Requiem For A Dream – Harry

Thoughts On: Requiem For A Dream

The fifth part in the series where all character story lines coalesce with Harry Goldfarb.

requiem 5

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

 

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Fury – Ideals Are Peaceful, History Is Violent

Thoughts On: Fury

A story of a crew aboard tank named Fury during the final push of the second world war.

Fury

I think it’s best to start with a quick overview of this film. I think this is an ok war picture. There are very few great war films. I’m pretty sure I could name them all without much deliberation: All Quiet On The Western Front, Paths Of Glory, Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan. I could add to this Bridge On The River Kwai, The Grand Illusion, Dirty Dozen, Jarhead, Das Boot and (if it counts) Schindler’s List. Now, this sounds like a lot films, but put into perspective, recognising how long war films have been into production and how many there are, this isn’t much. Fury is on the fringes of this group, but doesn’t quite make it there because it lacks poignancy. And that’s the key factor of the war genre. Poignancy. These films are built off of an idea of extremism. The great war films all reveal an extremely brutal side of humanity, the side we seem to want to forget, to cast away and leave behind as to progress and evolve as a species. What this seems to culminate to, in my eyes, is the famous Truffaut quote:

‘There’s no such thing as an anti-war film’

 

This quote implies that war films have a Rocky effect. Don’t worry, no need to Google that, I just made it up. When you watch Rocky, you, unless you’re not paying attention, or are inherently stupid, get roused up. You feel like you can take on the world. Like you are the underdog and no one else is nothing more than an Apollo. Yeah, he’s the world champion, yeah, he’s a God, but, I’m feeling like an Italian Stallion, I can eat thunder! I can crap lighting! I CAN RUN THROUGH ANYTHING!! That there’s the Rocky effect. I think Eddy Murphy says it best, but there’s my explanation. Now, Truffaut makes the point that war films will rouse up their audience, will glorify the sacrifice of life and limb for nation, country and brother. It’s then implied that by seeing war, by seeing violence, it makes a case that people stand by (to vary degrees).

Now, I’ve always thought the complete opposite. I’ve always thought that war films are inherently anti-war – and for the exact same reason. We are all made to see the violence, and from the comfort of our own homes or a theatre, we are made to appreciate peace, the safety we experience almost every single day of our lives. However, I don’t think I’m completely right here. Firstly, it’s completely down to the audience and the film whether or not they are made to feel war is good or bad. This all then comes down to the poignancy factor of the film. It can be negatively poignant, to make you fear violence (like Schindler’s List would). Or, it can be positively poignant to pump you up, make you feel like you could face hell (like Dirty Dozen might). Now, whilst there is a poignancy factor, it’s a mere influence on an audience – nothing more than a suggestion. It tries to tip the tables one way or another. With each and every war film I’ve ever seen, I’m made to feel both positive and negative effects, but in the end, one trumps the other. The best example I could give here would be Full Metal Jacket. The film starts out with R. Lee Ermy screaming, shouting and cursing and I’m locked in. I love the violence, the bravo, the fuck yous, the suck my dicks, the Gomer Pyles, the stacked shit. But, with the end of the second half, I’m made to feel that… oh, shit… I think this went to far. This cycle repeats itself with the second, and in my opinion, less poignant half. And because of the endings of these segments, I feel like Full Metal Jacket is an anti-war picture. But, just like not all films are universally either pro-war or anti-war, I feel that no specific film is pro-war or anti-war either. All films have elements of both. Now, this is where Fury comes back into the picture. Fury is bookended by quite good content, that ultimately doesn’t pack so much of a punch. However, the mid-section is gold. What I’m talking about here is the simple sit down where Wardaddy and Norman try to enjoy a meal with a German family. Not only is this cinematically rich, ripe with atmosphere, tension and goddamn good acting, but it’s imbued with the overarching philosophy of the film. This film, like almost all war films, is about peace and conflict.

Before we get into this idea, I think it’s important to recognise why I chose this film over the likes of a Saving Private Ryan or Platoon. Fury is the film, out of all mentioned, that talks to the audience most directly. I say this with an incredible bias as I was not around, or growing up when the likes of All Quiet On The Western Front, Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now first came out. This doesn’t mean my point’s invalidated though. This film has something that all mentioned don’t. It’s most far removed from its time and setting. This film came out in 2014, but is set in 1945. What’s significant about this is that not only did it come out nearly 70 years late, but came out in a completely different world in respect to war. If you look at films like Jarhead, Black Hawk Down, American Sniper or Good Kill, war is presented as either a waiting game, a tense, hyper technical, or sometimes distant effort. The moral conflict of these films thus have a completely different focus to the likes of Deer Hunter or Paths Of Glory. War is shown to be something much more, it’s strange to say, civilised – relaxed even. The image of a thousand young men in matching uniforms, all nameless, faceless, has practically been lost. We’ve gone from this:

To this:

The presentation of war on film has been hugely minimised. This has of course happened in reality too, but I’m not trying to make any other point on this than the one of change. Fury tries to comment on modern day with the ways of the past. This is best understood by the fact that this is a film very loosely based on true events. By and large this is a fantasy. Almost all other poignant war films are either biopics, historical or even personally allegorical. This means, the poignant mid-section of this film, the failed meal at the table, has a few words of it’s own to say.

