Literature / Requiem for a Dream

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"If you ever find yourself inexplicably contented with your lot, slip this into your DVD player and normal service will be resumed... this is a film you watch once, then repair to the pub to stare fixedly into your beer for the night, vowing never, ever to watch it again."
Empire's Top 10 Most Depressing Movies (this is #1)

Originally a novel written in 1978 by Hubert Selby, Jr., Requiem For A Dream was made into a movie by Darren Aronofsky in 2000. The story is about three friends and one friend's mother, who over the course of nine months (summer, fall, winter) have their lives destroyed by drug addiction.

Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a twenty-something drug addict, who routinely steals his long-suffering mother's TV to pawn it for money. His mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), is a timid and lonely shell of a woman who lives in a permanent state of denial. Her only concerns are to hide her son's condition from the world as much as from herself, being accepted by the neighborhood's women, and watching a television self-help infomercial show almost continually.

One summer day, Harry and his best friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) decide to not just be drug addicts but also drug dealers, with help from Harry's would-be fashion designer girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly). Marion's parents are unaware that she's quit seeing her psychologist (thanks to her occasionally dating the man to keep him quiet), and routinely send her money, which Harry and Tyrone gladly make use of. Harry's dream is to help Marion start her own fashion store — which, he tells her, could be done with the money gained from selling drugs directly.

Meanwhile, Sara receives a phone call stating she'll have a chance to appear on television. Already somewhat mad from loneliness, she becomes fixated on fitting into her favorite red dress for the occasion (the one she wore to Harry's high school graduation). Failing to keep up with her diet, Sara sees an apathetic doctor who prescribes a regimen of extreme diet pills, which she quickly begins to abuse.

Things collapse within a matter of months for everyone.


This film provides examples of:

