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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 retire 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)

Requiem for a Dream is a 2000 psychological drama film co-written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, and adapted from the 1978 novel of the same name by Hubert Selby Jr (who co-wrote the film's script), which it has considerably eclipsed in terms of public recognition and pop culture impact alike. The film revolves around three friends and one friend's mother, who over the course of nine months (summer, fall, winter) experience various forms of drug addiction.

Harry Goldfarb (Jared Leto) is a twenty-something Brooklyn drug addict, who routinely earns money by stealing and pawning the TV of his long-suffering widowed mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn). Sara is a timid and lonely shell of a woman who lives in a permanent state of denial; her only concerns are hiding her son's condition from the world as much as from herself, being accepted by the neighborhood's women, comfort eating, 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 due to her overeating habits, Sara sees a no-questions-asking dealer doctor who prescribes a regimen of extreme diet pills that are heavily implied to be methamphetamine, which she quickly begins to abuse.

Given the film's reputation as one of the most depressing and disturbing films ever made, you can probably infer where it goes next.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Harry is blond in the book, but the movie gives him dark hair.
  • All There in the Manual: A DVD easter egg shows Tappy Tibbon's third rule about his diet: no orgasms.
  • Aloof Ally: Downplayed. Mr. Rabinowitz is all too aware of the issues surrounding Sara and Harry, since Harry always shows up at his pawn local to sell her run-down TV set; this doesn't stop him from accepting his offers to buy it even if he never hides his disgust toward Harry's actions. However, in a later scene with Sara, Rabinowitz makes the suggestion to simply call the police on Harry to stop his bad habits which she shuts down in a manner implying they've had this conversation plenty of times before.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Harry's fate is winding up alone in the hospital after having his gangrenous arm amputated.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: As in most films, electroconvulsive therapy is portrayed incredibly negatively (and thus, largely inaccurately). ECT is used (in conjunction with prescription sedatives) to treat a variety of psychiatric disorders, including depression, with varying degrees of success, and while it can and absolutely has been abused, it's not supposed to be. It's actually meant to be undergone under general anesthesia. On the other hand, the novel is set in the 60s, and back then ECT was used much more recklessly and with far less regard for safety than it is in the present.
  • Bedlam House: Downplayed with the hospital Sara ends up at, which is relatively well-maintained (if spartan), and the staff are "merely" callous toward the patients rather than outright sadistic. It's still a pretty miserable place to be. And then the ECT happens.
  • Bilingual Bonus: With sign language used by the deaf drug dealer employing Tyrone.
  • 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. It then gets bigger and uglier on the trip to Miami, when it starts giving him significant discomfort and pain. Basically everyone who sees the arm at that point reacts with disgust, and it ends up getting amputated.
  • Book Ends: Around the start of the film, there's a rather famous sequence involving Harry on a 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 Electroconvulsive Therapy Is 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."
    • "Feed me, Sara! Feed me, Sara! Feed me, Sara!"
  • Camera Tricks: Practically a camera circus.
  • Canon Foreigner: Tappy Tibbons is one of the few characters to only appear in the film adaptation.
  • 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. Needless to say, the humor is gone in the second half.
  • Creator Cameo: Hubert Selby Jr., the novel's author, appears at the end as the abusive, laughing prison guard. And he filmed quite a bit more footage hurling verbal abuse at his own characters, which can be seen on the DVD.
  • Cutting Back to Reality: After witnessing people from her favorite TV show appearing in reality and being attacked by her fridge, Sara naturally flees the building in terror... but a cut back to her apartment reveals that everything appears perfectly normal and the TV was tuned to a test pattern all along.
  • Daydream Surprise: Marion and Harry both have an 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, with the implication that all of them were effectively addicted to their own unachievable dreams for the future even before they started using drugs:
    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.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Three of the main characters cross this by the end. Harry after losing his arm and realizing he will never see his loved ones again, Marion after being trapped in a Vicious Cycle of prostitution and drug use, and Sara after undergoing ECT so traumatic she ends up permanently retreating into her mind. Tyrone’s flashback to himself as a child in his mother’s arms shows he’s the only one who hasn’t lost everything and has a chance of putting his life back together.
