Thoughts On: Requiem For A Dream
Here we are at the half-way mark, the third part of the series, where now we look at Marion Silver’s journey through the narrative.
First, a quick note on the poster… hahaha… yeah, thanks to the creator (tchav.deviantart.com/) I guess. I don’t know what else to say, speaks pretty well for itself (click on the image to see it in more detail). Anyways, so far we’ve covered the style of the film and it’s emotional backbone, Tyrone. With Tyrone a theme of parental longing is made clear. Whereas Tyrone lost his parents, Marion despises hers. It’s through this that we can see a trichotomous relationship between the three younger characters (Harry, Marion and Tyrone) develop. In other words, they all face the same themes of tragedy, but handle them differently. All three have clear issues with their parents and it’s analysing who the characters are in respect to this that we can best understand the film. As said, Tyrone is the emotional backbone to this story (and this is where reading his post is important) his Requiem is, as a result, by and for his mother. The dream he mourns is bound to the memory of her. We won’t get into Harry’s character just yet, instead we’ll jump straight to Marion. She is the self-destructive backbone of this story. Whereas the other characters are pretty naive, or overly hopeful in their plights toward bettering themselves, Marion, from the outset, has to be suspended in a non-reality. To understand this all we have to do is look at a few visual metaphors.
Here is the first time we see Marion, and so is (to a director and writer) a very important image. There’s a lot to pull apart and infer from the simple juxtaposition of images here. Firstly, let’s look at framing of the first image. Marion is dead centre with a medium head shot that centres her eyes. Moreover, she looks up, we look down. Her being central implies balance and control, however, us being above her is slightly diminutive, it squashes her build whilst making her look small. The emotion generated here through cinematic language is of introspection or possibly meditation. She is comfortable in the frame, though lost in it at the same time as if in lost in deep thought. What also needs to be considered in terms of composition is the colour scheme. Everything is washed with sunlight, yet muted ever so slightly as not to be too bright. This allows the greens and the blues to settle amongst one another and Marion’s darker hair to emphasise her lighter skin. Again, this draws the audience’s attention to the centre of frame, right toward her eyes. This confirms that this visual metaphor is of perspective – Marion’s perspective. More than that, the use of green and blue implies a natural tone. The natural atmosphere allows us to infer cleanliness – that Marion thinks clearly and isn’t on drugs ( or at least not controlled by them). Furthermore, the fact that the colours have been flattened slightly and de-saturated grounds the image, imbuing the frame with verisimilitude. In other words, to boost colour here, to make everything incredibly vibrant, would make clear the fantasy of cinematic manipulation, which Aronofsky doesn’t want as he is trying to portray a clear-minded, unaddicted character. (That’s not to say that she hasn’t taken drugs – just that it hasn’t consumed her life yet). It’s in this simple image that we learn so much of Marion, but also of the story to come. The frame is here, most importantly, calm. It’s muted and immobile, unlike later scenes which are incredibly hectic, hence, allowing Aronofsky to perfectly build that rising sense of action and tragedy over the narrative visually and well as kinetically. From the calm opening shot of Marion comes a reversal, looking up at the apartment block from Marion’s POV. There are both negative and positive connotations to this visual. Firstly, the negative. There is a very subtle implimence of suicidal thought here. As we find out later on from Arnold, the shrink, Marion suffers from depression. Could this calm facade as she’s looking up merely hide inner-turmoil? Moreover, could this calm frame detail Marion’s fascination and comfort with the idea of her own death – her jumping off the building? We can’t know for sure, but the interpretation makes sense. On the flip side, Marion could be looking up as a positive metaphor, a metaphor that suggest she thinks of the future and of better things.