To understand the core of this failed dinner, I think it’s best to return to what we opened with. Anti-war and pro-war films. It’s this film that made it clear to me the truth in Truffaut’s statement. Fury is largely about the biases of those outside of a war effort, outside of true, physical and tangible conflict. What fuels Truffaut’s quote is the exact same idea of bias in an audience (or an outsider). Whilst he asserts that no film can be purely against war, I think it’s fair to infer that no film can be completely pro-war either. An audience can never be 100% polarised. This all goes deeper though. No person can be 100% polarised. I think it’s against our nature to wholeheartedly, unconditionally and forever believe in something. Whether it’s a religion or simple moral, there’s always going to be something capable of turning us over the edge, planting a seed of doubt. This kind of makes Truffaut’s quote redundant as no film can be truly anti or pro anything, but let’s hold onto it for a while. Zooming into Fury’s philosophy we only need two things. We need an idea of ideals and an idea of reality. Ideals are largely presented through Norman:

Reality is presented by the crew as a whole…

… which leaves Don, Wardaddy, as the mediator.

It’s easy to see Don in this respect:

It’s easy to see him as adamant on enforcing an idea of brutality, of forcing Norman to recognise the reality of war, but his character isn’t that simple. And this is what the table scene demonstrates. All Don wants is peace, something he almost has to fight for. Don has his ideals, as well as an idea of reality, of brutality in a conflicted context, within a conflicted concept of humanity. This juxtaposed image of shooting the Nazi and sitting down to eat eggs in peace proliferates outwards as the crux of human nature in my opinion. This idea of peace and conflict is inherent to everything we do. I find myself incapable of not returning to this theme with each film I analyse. Humans want opposing things. We want our Ipods, our clothes, shoes, houses, culture and are willing to overlook what we’d call injustices for that. We have ideals, ideas of peace, of tranquillity, of equality, but as a distant dream. This conflict in all people is hard to rationalise though. It’s easy to tell someone who claims there is inequality in society to ‘fine, give up your privileges, act on what you believe’ which is what no one really wants to do, but what is the message here? The message here is that people can’t change, won’t change, that we don’t really care as deeply as we might suggest about other people. I believe this is an inherent and undeniable truth of people. We simply aren’t as great as we like to project. But, what do we do with that? This is something I struggle with, but, is no better exemplified than with Don Collier sat at the table refusing to let his men ruin a peaceful moment. He finds peace in a warzone and dares to hold onto it, he dares to defy reality, to enforce peace. And it’s with this that we can reach something like an epiphany. Peace has to be enforced – it can’t just happen. Here, the cycle repeats itself, and here comes a huge convoluting force. Why should a WWII film be anti-war? Was WWII not about quashing a fascist regime, of stopping Nazi culture from dominating the world? Was in not about peace – fight for it? Why should we, or a film for that matter, oppose this?

It’s here where the true conflict of everything discussed thus far comes in. It’s never war, it’s never violence, it’s never oppression, inequity, inequality, injustice, it’s never anything anyone has ever help up a sign to protest, that we are against. People are against the feelings they have in their chests, the thoughts they have in their heads that say: I’m scared. This feeling is, well… it’s petrifying. The fear that we will come to harm, that we will face injustice or inequality, is what makes us oppose war or violence. It’s thoughts that we are fighting with feelings. We are then always fighting ourselves. Metaphorically, we are fighting the mind with the heart. However, we are always fighting ourselves until we aren’t. Until that thought becomes a reality. Until our feelings must become actions. It’s now that fear becomes your best friend. Fear now will give you courage, will blind you to trepidation, will have you pick up your weapon and fight. What does this all mean? It means that the true enemy is peace. Peace is what has us fighting ourselves – internally. It’s during times of security that we become paranoid, that we speculate, that we have thoughts fight feelings. In this respect that an idea of inertia, of not doing anything about injustices because ‘that’s how we’re built, we’re built to be unfair, imperfect’, is key. It’s the silence before the storm that makes the storm possible in this sense. What this all means is that things must build up to become a reality, so people can rise up and fight. What’s now important is that we ask of the future. Does this mean we are doomed to live with paranoid peace until war explodes – all so we can quash the paranoia – just before everything cycles again? Well… the truth as far as I can see it is, yes. I’m keeping this all ambiguous to keep this idea as wide as possible – applicable to all kinds of conflict. This means I’m talking about the argument you feel is about to go down with your friend. The seemingly worsening state of race relations, of terrorism, of inequality, of inequity. Everything about these issues will have to build to a point where it’s a force that must be faced, that must be fought, for us to defeat it. This is a hopeless reality as it implies that civil, rational conduct or negotiation is fruitless. This idea as fueled by major historic events like WWII implies that to get to the rational negotiation, to the real problem solving, we have to endure what is essentially catastrophe. Peace talk doesn’t happen without a war in other words.

