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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. Requiem For A Dream is well-loved for its haunting view on drug use, but it's also widely criticized for its extremely inaccurate and negative portrayal of normal medical procedures.
Harry is a twenty-something drug addict, who routinely steals his long-suffering mother's TV to pawn it for money. His mother, Sara, 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 decide to not just be drug addicts but also drug dealers, with help from Harry's would-be fashion designer girlfriend Marion. 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. 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 though within a matter of months for everyone: gang warfare breaks out in the city over the drug trade, resulting in the major drug suppliers shutting down all sales of drugs in the city order to force the rivals to surrender. Tyrone is arrested, forcing Harry and Marion to use all of their ill-gotten money made dealing to bail Tyrone out. Marion, now cut off financially from her family, turns to sleeping with her psychiatrist to earn money for drugs, which now go for a premium on the street. Meanwhile, Sara begins a downward spiral into insanity due to her increasing addiction to the diet medication.
In the end, all of them are left broken shells of their former selves by the ravages of addiction and the tragedy of their broken dreams.
Contains examples of:
- Bilingual Bonus: With sign language used by the deaf drug dealer employing Tyrone.
- Black Best Friend: Tyrone.
- Break the Cutie: Sara.
- Camera Tricks: practically a camera circus
- Daydream Surprise: *STAB* You smug fuck!
- Deep South: The boys end up in a brutal Southern prison, which doesn't take kindly to crack-addicted northerners.
- The crux of their addiction is heroin.
- Downer Ending: You really won't want to try drugs after this ending. Hell, life itself may be too much for you after it.
- 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.
- Electric Torture: What ECT is essentially depicted as.
- 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.
- 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.
- Executive Meddling: Released unrated, the studio forced Aronofsky to let them release an edited version to DVD to get Wal-Mart and Blockbuster to carry the film.
- Facecam This movie codified it as one of Darren Aronofsky's trademarks.
- 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 torturously horrible fates of all the other chracters.
- 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. Oh so very wrong...
- Freudian Excuse: Tyrone's briefly-glimpsed dream of being comforted and loved by his mother.
- Girl-On-Girl Is Hot: Applies in-story; Marion performs a lesbian sex act on stage so she could have money for drugs. The viewer, however, won't find it arousing.
- 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 last shot of Tyrone is in prison where he recalls memories of his mother fondly. Word of God has it that this shows that Tyrone is the only person capable of reclaiming his life.
- 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 attacking her psychiatrist, 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- Moral Guardians: Many critics apparently didn't watch the movie past Summer and thought this movie's message was Drugs Are Good. Um...
- Ms. Fanservice: Marion
- 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 man, y'all got a white driver!" BANG!
- Not Using the Zed Word: Nobody in the film ever says "heroin".
- One-Scene Wonder: Chris Mac Donald as the "JUICE" infomercial/motivational speaker Tappy Tibbons, whose program Sara watches and she believes she's getting invited to as a "contestant". They filmed an entire presentation of the "JUICE" program one day with MacDonald improvising most of it. At the end of the shoot, everyone in attendance gave him a standing ovation.
- Playing Against Type: Marlon Wayans (Tyrone) is best known for his comedic work.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Throw it In: Harry's nurse, toward the end of the film, sticks out her tongue as she prepares the hypodermic shot. The director kept it.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: 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.
- The Un-Reveal: 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.
- The Un-Smile: Marion's smile, as she holds her stash at the end.
- Vicious Cycle: Marion's Fate Worse Than Death. Drugs are the only thing that gives 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.
- 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.