What is now key is the next reversal and the final image. Marion, so lost in thought is approached by Harry without hearing him come. This implies that she may be high, but I think it’s more sensical to infer she was in deep thought (because what the framing has suggested to us of tranquility and reality). Either way, for Harry to step in over her should implies a lot of things. Is he subconsciously manipulated her? Is this a bad thing? I think it’s clear that Harry has influence over her, but not in a negative way. We can understand this by recognising that he distracts her from thought. If he distracts her from negative, suicidal thoughts it’s clear that Harry is what makes her happy in this world (as is made clear in later romantic scenes). On the other hand, for her to be distracted from positive thoughts of success could imply that Harry was on her mind and it’s with him that she sees a better, brighter future. At the same time however, you could see that Harry is a drug that kills her self-motivation. She stops thinking of the future and only about romance when he is around in other words. This is a valid interpretation, but I think it makes more sense to appeal to the former one of Harry being good for her as he not only makes her happy, but suggests that she does work, that she does design – and he helps her do this. So, it’s with this simple yet effective opener that Marion’s character is set up. But, what about the self-destruction? Firstly, it isn’t that strong of a character traits yet, but, we can see it as dormant for with the next visual metaphor:
Ignoring the elevator scenes and pulling the wire to get a high out of possibly getting in trouble – which is quite telling behaviour of a self-destructive addict/adrenaline junkie – let’s look at the scene on the roof depicted here. The clearest way to understand this is through the dialogue. We learn of Marion’s parents, who she has been moaning about (as implied by ‘why you so hard on your folks?’). She complains that they simply aren’t loving as all the have to give is money – no love or affection. Harry then suggests she then get away by opening up that clothes store and earning her own independence. However, this is shot down with a ‘I can’t’ and then ‘when will I have time to hang with you?’. Uh-oh. ALARM BELLS!!! I was wrong before! Harry is a drain on her motivation! Well, no, relax, stay calm, he’s not. As is clear, Harry brings up the clothes store and later buys one for her, she is the one who denies it and later rips up her deigns. To understand this, it’s best to look at the visual side of things. We open with creativity, Marion making the paper aeroplanes. As should be clear, this is a great and very provocative image now. She literally throws her creative representations away, just like Harry, though, Marion is the focus right now. But, if you did want to focus on Harry here, his creative side is supposed to be expendable, that is his intent. He sells drugs, he wants the stuff to drift away from him. Marion on the other hand is creating, with hope, a lucrative, legitimate business with lasting designs. To throws these away, to dismiss her creative side, is what cites her own self-destruction. We have to remember here too that Marion comes into this film with the best start. Not only does she come from money unlike Harry, Sara and Tyrone, but she comes from a lack of responsibility. Yes, Tyrone and Harry are lazy dope fiends (a trait that intensifies) but they are the ones who schlep the T.V around, collect drugs, run the business side of things. This isn’t a slight on Marion as a Do Nothing Bitch…
… love Ronda Rousey. Off point. This isn’t a slight on Marion (as she does end up doing something – I draw your attention to the poster and ‘ass-to-ass’) but does cite an idea of responsibility. It’s through this then that we have established Marion’s Requiem. Marion’s Requiem is the clearest definition of the title – it is of a dream. Marion simply wants a better life. She never tries to get herself out of this rut – but wants better nonetheless. It’s through this that the visual metaphor of the paper aeroplane deepens. Marion’s life and perspective are captured by this image:
Not only is it on an somewhat controlled decent (control implying Marion’s responsibility) but it’s upside down. This shows the contradictive core of her character, she has reason to be happy, but simply can’t find it. It’s this irrationality that makes clear her depression, but, what is more important than this is the simple idea of this frozen image. The plane is suspended. Moreover, Aronofsky never shows the planes hitting the ground. It’s decent is smooth, controlled, calm. Just like:
What this all means is that Marion is addicted to suspension. This is what makes her character self-destructive. What makes her happy in life is the feeling of weightlessness as she falls toward her demise. It’s by sticking with Harry, by taking drugs, that she is initially allowed to feel good as the descent is slow, she even catches an updraft of wind over the first half of the film, but once the decent starts, it has to finish, and the closer you get to splash down the faster you hurtle, the scarier everything gets. And that’s Marion’s experience as shown through the film in a nutshell. It’s the flight and fall of a paper plane.
