Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream is 2000 film based on a novel of the same name written in 1978. Directed by Darren Aronofsky, the film stars Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly and Marlon Wayans.
The film portrays the different forms of drug addiction, taking the viewers through the experiences of these addicts as they continually inject and intake drugs.The film traces the lives of four characters Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), her son Harry (Jared Leto), his girlfriend Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) and Harry’s friend Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans).
The story begins in summer. Sara Goldfarb, an elderly widow living alone in her apartment, spends her time watching television. After a phone call announces that she will be invited to be a participant on a game show, she becomes obsessed with matching her appearance to a photograph from Harry's graduation. In order to fit into her old red dress, she first tries out a diet, failing which she visited a doctor and begins taking a prescription of weight-loss pills. The pills alter her behavior, but she vehemently insists that the chance to be on television has given her a reason to live. However, her invitation does not arrive, and she begins to up her dosage, causing nightmarish hallucinations. She sees herself on the TV show, being adulated and cheered by the crowd.
Her son Harry is a heroin addict. Together with his friend, Tyrone, and his girlfriend, Marion  who are also addicts  he enters the drug trade. With the money they make over the summer, Harry and Marion hope to open a fashion store for Marion's designs, while Tyrone dreams of escaping the street and making his mother proud. However, Tyrone is caught in the middle of a drug gang assassination, and Harry uses the majority of the money they've earned to bail him out of prison. Meanwhile, because of the arrests and shootings of dealers, it becomes very hard to obtain any drugs, throwing Harry, Tyrone, and Marion into a state of deprivation. Growing more desperate, Harry convinces Marion to have sex with her psychiatrist in exchange for money, causing a rift in the relationship. The group continues to deteriorate as Marion falls into prostitution and Harry's arm becomes severely infected from improper injection technique.
Eventually, Sara’s sanity is almost completely lost and she is taken to a mental hospital. The movie ends with each character curling up in a fetal position, Marion on her couch after prostitution, Harry in the hospital bed with his arm amputated, Tyrone on a cot in prison, and Sara in a bed in at the mental hospital.
   The film takes us on a journey through what the characters feel and experience in their deepest moments of anguish as the drug addiction spirals out of control leaving them imprisoned in a delusional world of reckless desperation and devastating reality.
I found Sara Goldfarb’s story the most depressing. At her age, living alone in an apartment and the loneliness she faced brought out such sadness that her wish to lose weight and fit into the red dress to look good on TV was almost justified. The use of extremely short shots to bring out the character’s experience of the drugs, interposed with long shots brilliantly brought out the intercuts between reality and fantasy. Burstyn’s character was nominated for an Academy Award.
The story of the three youngsters was distressing as you see young blood being wasted, craving for something so toxic. It eats into their conscious being, as their bodies cannot live without it. The withdrawal symptoms force them to go to any extent to get money to satisfy their hunger for a score.
Their lives intertwined with drugs in a way seems to be a parody on the American Dream. Each character, in order to realize their dream resorts to some form of addiction as a substitute to the actual fulfillment of the dream. They choose immediate sensory satisfaction over struggle for something higher. I found it a perfect representation of the loneliness people face over attaining something that is the path to “happiness”, which on the contrary actually pulls them backwards in the depression of not being able to achieve it.
The sound track by Clint Manswell is haunting, as it creates a certain rise of momentum as each character experiences a falling spiral to desperation and devastation. It creates an accumulating sense of loss and helplessness, tracking closely the action on screen, and the downward fall of the characters. The sadness is immense.
Similar in theme to Trainspotting, Requiem for a Dream brings to us a different perspective to drug addiction, the impact of addiction in different forms and what it drives a person to do. Trainspotting too has a flavour of its own to portraying the lives of addicts, although I found Requiem to show the hollowness of life and the consequences of failure to satisfy one’s dreams brought out beautifully. The final ending of the characters turning into a fetal position is symbolic of how in the end, we all go back to where we've come from, helpless, to be in the position we are most comfortable in, protecting ourselves from our sins and abandoning all our woes. 
Watch it to experience powerful film-making, a brilliantly unforgettable sound track and the truth of drug addiction.


  1. Good post. Nice observations on the cuts, the ending and the soundtrack. I love this film too. Darren Aronofsky is one of my favourite directors. I like him so much, I have even forgiven him for stealing away Rachel Weiss.

    One observation about your post. You have given too much of the story away. Perhaps you should try to write in such a way that you build up a longing to watch the movie, and yet you have given absolutely nothing away. Just a suggestion of course. It is your blog!

  2. Hey Pradeep..thanks a lot for your observations.First of all, sorry to hear about Rachel Weiss..;D

    About giving too much of the story away, you must understand that my blog is not a movie review blog per se, but an analysis forum where I give my personal take on the storyline. It's only by giving the details of characters and development of the story that the subsequent paragraphs where I give my observations would make sense to a reader who has not watched the movie. For a reader who has watched the movie, again, it works to his/her advantage as the experience of re-living the movie comes forth and the analysis sets itself clearer with greater scope for visualization. In a nutshell, my blog is a complete movie experience in itself. Reel in your mind's eye.

  3. This is one of my fav Aronofsky movies after Wrestler and Pi simply for its visceral feel. I love his use of 'hip-hop montages' (the 'extremely short shots' technique as you've mentioned above), Snorricam shots and of course the unforgettably haunting OST.

    Some more trivia from imdb:
    - Most movies contain 600 to 700 cuts. Requiem for a Dream contains over 2,000.
    - Premiere voted this movie as one of "The 25 Most Dangerous Movies".

    Other movies on addiction? I can think of Basketball Diaries, Traffic, Midnight Cowboy...and oh the twisted Naked Lunch from the twisted mind of David Cronenberg.

  4. @ Nabil: The OST is a great piece of work. Rises to create a powerful effect, that refuses to leave well after watching the film.

    2000 cuts is phenomenal! A very rare feat executed flawlessly.

    I will have to catch the other movies!

  5. "in order to realize their dream resorts to some form of addiction as a substitute to the actual fulfillment of the dream. They choose immediate sensory satisfaction over struggle for something higher." this is cystal pure depiction of life protrayed in the film, I reckon... well said, Zul.

    Life is a journey striving the middle path between fantasy and reality. Some fantasy is needed while living by the reality as it unfolds, thus success in balanced degree attained.

    When people take short cuts to success, in actual their life is cut short to dismal.

  6. Thanks a lot! :)
    How true that life is a journey between fantasy and reality. When we get carried away with the fantastic part of life and see it as the Only way to attain happiness, in the process resort to temporary satisfactions when we are unable to achieve it.