Thoughts On: Requiem For A Dream
The fifth part in the series where all character story lines coalesce with Harry Goldfarb.
To get into Harry’s story we have to quickly go over what we learnt from Tyrone’s, Marion’s and Sara’s. With Tyrone what is made clear is the idea of the Requiem – of what each character mourns. Each has an individual past which they cannot change, but plagues them. To escape the distress of this, they numb themselves with addictive substances. With Marion the idea of a fall, of failure was made most clear. But, the take away from her path centred around responsibility and control – in the end making clear that all characters have their Requiems, but also their hamartias (fatal flaws). Sara’s story was about the ultimate conflict of personal flaws and the external world. This left us with an existential idea that we exist for no tangible reason which leaves us squandering for meaning in life. What you’ll notice is the complication of narrative message. We start with the simple idea that the past is what destroys these characters. We then moved onto an idea of responsibility – of self-destruction. But, then we ended on the acceptance that there are two forces pulling these characters apart. What is lacking thus far is resolution. This is where Harry comes in. Everything about character conflicts discussed so far all funnel into his character, all funnels into an idea of sorry. I believe this is final and most tragic note of the film. Moreover, it’s the hardest, most soul-crushing question asked by Requiem For A Dream. How do you say sorry?
To lead up to this question and to fully comprehend what Harry essentially has to (wants to) apologise for, we have to start with the beginning. Requiem For A Dream is essentially a film about traps. We went over this in the first part when discussing the opening scene and the split screen Aronofsky often utilises throughout the film:
This is used to quite literally split his characters apart. This is an interesting technique though. It does segregate characters, but only to control the distance between them. To understand this, merely look at the two examples given. In the first, Marion and Harry lie next to each other caressing one another. Aronofksy could simply show how close they are with a simple wide and tight shot. Something as simple as this:
Not only are we allowed to see the wide angle that shows how they are in full contact, head to toe, legs and arms intertwined (with them being alone – quite important) but then you are made to observe that it’s their faces that matter – it’s the fact that they are asleep, that they are utterly comfortable with one another. I would even argue that these two shots (a push into a close up) are more romantic, and better demonstrates a close relationship than the split screen. This then implies that Aronofsky didn’t want to show just how close the two could be. The split screen primarily indicates that they aren’t lost to each other, but in their own worlds because of each other. The difference here is subtle, but crucial. It implies that their love is conditional. And later on we find out just what those conditions are – drugs. When drugs are out of the equation, all romance, all sense of connection falls away. This is why Aronofsky uses split screen in one of the most intimate moments of the film – to disconnect.
Now, coming back to the second example of a split screen given by the opening scene, we can see how it can be used to bring characters together. Despite Sara hiding in the closet, she is put in the same space as Harry through cinematics. Aronofsky then implies that despite Harry stealing from and later humiliating his mother, he still thinks of her. This is a crucial aspect of Harry’s character – he traps people (his mother mainly) to free himself. In other words, he steals money from his mother to buy drugs, push off and forget reality. The reality he’s trying to forget though is (in part) that he’s not too great of a son. This is why bringing Harry and Sara closer together with split screen in the beginning is so important. Not only does it show that Harry knows what he is doing is entirely wrong, but that he cannot force the distance he requires between himself and his mother as to forget what he’s doing is wrong. You see this echoed in the way he’s taking money from his mother. He knows that taking the T.V and selling it is tantamount to taking money from his mother’s purse, but it’s only because he doesn’t have to face that fact directly, that he engages in what is a pretty fruitless venture. In fact, it’s the exchange with the T.V that perfectly exemplifies the relationship between Harry and Sara. Harry takes the T.V and sells it for (let’s say) around $10. His mother would then have to pay something like $20 to get it back. To save face, Harry has his mother waste money when he could simply ask for the original $10 (steal it even) and have everyone be happier. But, that extra $10 Sara loses each and every time Harry wants money is a perfect example of how he drains her, not just financially but emotionally. I could bring this full circle and say Sara only buys the T.V back because that’s what she’s addicted to (on top of loving her son somewhat irrationally) but we’ve already covered that aspect of Requiem. Instead of looking at the cycle characters get themselves into, the cycles that turn into spirals, I want to jump to the end…
Both Harry and Sara end up alone. And in reality what got them here is a simple $10 fee for momentary and faux comfort, so Harry didn’t have to look his mother in the eye, so he didn’t have to directly steal from her, that ultimately extorted the both of them. This is the overriding pattern of Harry’s behaviour and it’s fundamentally down to cowardice. He refuses to act as the criminal and junkie he is. He wants to be seen as the businessman, the boyfriend, the son, not the dealer, the supplier, the leech. In short, you can’t be a halfway crook, a halfway gangster, a halfway criminal. You have to be all in or you will lose. To quote my favourite band: ‘the only way is all the way’. Whilst the aphorism holds an essential truth, to tease out exactly what destroys Harry and those around him, we have to take a closer look at his relationship with Marion.
