Shared Despair: REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
These are trying times. We all know that and perhaps collectively we feel the despair of the simple liberties that have been stripped away from us over the passing months. Things taken for granted are no longer necessarily as easily and accessible to reach. What does this have to do with Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film REQUIEM FOR A DREAM? Depression. The death of dreams. But don’t worry, I don’t want this all to incessantly be about the darkness because with the balance of anything there wouldn’t be darkness without light. It’s a continuously unfolding shape shifting dance. Maybe we’ve hit a threshold. Maybe we haven’t. We don’t know what tomorrow holds. But we do know how take the moments we’re living in now and embrace those who give us strength, hope, trust, and a sense of belonging. In REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, there is a dark sense of obtaining the unattainable, where four individuals are trapped by their shortsightedness which further leads them to a dizzying journey of destruction and isolation.
For those not familiar with REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, it’s a deep dive into the mental states of addicts and how their worlds spiral, which is often emphasized in the musical score, subjective camera work, repetition of sharp sounds and defined imagery as well as compelling performances from some very gifted actors. Even though its hard to ingest at times, it one of the most magnanimous feats in filmmaking. Building specific camera rigs, and make up prosthetics as well as shooting a 40 minute take that results in a 25 second time lapse is only a handful of what makes Requiem so damn special. The Kronos Quartet along with Clint Mansell, are so star-spangled awesome, in spending 96 hours (4 days) crafting a musical compilation so iconic that some YouTube mastermind created a Toy Story 2 version of Requiem and even though it’s a spoof it shows you what profound power music has in resonating with the souls of fans.
A major theme in Requiem is isolation which is emphasized in the split screen. Even if the characters share a scene together, their experiences are mixed yet stitched with the fabric of illusion as if they’re not fully present in the moment. For instance, the lovey-dovey moment between Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and Harry (Jared Leto) as they caress each other, there’s this weird barrier between them that displays a separate subjectivity of their shared experience. If anything the split screen enhances what’s real between the character and the reality of their addiction, treading on the likes of a dual personality. There’s a very heartbreaking relationship between Harry and his mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn) who’s a widow living alone but also desperately drawn to her television set. Harry often to support his drug use will pawn the TV off for money. There’s a sequence with the split screen of Sara hiding in the closet looking through a key hole, while in the adjacent screen Harry is taking away her TV set. It becomes an exacerbated look into two troubled addicts, one who wants to enclose themselves away from the other, and Harry being the one who completely overwhelms the scene with little regard for his mother. Later on the Harry returns to visit Sara, clearly at a peak of being complacently high but also gifts her a better TV. In the same scene he learns his mother is also hooked on a diet pill which out of protectiveness and being a pure hypocrite tells her to get off them. It’s no secret drugs are destroying what’s left of this fragile family and in the following scene as Harry leaves he be begins to breakdown in a cab ride. This would be defining moment to change the direction of Harry’s life, but instead he surrenders himself to drugs. It’s a selfish choice and will later be the down fall of him and unfortunately Sara as well.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Requiem’s story structure is in the third act. The pacing is essentially a crescendo, a deeper descent into madness which leaves every character in the vulnerable fetal position. Framing wise the camera is positioned overhead and is pulling away from these characters one at a time. Perhaps, it’s a sense of release, widening the bigger picture of how alone these characters really are, tormented by their addictions and haunted by their obsessive natures. If anything the camera work in Requiem is a caliber of filmmaking that alters and enhances the structure of the story’s reality. I love how it goes to great depths to capture the subjectivity because it brings us closer to the mentality of each character as if we’re there breathing along side them.
Parts of me can’t help and wonder about the how each three acts, Summer, Fall, and Winter in some small way can be loosely contrasted to Antonio Vivaldi’s infamous “Four Seasons,” a beautifully poignant universally known composition. Summer has so much promise of light and vibrant vitality, while fall slowly fades itself into a descent of gloom where colors turn intentionally metamorphosing into the cold, dead nature of winter where the harsh reality of death resides. Spring is completely excluded which is where a rebirth of newness arises and hope seeds itself into some form of bloom. Yet, Requiem refuses it. I always wondered why.
Requiem’s heavy tone is challenging to watch especially as each character crumbles into a realm of hopelessness. The question of whether or not they choose to find some force other than addiction to rebuild their lives remains elusive. The dark nature of one’s ability to control their desires is very much an innate and realistic behavior for most if not all human kind and yet Aronofsky intricately examines such destruction with even more defying camera work by utilizing a snorricam, which is strapped to the actor giving the audience a full blown nightmarish experience of hell. It’s dizzying but highly effective.
I can’t say in good conscience I’d recommend REQUIEM FOR A DREAM as a source of entertainment, but more so as a piece of filmmaking to study and understand. It’s not for the lighthearted and would probably be more tumultuous for those who struggle through the dark storms of depression, addiction, and isolation. Submerging one’s psyche voluntarily into a layer of hell seems wicked because of the horrific trials one must face with themselves, but also allows us to rewire our minds to remind ourselves that we’re important, we matter, we’re loved, and we have to find some common ground to believe we’re going to be okay. Swaying away from addiction is hell but with enough focus, determination, and support one has to believe things will change for the better. As human beings we’re fairly resilient and can endure much more than we think we can, at least I like to think so.