admire most about it are Aronofsky’s brave choices and exceptional camera work. Through his creativity, we are able to view addiction in an alternative light. It’s horrors and complexities are teased out in equal measure, leaving us wondering whether dependency is simply a part of the human condition.