  • Double Meaning: When they first start selling heroin in the film, Harry and Tyrone stand in front of a Coney Island shooting gallery. On the wall behind Harry, the game proclaims "balloon racing," while Tyrone stands in front of a stall advertising "shoot the stars and win!" Of course, the obvious references to heroin are clear: "shoot to win" refers to IV use, while balloons are often used to package small amounts of heroin for sale on the street.
  • 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. All four main characters lose absolutely everything and, with the possible exception of Tyrone, have no chance of recovery. Harry is alone in a hospital with his arm amputated knowing he will never see his loved ones again, Tyrone is left to suffer abuse from racist guards while going through heroin withdrawal, Marion is left in a Vicious Cycle of prostituting herself for drugs she needs to cope with the degrading sex acts, and Sara, now insane from ECT, permanently retreats into her mind where she imagines herself winning the grand prize on her favorite show while embracing a loving and successful Harry. The only circumstance where one might consider rewatching is in the event they are considering doing drugs.
  • 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 addictions in the first place, as well as the pain that drove the characters to use those dreams (and then the drugs) as an escape from an intolerable reality.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy Is Torture: What ECT is essentially depicted as, which in all fairness was not uncommon at the time the novel was originally written. 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 even goes so far as to make an ultimately futile attempt to warn her about what her addiction is doing to her), 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.
    • Even the image of her earlier in the film wearing only a bra is off-putting, as the focus is more on how intoxicated she is.
  • 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 and knows that he will never see Tyrone, Marion, or his mother again.
    • 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; her dream of opening a boutique is now utterly forgotten.
    • Tyrone: Is forced to serve out his sentence in prison, doing hard labor while going through heroin withdrawal and being abused by racist guards. His future is uncertain, but Word of God states he alone has a chance of turning his life around.
    • Sara: Is institutionalized with amphetamine 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 outright confirms that she is no longer capable of coherent thought and will spend the rest of her life in a mental institution.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Big Tim certainly puts on a friendly, joking front when he first meets Marion and while hosting his sex parties. In reality, he's a sociopathic pimp whose MO is to recruit girls addicted to heroin so that they're dependent on him as a drug source and willing to do anything and everything sexually for him and his clients in return.
  • 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.
  • Fun with Acronyms: "JUICE", the Catchphrase of Tappy Tibbons's show, comes from his slogan Join Us In Creating Excellence.
  • Getting High on Their Own Supply: The drug plot involves Harry and Tyrone 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 getting hooked on their product, and thus leading to Sanity Slippage when a gang war leaves them cut off from their supply.
  • The Ghost: Angel. He's a very good friend to the trio of Harry, Marion, and Tyrone. He's their go-to guy whenever they need something. He rounds up drugs and people for their impromptu party early in the film, he gives Tyrone and Harry the news of the drugs being sold in the back of the grocery store during the dope panic, he gets them the car for their ill-fated trip to Florida, Marion even has a long telephone conversation with him at one point in the film. With all that said, you never see or hear him at all during the film.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Applies in-story; Marion performs a lesbian sex act on stage for drugs. The viewer, however, likely 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. The men in this scene are credited as the "Party Animals". Pretty accurate.
  • 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 almost harmonize, with the jitters being accompanied by distortion noises and getting more intense as the screams get louder.
  • Karma Houdini: Big Tim and Uncle Hank get away with everything they do.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The doctor that called the cops on Harry did so without bothering to treat the massive infection on his arm, which eventually results in it getting amputated. And he did so purely on the (albeit correct) assumption that his arm infection was from drug use.
    • A racist prison guard strikes Tyrone because he didn’t say “Yes, sir” to the doctor screening prisoners and clearing them for labor.
  • 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 all the while suffering the hell that is withdrawal, 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.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Come" is used often towards the end of the film, with different meanings that in some cases overlap with Ironic Echo.
    • 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.
  • Mickey Mousing: A subtle but effective example in the film's climactic Madness Montage. The frenzied, anxious track "Meltdown" plays during the entire sequence. When Sara is receiving her ECT, the music stops just before each shock and aggressively comes back in once the shock is administered, practically making the audience feel it on a visceral level.