The argument against this is that people can do better, that we can evolve. To that I say, maybe. But then we just come back to the idea that ‘Ideals Are Peaceful, History Is Violent’. Is this maybe nothing more than a hope, a dream, a wish one’s heart aches? Is human nature insurmountable?

There’s two take aways from this dismal perspective. The first is of human progress after major disasters. Suffering, especially in respect to war, is hopefully for a greater cause, for peace and comfort of others not just during suffering, but after. To give an example, WWII gave us a plethora of technological advancements that led to the modern day being as good as it is – not to mention it stopped million of more lives being taken. The second take away here is something for the individual. If peace is the enemy, then maybe it helps to embrace it. If peace is a source of paranoia, maybe we need to learn how to accept it, to live optimistically, never pessimistically, and as thoroughly as we can.

This all flips the film and its questions straight to you. Is this an anti or pro-war film? Or is it just a film of little effect beyond entertainment or hopefully a source of dilemmas, thought experiments? Are you an optimist? Are you a pessimist? What would you prefer to be? What would you do in Collier’s position here:

 

 

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Central Intelligence – Comedy And The Hyperbole

Quick Thoughts: Central Intelligence

The Rock’s a CIA agent. Kevin Hart’s not. It’s a action/comedy. You get it.

Central Intelligence

This is an all right film. A good time at the pictures. It’s a play/spoof/homage on/to a whole load of movies. It’s an old screwball comedy meets a Hitchcockian suspense thriller meets a Bruce Lee action/fight film – and of course an 80s teen romance (bromance). The elements of this film that work well are the spoofs of the action and thrillers. The jokes centering around misdirection and accidental happenings are the strongest parts of this film because of this – can’t give examples without spoilers, sorry. What you can’t put aside though is the fact that this is primarily a comedy. So, does it make you laugh? Yeah. Reasonably so. However, there’s tropes in this film that really let the audience down.

To understand this it’s best to start where this film gets it right. I love the no-bullshit screenwriting style. The writer clearly knew what this was and what sucks about both action and comedy films today. By this I men the archetypal agents that are simply stupid, or so 1-dimensional, that they are clearly nothing more than a writer’s device. Unfortunately, there isn’t a no-bullshit direction or acting style. With the acting that’s fine (as it’s a comedy – it needs to be over the top) but the direction, not so much. I’m not talking so much about the blocking, camera angles and so on (all competently filmed) but the logic of action translated to the screen.

This is where writing, direction and acting don’t mesh well. Whilst the plotting of this film is no-bullshit, it takes liberties at times that are common in comedy and is simply milking the premise. To give an example I only need to point to the opening of the film. In a whole load of comedies asshole bullies are hyperbolised, made out to be this horrific force that can get away with anything and, with this film especially, that makes no sense at all. I sat watching this movie thinking: These assholes need to go to prison! Who on Earth would sit there and laugh!?

The main thing I want to ask with this film, however, is… really? What? Is that real? Are we supposed to take that seriously?

A gym full of students laugh at a fat naked guy thrown into the room with clear malicious intent. It’s not funny on screen, I have no idea how it could be funny in reality. I’m not moaning about bullying and how it’s not funny here. I mean…

Not a great film, but a moment that’s funny. And that’s because it’s hyperbolic in a sensible way (even for an Adam Sandler movie). In other words, the stupidity is set up well. This film has a overall anti-bullying message – and that’s fine. But, it doesn’t set up for that, and with the direction and acting style being so over the top, it kind of feels like the film, director and so on are simply lying. It feels like the film is shoehorning in some current political agenda, that we should all be rising up against. But, that’s hard to do when the issue is trivialised by contradictions in half-serious writing and flippant direction.

 

This is not my main issue though. Comedy distorts reality, but can it just become ridiculous? In this case, I think so. Yes, having a CGI fat Rock thrown into a gym is simply milking the premise, but, it gives the film an unstable base that doesn’t help character development at all. This is ultimately what makes the film harder to take seriously, and not just as a movie with a message.

The physical comedy is all too hyperbolic. It escalates too fast for the audience to follow or to get genuine laughs. It’s the likes of Chaplin that knew that physical comedy was something small, it was a tiny moment like a trip, a waking style, a roll of the eyes, a flick of a cigarette, and when you want bigger laughs you have to slow build the fire – and it all comes down to character.

Central Intelligence has elements of good character, but is lacking a genuine feel to it. And for me, it all comes down to direction. There’s small parts in the latter half of the first act to do with character building that are complete gold. But, when the film has to pick itself up and start running in the second act the style of direction takes over and it sticks out like a sore thumb. You’re always aware that actors are acting and that a camera is filming. This all comes down to over the top comedic jumps, leaps, bounds. In other words, comedy skips from zero to one hundred, and not in an exciting way, in a way that has us question character and logic.

So, in the end, a good film. I would recommend watching it, but I’d assume you’d only ever see it once – maybe twice if it came on T.V.

 

 

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