Behind the meaning of Requiem For A Dream

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This article explains the events and the meaning of Requiem for a Dream, the movie directed by Darren Aronofsky in 2000, revealing crucial elements of the plot. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

Requiem For A Dream was released in US theatres in 2000: it is the first year of the new millennium and the film is really an essay on contemporary cinema: short shots, fast pace and a nihilism with no way out.

The film is Darren Aronofsky’s second work. As we know, he’s one of the most popular directors of the moment because of the contrasting critiques that his last film Mother! received at the last Venice Film Festival. In his most successful films, including The Wrestler (2008) and Black Swan (2010), Aronofsky tries to emphasize the recitation and the narration trough an almost transparent direction. Whereas in Requiem For A Dream the director shows all his skills: episodic editing, split screen and a bombing rhythm.

The film is really a punch in the stomach for the way Aronofsky films the treated topics. The four protagonists suffer from various dependencies, different from each other but united by the same mortal destiny. Sarah Goldfarb (Academy Award nomination as Best Actress to Ellen Burstyn) is an elderly mother, who sadly spends her days between talk shows on TV and dull chats during the afternoon with her “colleagues”. Sarah has lost her husband, and with him her own youth. She craves the love of his son Harry (interpreted by Jared Leto), who is a drug addict. In the first scene of the film Aronofsky, through the use of the split screen, shows us the claustrophobic solitude of the couple: Harry repeatedly steals his mother’s television in order to buy drugs and Ellen -frightened- isolates herself in the bathroom and then goes to buy again the TV. Both are desperate for the love of the other, but none of them is willing to “earn” that love: Sarah sees in the love of her son his own realization as a mother, while Harry sees in the love of her mother his own realization as a person.

Harry’s best friend is Tyrone (Marlon Wayans), who’s also a drug addict. Also Tyron needs desperately the affection of his maternal figure: he hasn’t seen her for years. We have the beautiful Marion (Jennifer Connelly), too: she’s an aspiring stylist and she’s also an addict. She’s also fully involved in a thrilling, exciting and seemingly sincere relationship with Harry. Actually through the split screen, Aronofsky makes us immediately understand that the relationship between them is not based on a sincere feeling: in a love scene at bed, each of them is closed in his own frame. What Aronofsky wants to say is that there’s no interaction, just loneliness. Marion is not conscious of her own beauty and she doesn’t accept her body: this is a detail that will be basic for the understanding of the girl’s fall.

The film is divided into climate seasons: Summer, Fall (which is evidently simbolic) and Winter. No, there isn’t Spring and it will never arrive: we’re far away from the famous English Romantic poet Percy Shelley (“If winter Comes, can spring be far behind?”). In Summer the group does not suffer the downsides of its dependencies: the three dudes create a drug trafficking trough which they earn enough money to buy an apartment and even to put aside others, in order to open Marion’s dream atelier.

Meanwhile Sarah’s dependence already starts in the Summer under the worst sign: she’s invitated by telephone as a spectator in a TV show. Sarah sees it as the turn of her life, which is monotous and grey; red is instead the dress that she would like to wear for the occasion. This dress represents the past: her youth and her husband. The woman however fails to enter the dress, and therefore starts an amphetaminical diet (we have a strong critique of the hypocritical pharmaceutical companies). In the moment in which Sarah enters in the dress, she looses contact with reality.

Fall comes. Harry falls: he presents a TV to her mother, while she only wants his true love. Tyrone Falls: he’s put in prison and destroys Marion’s atelier project because of the payment of his prison bill. Marion falls: she prostitutes herself in order to earn money for buying cocaine (the girl has never accepted his body and now ends up selling off it). Aronofsky uses the episodic editing (with the use of the detail, too) in order to link the protagonist’s dipendencies. There is no less serious dependence than another: there is no heroin, no amphetamines, no TV, no cocaine, there is only an incredible need of feeling accepted, of filling a deep and huge gap.

In Winter the characters totally loose the conception of reality. Sarah has now entered in a parallel and muffled world in which the refrigerator (the woman’s hunger symbol) seems attacking her, and in which the participants of the talk show make fun of her. Sarah is taken to a psychiatric hospital after going to the television studios, looking for help in an obvious state of confusion.

In Aronofsky’s shocking sequence, they’re all insensitive: the employees of the television studios, the doctors, the nurses, all simply aim to oust from the society what is different, in this case by electroshock. The hypocrisy is also a characteristic of Sarah’s old friends, who for months had not inexplicably noticed the absence of her friend, and at her eyesight in the hospital they burst into tears and embrace each others: everyone thinking to their own pain.

In Winter Harry looses his right arm: it’s amputated because of an untreated infection given by intravenous heroin. Even here the director attacks the health system: the doctor does not care of Harry when the situation still seems recoverable, but calls the police because he sees in him a dangerous element to put aside. Tyrone is put in prison with Harry, but he will remain here until the end of the movie. Meanwhile Marion enters in a degrading tour of prostitution, certainly not in the street but in the luxurious apartments of the rich U.S.A.: in the morning society carries out its normal life and critiques young boys with problems with drugs, in the evening it tortures young girls (again, hypocrisy).

No one can be saved. If initially Aronofsky has explicited their claustrophobic solitude using the split screen, now he symbolize it with an alternate montage that shows the four protagonists cuddled in fetal position in their respective beds, while they think back to the past, to what it was, what could have been and what would never be (a successful son for Sarah, a quiet life with Marion for Harry, a mother-son relationship for Tyrone and the contemplation of heroin as the only escape from life for Marion).

There is no morality, there is no happy ending: there is only a destructive representation of the dependences of the contemporary man, condemned to a blind and nihilistic fate of solitude.

A mention of merit certainly goes to Clint Mansell and to the Kronos Quartet, respectively composer and performers of the iconic soundtrack. Mansell manages to compose a work that mixes classical music with electronic elements, in full line with the contemporary taste of the film, which mixes tragic and ironic, in a very strong tension between reality and hypocrisy. The most probably most famous track of the work (also because it has been reproposed remusiced in The Lord of the Rings saga) is definitely Lux Aeterna: the dramatic arcs of the track call with violence the reaction of the spectator, who is pushed to indignation to what he sees in a double game that criticizes society and at the same time makes it disgusts of itself.

The track is reproposed in a very hammering way in several sequences of the film, putting in relation different plans and creating a game of memory and eternal return of time, that well marries with the division of the film in seasons. In this eternal return we don’t have the presence of a crack that would have been the spring: happiness and serenity.

Darren Aronosfky directs a work that really hurts those who look at it: a heavy slap to us and everything in which we believe. He expresses it with a very modern and bombing direction that, among split screens, episodic editing and unreal objective shots, simultaneously calls the attention of the spectator and sends him into total chaos.


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