I hinted at this in part 3, but the following is the essential image of the film:
What we have here is Marion in Sara’s red dress. This dress:
This fundamental juxtaposition of a symbol implies a lot. Firstly, both Marion and Sara wearing this dress implies that they hold the same hamartia. To Sara the red dress is a simple solution to a incredibly complex problem. The red dress is a ticket toward stardom, toward her 15 minutes on T.V. Why should Marion want this also? I could speculate a lot, I could speculate that Marion holds a quashed hope of wanting to step out of the shadow of her father as a designer (he also owns a clothing shop). I could even appeal to the idea that we all want our 15 minutes with that being all the red dress represents. But, to get the true answer we have to look at everything in context. This…
… is Harry’s vision. This is a visual representation of everything crucial wrong with him. He sees Sara as his mother essentially. He sees Marion as a woman with an ideal. Sara’s ideal was family life, Marion’s may be the same thing. But, whatever it is, Sara lost everything. Sara lost her husband, her friends, her way of life, and, for reasons never explicitly fleshed out, her son. She is left alone when all she wanted was family. She started with nothing, found something in married life, and then lost it. Marion starts with nothing, she finds Harry, and by his experience, she’s due to lose everything. This is where the reason for Harry disliking his mother is implied. She seems very clingy. She adores her son, and having lost her husband holds on to him as the only thing she has left. She smothers him, Harry is in turn distant. This push pull in his character is quite like the split screen:
He wants to be romantically close to Marion, but there’s something between them, a condition to ensure everything stays fine. Drugs. So, what this all enforces is that the red dress is a metaphorical simple solution to a wider and much more complex problem. What it represents is past baggage, character’s Requiems, and them trying to step out of a cycle. The cycle would be best seen with Harry and Sara. Harry loves his mother, but also quite clearly resents her for… it’s strange to put down, but… loving him back – and too much. That’s what smothering is. It’s giving someone too much of something they thought they wanted, forcing them to detest it. The same thing that happens with all the addictive substances in the film. Drugs numb characters, blinding them to reality, to their own emotional problems. This coddling, this denial of reality, consumes and smothers them. The red dress is then clearly an idea of an end goal, of these character coming out the other side. This is so important with Harry as he not only wants his mother, but his girlfriend to also come out the other side better off. Here is also where we have to call back to Tyrone. His core conflict is that he wants to ‘make it’ for the memory of his mother – almost in dedication. Harry essentially wants to do the same thing. He wants to make it for his mother, as represented (in part) by Marion. Now, the core idea of guilt, the foundation of Harry’s sorry, comes with this responsibility he, just like Tyrone, takes on. Harry feels he has to make his mother happier, make Marion happier. We see this in the way he gets drugs for Marion and then the T.V for Sara. But, what are drugs? They are an automative substance for these characters, they make going from point A to point B easier as they are numbed, anaesthetised to the friction of their movement through life.
It’s now that the complex narrative pulled together from Tyrone’s, Marion’s and Sara’s story has been simplified. All philosophical quarrels of why and how, of who is responsible, of how this happened has been reduced to a simple why: you wanted it to be easy. However, and this is the key trap of the film, this seemingly poses a simple solution to a complex issue. If you wanted things to be easy, why not just accept that they are supposed to be hard? This reduces Harry’s apology, to a simple ‘sorry, I didn’t try hard enough’ or ‘sorry, I’m a coward’. But, to this simple apology comes a plethora of emotions
Fury – Ideals Are Peaceful, History Is Violent
Requiem For A Dream – Futility: How Do You Slow Down A Runaway Train?
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