From this image it’s clear that Marion is a heavily dependent person. This is her ultimate hamartia. It’s because she needs levity, as given by drugs and Harry, that she has to sink to incredibly low depths of prostitution and exploitation of self. What this brings to the forefront is a concept of social exchange. I talked about this a lot with the Black Venus post and started to bridge a gap with the comparison post on Free Will & Responsibility. This is what I want to solidify with Marion’s character. It’s clear that in our lives we need people. We need friends and family to give us emotional support and security. At the same time we need governments, education systems, food chains, retailers to provide material support and security. What this makes clear is that we live our lives on two levels. There’s the external way of surviving (food, water, shelter) and the internal way of surviving (emotions, feelings, personal well-being). Now, in the second post in the series I made a comparison between Requiem and Bicycle Thieves:
This was a slightly tangential, disconnected comparison to make as both films are social tragedies, but in two different respects. Bicycle Thieves is about conflict based on an external way of living whereas Requiem, especially with Marion’s character, is about and internal way of living. Now, just like we need food to survive, we also need our own version of a drug. This is the core idea of Requiem For A Dream. We all have a fix whether it’s T.V, food, drugs or watching, writing and writing about films (my fix if you didn’t catch that). But, what happens when that fix consumes you? This is where free will and responsibility come into the picture with a later question of empathy. It’s tempting to ask where our fixes come from, if we decide them. It’s my opinion that no, we don’t. Marion needs Harry, she needs drugs and levity because of her parents, because there’s internal mechanisms within her that want love, but weren’t satisfied. This is, as I’ve said before, the true task of life. Perception. We do not control the way we feel, just like we don’t control physics because we have no free will, but do have the ability to perceive. What this does allow is us to see the chains around us. Not fun. And some people just can’t handle this. But, let’s bring this back to Marion, Bicycle Thieves and Black Venus. There are intolerable aspects of Black Venus and Bicycle Thieves. And they are the moments in which character’s external survival skills are taken away. This is all connected to money, food, shelter. But, connected to this are internal survival skills being wrought and tortured. It’s in this that a debate on responsibility and personal strength come into play. When we see people suffer, it’s very easy to empathise. But, it gets harder the longer we watch them and the deeper they dig themself into a personal hole. To understand this look at the narrative of Requiem For A Dream. Marion chooses to take drugs, she becomes externally dependant on them due to an internal longing. It’s because she is depressed, that she isn’t very motivated, that she ends up in the terrible place that she does. And it’s having said all of that, that we come to the last visual metaphor of her journey:
This is a quientessent zoom out that perfectly captures everything discussed so far as well as her personal character. We start with internal survival: emotion, the smile. We then move to external survival: money – and whilst distancing ourselves from her character, implying a growing disconnect. Finally, we have a contradiction: despite what she had to go through to get here she is happy. Moreover, she closes herself off from us, completing the disconnect. The end effect of this eloquent line of cinematic language is an… oh… fuck me… (no pun intended). We are put at a loss because there is a fundamental question asked here. That question is: can you empathise? This is a poignant question as not only is the contradiction of her depression brought up, but so is the contradiction of her work ethic and motivation. This is captured by her design work that she has thrown all over the floor. Marion is a character that not only couldn’t change, couldn’t find happiness, but also took a short cut to get to a low high. It’s because of this that I personally find it hard to empathise with her in the end. She, unlike other characters shows no remorse, and truly destroyed herself. If you look at Tyrone’s last image…
… it’s clear that he has fucked up, and he knows it. Like Marion, all he can do is wallow in this failure, try and comfort himself, but does so without a smile. The same can be said with the other two characters, Harry and Sara. And it’s here that Marion’s story shuts itself down and we see a secondary tier to Aronofsky’s commentary on addiction. However, to explore this in detail we have two more steps to go down.
So, despite rounding off Marion’s character there’s still a few things about her story left untold. However, all of these ideas are intrinsically linked to Harry and Sara with this image:
As a result, it’s here that I unfortunately have to leave you in suspense and waiting for the forthcoming posts…
Black Venus/Requiem For A Dream – Free Will & Responsibility
The Matrix – Is It All Really That Bad?
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