  • An Arm and a Leg: Harry's fate is winding up alone in the hospital after having his gangrenous arm amputated.
  • Arc Words: "Come" is used often towards the end of the film, with different meanings.
    • The last time we see Harry and Marion talking together is over the phone, with Marion asking if Harry will ever come back.
    • The Madness Montage has the audience at Marion's sex show chanting "Cum!" overlayed with everyone else's horrible fates.
    • Harry's final scene has his nurse telling him that Marion will come, and he breaks down in tears knowing it's not true.
  • Bilingual Bonus: With sign language used by the deaf drug dealer employing Tyrone.
  • Black Guy Dies First: Subverted. Word of God reveals that Tyrone is the only one of the main characters able to recover, making this a situation where the black guy is the only person who might survive. Emphasis on might.
  • Body Horror: Harry's arm. The first red flag is when he notices a blackish-purple infection on his arm when he goes to get water for Marion, and it gets bigger and uglier on the trip to Miami when it really starts giving him horrendous amounts of discomfort and pain. Basically everyone that sees the arm reacts with disgust, and it leads to it getting amputated.
  • Bookends: Around the start of the film, there's a rather famous sequence involving Harry on the dock, visioning Marion in a red dress at the end. At the end, once Harry has hit the bottom of his downward spiral, the same sequence is revisited, although Marion inexplicably disappears when Harry approaches her, and when Harry backs away he ends up falling into a black void.
  • Break the Cutie: Sara. Her simple want to slim down so she could fit in her red dress to go on TV leads to her losing her sanity (the climax of which occurred in a horrific Electric Torture scene), losing the red dye in her hair (and most of her hair outright), and looking deathly emaciated and skeletal. Hell, when two of her friends come to visit her in the hospital, they break down crying outside on the bus stop because of her horrendous near-catatonic condition.
  • Broken Record:
    • "Naturally."
    • "Can you see me? Can you hear me?" "Yes, sir." "Okay for work."
    • See Madness Mantra below.
  • Camera Tricks: Practically a camera circus.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The first half of the movie has some comical moments, like Sara trying to follow a diet, and some of her later hallucinations of the fridge becoming alive are (unintentionally?) funny.
  • Creator Cameo: Hubert Selby, Jr. shows up as a prison guard near the end.
  • Daydream Surprise: See Indulgent Fantasy Segue.
  • Deep South: The boys end up in a brutal Southern prison, which doesn't take kindly to heroin-addicted northerners.
  • Descent into Addiction: Three of the four main characters undergo this. Darren Aronofsky stated that he was attempting to explore the parallels between different types of addiction in the film:
    Requiem for a Dream is not about heroin or about drugs… The Harry-Tyrone-Marion story is a very traditional heroin story. But putting it side by side with the Sara story, we suddenly say, 'Oh, my God, what is a drug?' The idea that the same inner monologue goes through a person's head when they're trying to quit drugs, as with cigarettes, as when they're trying to not eat food so they can lose 20 pounds, was really fascinating to me. I thought it was an idea that we hadn't seen on film and I wanted to bring it up on the screen.''
  • Double Meaning Title: Fall. Of course, it refers to the season as it follows Summer and precedes Winter chronologically, but it's also the beginning of each character's fall into their own downward spirals.
  • Downer Ending: But of course. You really won't want to try drugs after this ending. Hell, life itself may be too much for you after it. It's one of those movies you may not want to see more than once.
  • Dr. Feelgood: The doctor who prescribes Sara her pills. She is obviously unstable, speaks nonsense (or what seems like nonsense from the outside), startles over nothing, and admits outright that everything is "mixed up". The doctor ignores her and sends her on her way with a prescription. Tragically, the doctor who treats her in the mental hospital has nobler intentions, but he's not any more attentive; he gets her "consent" for the ECT procedure by having her sign a form (that she can't read) with a vague scribble.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Generally thought to be the sum total of the story's message, though the larger theme is more about the sad, naive, and unrealistic dreams that brought about the addiction.
    • If you expand that idea a little, you find that when it all comes together, the message isn't really that drugs are bad, but that escapism is bad. Although the drugs are the route of escape for all four main characters, the real problem is that they're running from the issues of reality in order to indulge their unrealistic dreams. When addiction and dependency set in, they are unable to face that reality either, and so instead of using drugs to fuel their dreams, the drugs are being used to stave off the suffering of withdrawal and the unbearable reality they've been hiding from all along has been growing worse and worse while their backs were turned to it. It's not the drugs that destroy them, it's the Vicious Cycle.
    • It's actually averted, in a typical-for-this-film disturbing way. In Summer, when Harry, Marion, and Tyrone are basically getting high for fun, they're doing fine. Morally bankrupt layabouts, sure, but you don't exactly need to be a drug addict to be an asshole. Yeah, it's to reflect the euphoria of being high before the crash that happens in Winter, but that's after they've given up small-time recreational use to trying to chase a profit. Drugs ain't good, but greed is way, way worse.
