What Is A Drug? A Look at “Requiem for a Dream”

Sarah Alsagir

                                                                   Film Freak Central - Requiem for a Dream (2000) [Director's Cut] - 4K Ultra  HD + Blu-ray + Digital

If I’m being honest, it was difficult for me to think of a way to describe this film. The best thing I could think of was disturbing and hard to watch. I’m not alone in feeling this way; this film displays drug abuse in a way I have never seen portrayed.
Ryan Fan of Medium.com described this film as “too graphic, too real…it was just too hard to watch.” This description doesn’t mean the movie was bad. In fact, the film is far from it, displaying drug abuse in a way I have never seen done before.
The film begins with Sara Goldfarb (put actor’s name here) watching her favorite game show; her son Harry, along with his best friend Tyrone, and his girlfriend Marion are heroin addicts. These three dream of better lives, whether it’s Harry and Marion’s dream of opening a clothing store with Marion’s designs or Tyrone’s dream to make it out of the hood, they only see one way to achieve these dreams, so they traffic heroin.
Early in the film, Sara gets a phone call telling her she’s been invited to be on her favorite game show! What could go wrong there? Before she goes on the show she tries losing some weight so she can fit into the red dress she wore to Harry’s graduation. Her diet isn’t going the way she wants, so she goes to the doctor and gets prescribed amphetamines (diet pills). She starts seeing the results she wanted with her weight, and the pills gave her a lot of energy. The only problem is when the energy wears off.
The director creates this unsettling atmosphere within the film by using cinematography and not shying away from disturbingly realistic imagery. One of the easiest examples of this to spot in the film is the repetitive jump shots displayed throughout the film.
One scene that comes to mind is about halfway through the movie where we go back to one of these instances where it shows Sara checking to see if she can fit into the red dress. When it doesn’t zip all the way, the camera cuts to her taking one of the diet pills. After she takes the pill wecuts to the scale being adjusted, then there’s a cut to her opening the mailbox waiting in anticipation of a letter from the game show, and finally, she pops another pill. This is a repetitive sequence of events, dress, pill, scale, mailbox, pill, dress, pill, scale, mailbox, pill, etc. We see these repetitive jump cuts throughout the movie. I can’t explain what it is about these scenes, but they are so unsettling to watch unfold– you’ll understand if you see the film for yourself.
Not only does this film take a toll on the viewer, but it also took quite a toll on the cast. The actor playing Harry (Jared Leto) starved himself and ended up losing 28 pounds throughout the film to make the addiction look more realistic. Aronofsky also requested that Leto (Harry) and Marlon Wayans (Tyrone) cut sugar out of their diets and stayed abstinent during filming to make their cravings seem more realistic.
In an interview, Ellen Burstyn (Sara) said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this challenged in a role before; It was harder than The Exorcist.” Jennifer Connelly, who plays Marion, described the role as “really hard to go through, emotionally. It was draining, sad, and uncomfortable.”
This movie goes way beyond simply heroin addiction. Showing Sara’s addiction helps portray this. Although Sara does indeed get addicted to drugs, her whole addiction starts not with an addiction to drugs, but addiction to an idea. The whole reason she starts taking diet pills in the first place is because she is addicted to the idea of her being on her favorite game show.
On the surface, this movie seems like your average addiction movie, but when you take a deeper look this film poses the question what is a drug? Each character is addicted to this idea of a perfect life or a perfect experience when, in reality, it’s unrealistic.
There’s a scene where Harry is looking out the window and watches Marion look over the sea at the end of a pier. The world is bright and colorful, it’s beautiful, and Marion is the most beautiful thing there. Everything is perfect, but Harry gets brought back into his harsh and cold reality. This title shows the viewer that anything can be a drug in its own way, whether it’s medications, futures, or simply ideas.
I know for a fact that I will never watch this movie again. It’s an excellent movie, but it brings such unsettling realism to an already dark topic, no matter which character you follow in this film, no one has a happy ending.
It’s hard to explain the effect this title had on me, all I can really say is I felt sick. This definitely has to be one of the darkest, if not the darkest film I have ever seen.