  • 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.
  • 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 to the protagonists is done by themselves. There's plenty of villains eager to exploit their addictions, though.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Tyrone tries to help Harry by taking him to the hospital. And instead of just dumping Harry off, he loyally waits in the lobby. For this Tyrone is arrested and sent to prison after the doctor calls the police after seeing Harry's arm.
  • 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).
    • The names of the pills Sara takes are never named either, aside from Harry referring to them as "uppers". But considering the book was set in the 60s, as well as the addictiveness and strength of the pills, it's safe to assume they're methamphetamine tablets. Her symptoms are also consistent with amphetamine psychosis, a schizophrenia-like ailment caused by long-term amphetamine abuse. Unlike most forms of schizophrenia, however, amphetamine psychosis resists most forms of treatment, and is essentially permanent.
  • 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.
  • Onscreen Chapter Titles: Title cards name the film's three acts: Summer, Fall, and Winter.
  • "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 knowledge.note  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 ice pick through the orbital lobe... and no anesthetic!
  • 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" and has seen other uses in various professional and amateur settings.
  • 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: there is no hope or renewal in store for any of them.
  • 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 underwater is taken straight out of Perfect Blue.
    • 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 of 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. All of the protagonists fall into the first two of those categories.
  • The Shrink: Arnold, Marion's former therapist. Even when she was his patient, he breached his professional ethics by sleeping with her.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus 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.
  • 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.
  • Tragedy: As indicated by the title, the film is about the death of various characters' dreams.
  • Tragic Dream: Although many prefer to simplify the film as having an "anti-drug" message, the real heart of the story is in the unrealistic and unattainable dreams of the characters that leads to the addiction. The most clear-cut and heartbreaking example of this is likely the very end of the film, where a now-very-south-of-sanity Sara retreats into her Happy Place, where she envisions herself in her red dress winning the grand prize on Tappy's game show, with Harry as her guest of honor. They embrace and tearfully exchange declarations of love as the crowd erupts into a standing ovation. In any other context, it would be heartwarming; in this one, it's devastating.
  • Troubled Fetal Position: Unsurprisingly starts to occur as things go downhill for the main characters; at the end of the film, all of them are shown assuming this position one after the other. One such scene in the middle of the film, done by Marion, is a frame-for-frame recreation of a scene in Perfect Blue.
  • Tuckerization: Mr. Rabinowitz is named after the film's editor, Jay Rabinowitz.
  • 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 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.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The friends of Sara that recommend she go on pills, planting her on the downward spiral into addiction. Once they see what's become of her once she hits rock bottom, they're horrified and heartbroken.
  • Verbal Tic: Harry usually ends sentences with the phrase "For Christ's sake!"
  • 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.
  • 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.

Tropes only in the book:

  • Arc Words: Selby uses the word "dream" quite often, driving the point from the title to the end.
  • Fate Worse than Death: The novel is more direct about Sara's fate, stating that she's no longer capable of coherent thought, and she's permanently committed to a state hospital.
  • Funetik Aksent: Tyrone has one in the novel.
  • Hope Spot: There's a brief one for Sara at the hospital. The young intern correctly identifies her condition as being due to amphetamine overdose and malnourishment, and tries to get her the proper treatment. His decision is overruled by more senior physicians who run the ward like a factory and put all patients exhibiting psychiatric symptoms through ECT without bothering with diagnosis or attempting more effective (but time-consuming) treatments.
  • Wall of Text: Hubert Selby writes in a stream-of-consciousness style without much punctuation or paragraph breaking.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Requiem For A Dream


Sarah Goldfarb's Breakdown

Run ragged by amphetamine psychosis, Sarah is assaulted from all sides by characters from her favourite TV show - along with her fridge - and is eventually driven to flee her apartment... only for a cut back to said apartment to reveal that everything is perfectly normal.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / CuttingBackToReality

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