  • Electric Torture: What ECT is essentially depicted as. The treatment is part of the film's climactic Madness Montage and is suitably terrifying.
  • Empty Promise: After Harry is arrested with Tyrone, he calls Marion on the phone. She asks him to come home that day. He tearfully promises her he will, even though they both understand that it won't happen. This is echoed by the nurse who tries to comfort Harry at the end, sincerely assuring him that if he gives her a contact number she'll get in touch with Marion and 'she'll come'. Harry, by this point, has no such comforting illusions anymore.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Harry and Tyrone are not good people, being anti-heroes at best, but Harry really does love his mother and feels guilty for treating her badly, and it's shown that Tyrone still thinks about his mother frequently.
  • Face Cam: This movie codified it as one of Darren Aronofsky's trademarks, being used twice: once for Tyrone fleeing the scene of a drug-gang assassination at the start of Fall, and again for Marion leaving the building after her sexual encounter with her psychiatrist.
  • Fade to White: An Aronofsky trademark.
  • Fan Disservice: Jennifer Connelly performing in a live double-dildo show is not only presented as horrifyingly degrading, but inter-cut at lightning speed with tortuously horrible fates of all the other characters. Add in the erratic noise music to really ramp the disturbing tone up to 11 and you've got yourself a scene that would give you nightmares before it gave you wet dreams.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: The entire last quarter of the movie, with a different one for each character. You'd think that shooting up via a gangrene-ridden arm would be the low point. You'd be wrong. It's made even worse with the fact that none of them get to keep their freedom, but Marion is the only one to end up not in the care of an institution required to provide her with medical care. Marion is stuck in an endless loop of prostitution and addiction with no avenue to free herself. The others have no choice but to get clean, though that's not necessarily a better fate because at that point they have no escape from the pain that they turned to drugs to run from in the first place.
    • Harry: Has his arm amputated, his relationships with Marion and his mother completely destroyed, and separated (possibly permanently so) from Tyrone, the only friend he has left.
    • Marion: Ends up in a horrid cycle of forced prostitution where she exchanges sex for drugs, but the sex acts she's required to perform for that exchange are so degrading, she needs drugs just to cope with it.
    • Tyrone: Is forced to serve out his sentence in prison, doing hard labor while going through heroin withdrawal and being abused by racist guards. But he does have a chance of reclaiming his life, implying that he may one day subvert this trope.
    • Sara: Is institutionalized with methamphetamine psychosis. The ECT is implied to work, as she's not wandering around in a confused, blurry nightmare anymore, but it's not enough to save her sanity, and without any incentive to even try to be part of the real world, she retreats into her own mind permanently.
      • The novel is more direct about stating that she's no longer capable of coherent thought, and she's permanently committed to a state hospital.
  • First Law of Tragicomedies: The movie begins with relatively lighthearted scenes of the three friends messing around and getting high. By the end of it, not so much.
  • Foreshadowing: One picture we see of Harry and Marion has Harry with his left arm up. By the end, Harry has his left arm amputated.
    • Additionally, Harry's left arm is mostly obscured by the TV in the opening credits.
  • Funetik Aksent: Tyrone has one in the novel.
  • Getting High on Their Own Supply: The drug plot involves and taking their own drugs to, at first, "know how it feels like" (yes, because they want to be real honest when peddling their stuff) and this eventually led to them using all of their product and thus leading to trouble with their supplier and Sanity Slippage.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot: Applies in-story; Marion performs a lesbian sex act on stage for drugs. The viewer, however, won't find it arousing.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Played with; admittedly, we do see Harry getting his gangrenous arm sawed off, but the shot is mercifully brief.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: After Marion's upsetting sexual encounter with her psychiatrist, she goes outside in the rain and pukes.
    • The rain is also seen as Tyrone looks forlornly at a photo of his mother.
  • Hope Spot:
    • The entirety of Summer, really, since it's based around how good drugs are treating each character. But as we all know, that doesn't last...
    • Sara's crash diet starts with success, with her notably boasting that the diet has made her lose 25 pounds.
    • The last shot of Tyrone is in prison where he recalls memories of his mother fondly. Word of God says that this shows that Tyrone is the only person capable of reclaiming his life.
  • Hope Springs Eternal: No, really. Tyrone gets arrested and has to deal with racism, hard labor and withdrawal. But according to Word of God, Tyrone is the only character who has a chance of getting his life back on track.
  • Humiliation Conga: While not at all played straight, Sara is quite literally humiliated by a conga line of people dancing around her.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue:
    • Marion stabbing her psychiatrist's hand with a fork at a restaurant, screaming, "You smug fuck!"
    • Harry stealing the cop's gun and then using it to play a game of "keep away" against the cop with Tyrone. When we cut back to reality, he's just staring blankly into space.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Marion's live sex show. Visually speaking, it's only slightly different from a bunch of gamblers betting on a dogfight.
  • I Want Grandkids: Sara wants nothing more than for her son to be happy, and becomes delirious believing that he's going to get a good job and have children with Marion.
  • Jitter Cam: Used quite effectively and rather disturbingly in the scene where Harry and Tyrone's cries of pain and pleas for help (Harry from his house, Tyrone from jail) almost harmonize, with the jitters being accompanied by distortion noises and getting more intense as the screams get louder.
  • Lady in Red:
    • Sara Goldfarb is a former redhead who tries to dye her hair and fit back into her favorite red dress to recreate her glamorous appearance on the happiest day of her life. Her youthful self, bedecked in the red dress, haunts her as she loses her sanity.
    • In Harry's dream/hallucination of meeting Marion on the pier, she is wearing a red dress.
  • Leitmotif: Lux Aeterna.
  • Life-or-Limb Decision: Harry has to have his arm amputated after it becomes seriously infected and necrosis sets in.
  • Madness Mantra: "Feed me, Sara! Feed me, Sara! Feed me, Sara!"
  • Madness Montage:
    • At the end, when Marion is forced to perform sexually with another stripper in degrading manners intercut with Sara's electroshock treatments, Tyrone being made to do hard labor in prison, and Harry being prepped for surgery to amputate his arm. As the montage keeps going, there starts to be less and less time between each cut, until it reaches the point where each one only shows for a few seconds and they blend into a single barely sensible cacophony...
    • Also Marion's desperate attempts to get high by drinking everything in the bathroom.
    • Sara's recurring hallucinations about her refrigerator coming to life and attacking her eventually turn into a montage where the characters on the TV come to life and humiliate her in her own apartment.
  • Moral Guardians: Many critics apparently didn't watch the movie past Summer and thought this movie's message was Drugs Are Good.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Marion, at first. See Fan Disservice.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The film's leitmotif, "Lux Aeterna", is played during a scene where Harry and Tyrone push a TV across Brooklyn. Yeah.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Sara's friend who recommended the doctor that provided the pills appears in the final montage, weeping after visiting Sara in the institution and seeing the effects of the shock therapy.
  • No Antagonist: All the damage caused by the protagonists is done by themselves. There's plenty of villains, though.
  • Nostalgia Heaven: Sara basically goes to her Happy Place and stays there, imagining her son marrying the girl of his dreams.
  • Not My Driver: "Oh shit, you got a white driver!" BANG!
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Nobody in the film ever says "heroin". The closest anyone gets to naming a drug is by using the word "skag" (a slang term for heroin) or calling Sara's pills "uppers".
    • The names of the pills Sara takes are never named either. But considering the book was written in the 60s, the addictiveness and strength of the pills, it's safe to assume they're methamphetamine tablets.
  • Oh Crap!: "Oh shit, you got a white driver!"
  • One-Eyed Shot: It happens frequently, even the movie poster features a closeup of a right eye.
  • Psycho Strings: A variation of them is heavily used in the climatic scenes, most notably during Sara's shock treatment.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Although the movie is criticized for its 'inaccurate' portrayal of mental institutions and medical procedures, the sad fact is that for the 60s and 70s American medical system - the book being written in the 70s - everything shown in the movie was possible; what nowadays would be called disgusting mistreatment and abuse of patient autonomy was a common occurrence in state-sanctioned mental institutions which were under-staffed and used dated methods based on rudimentary psychiatric knowledgenote . Remember, this was the era when a praised doctor and professor of medicine would travel the country giving mentally unresponsive patients lobotomies with only an icepick through the orbital lobe... and no anaesthetic!
  • Recycled Trailer Music: The movie's most memorable piece, "Lux Aeterna", was remixed and used as trailer music for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. This version is usually called "Requiem for a Tower".
  • Say My Name: Done by Harry using a couple of variations of the trope. He wakes up from his dream of trying to meet Marion on the dock by screaming her name as he falls. When he wakes up the first thing he does is quietly whisper her name.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Played with for most of the movie, in that everything that happens to the characters - minus the fantasy segues - is horrifyingly realistic and a possible and common outcome of drug use. Even the institution and medical procedures, although a terrifying exaggeration for today's medical system, would have been possible - if worst case scenarios - when the book was written.
  • Scary Black Man: The pimp, Big Tim, demanding sexual favors from Marion.
  • Seasonal Baggage: Used with the seasons summer, fall, and winter to represent the three act structure of the movie, as well as a parallel for the destruction that drugs are doing to the lives of the characters. The conspicuous lack of any spring in the movie is equally significant.
  • Sex Slave: Marion at the end, in a horrifyingly realistic example of forced prostitution.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Marion curled up in a ball in the bathtub and shrieking is taken straight out of Perfect Blue. Aronofsky even secured the rights to a live-action version of the film just to justify including this scene in this movie.
    • During the scene when Tyrone and Harry are in the crowd, trying to get the drug shipment from Florida, one of the dealers is shown peeling an orange. This is a reference to The Godfather and the use of oranges as foreshadowing to something bad about to happen. They don't get their drugs, and the next sequence is Winter.
    • Averted by the recurring image of Marion standing at the end of a small pier, which is extremely similar to the recurring image in Dark City that also features Jennifer Connelly. Word of God says that this was unintentional.
  • Shown Their Work: Pretty much the entire movie in its treatment of drug abuse, but Sara's story deserves special mention. Addiction to pharmaceuticals is the most common type of drug addiction (outside of alcoholism, anyway), and her descent is actually pretty typical, give or take a TV and red dress obsession. Pill addicts very often begin their habit when they start taking more than the proper dosage, either because they've grown tolerant and need more to get the same effect, or because they think their condition will improve faster if they do, and a person is more likely to abuse any drug they take if they're isolated, lonely, or bored.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The first part of the movie has things looking up for the protagonists, but the rest of the film beats the idealism to death with the cynicism. Nihilism is probably also in there somewhere, having sex in exchange for drugs...
  • Split Screen: Used a few times, most noticeably in the very first scene. It's often seen as being portrayed with an essence of isolation for the characters in each half, and this is most significant in the scene where this technique is utilized for a scene with Harry and Marion, even though they're right next to each other. They're simultaneously together and alone.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: Sara, when she's committed to a hospital for her eating disorder and restrained so she can be forcefed and have electroshock therapy administered to her (which she barely consents to, incidentally).
  • Stress Vomit: Two examples: The first time is after Marion sleeps with her therapist for money. The second time is while Tyrone is making prison food while the security guard mocks him.
  • Tragedy: Although you'd never have guessed it.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Unsurprisingly occurs at least once as things go downhill for the main characters. Happens for all of them at the end of the film. One of the ones mid-film was a frame-for-frame recreation of the scene in Perfect Blue.
  • Uncle Tom Foolery: Subverted. Though Tyrone is a black drug addict played by Marlon Wayans who displays some wacky behavior early on, he develops into a very serious and tragic character.
  • Theme Naming: Harry and Sara Goldfarb, Marion Silver, and Tyrone Love. They turn to drugs in order to gain what they consider to be valuables: Sara wants a chance to be glamorous on TV, Marion and Harry want money to open a boutique, and Tyrone wants to honor his late mother.
    • It's possibly unintentional, but Proverbs 22:1 is "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold." Harry, Sara, and Marion meet their ultimate ends when they're too consumed with addiction to have any kind of faith in each other, but Tyrone still wants to honor his mother, and his memories of her are what make it possible for him to get his life back.
    • Also the title of the film, as a requiem is a death song, fittingly making "Death Song for a Dream" the title of a film about dying dreams.
  • The Unreveal: Tappy Tibbons never says the third part of his self-help program. Eagle-eyed viewers, however, can spot it on the board behind him: No Orgasm. That in itself may be a clever bit of symbolism or foreshadowing: The montage at the end has Sara's ECT treatment overlapping with the men chanting "Cum!" over Marion's live sex show; the visual "climax" leads into the ending, which shows Sara as a madwoman, utterly beyond helping herself.
  • The Unsmile: Marion's smile, as she holds her stash at the end.
    • Sara's, too; her face vacillates between a hollow, staring un-smile and sincere joy in the end. She's holding her son, who in her fantasy is successful and healthy and loving. The unsettling shift of her expression seems to imply that on some level, she knows it can't be real, but she goes with it anyway because the real world has nothing to offer her.
  • Vicious Cycle: Marion's Fate Worse Than Death. Drugs are the only thing that give her solace, but to acquire them she has to perform deeds of such degradation that she needs drugs to forget about them.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot:
    • Happens to Marion after she has sex with her psychiatrist in exchange for money.
    • Tyrone gets one as he does prison labor during the Madness Montage.
  • Watch It Stoned: Deconstructed. The first act of the film, Summer, is deliriously positive due to the euphoria of the characters' drug highs. At first this is what the characters believe, but eventually everything turns out to be much, much worse on drugs. As the story progresses, the euphoria disintegrates, as do the characters.
  • Wall of Text: In the novel. Hubert Selby, who writes in a stream-of-consciousness style without much punctuation or paragraph breaking, could be a Trope Namer for this.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Big Tim the pimp admits to being specifically attracted to white women, and takes advantage of Marion's addiction to supply her drugs in exchange for sexual favors.

Alternative Title(s): Requiem For A Dream

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