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Critical Analysis of The Film Requiem for a Dream

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The film Requiem for a Dream (dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2000) depicts four individuals and their increasing addiction to substances. This psychological drama narrates parallel encounters linked by the relationship among the lonely. Taking place in Brooklyn, the audience tracks the four interconnected characters down a spiraling pit with no return. While the film could perceive as merely a reflection on addiction, Aronofsky’s content is based on the obsession with consumption and is unlimited to the conventional definition of a drug. In fact, Requiem for a Dream questions what could be considered a drug, the individual and group delusions of the ‘American Dream’, the obsessions from which these fallacies form, and to what heights to which the characters will climb to fulfill such misconceptions and the depths to which they plunge when the rose-colored glasses are removed.

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The general approach to Requiem for a Dream is to digest it as a film about addiction, but addiction solely acts as a plot device to move the storyline. Aronofsky presents a controlling metaphor in the first scenes of each character as they present themselves on the screen. As they introduce themselves to the viewer, it is apparent that each character is trapped. For example, the first scene in which the mother, Sarah Goldfarb, has locked herself in a closet while her son, Harry, is attempting to coax her into allowing him to steal her television. The screen is split in two as we witness Sara refuse and as Harry persuades. Sara is trapped inside this closet as an object tries to take away her comfort.

When Sara receives an anonymous phone call about how she has been ‘selected’ to be on television, her obsession begins. Sara progressively becomes dependent on the idea of being on TV and every one possessing the ability to observe her. Not only does she obsess over the TV show, but she also begins attempting to fit into the red dress she wore to Harry’s graduation. How this garment is the highlight of her delusion reveals that Harry graduating high school represents his most substantial achievement, and he hasn’t amounted to much since. This red dress explicates how Sara remains stuck in the past. Sara wants to look like she did the day of Harry’s high school graduation; she wants her son to be successful, and her husband alive. Because of this, Sara resorts to diet pills, and her obsession with food transposes into hallucinations and delusions. With each pill she swallows, the audience knows she is convincing herself that once she fits into the dress, her life will revert to apter times. When Harry visits, he remarks on the grinding of her teeth due to the pills, and the audience discovers the gravity of Sara’s addiction. Sara’s demeanor changes: ‘It’s a reason to get up in the morning, it’s a reason to lose weight, it’s a reason to fit in the red dress’. On the surface, this scene may appear to be commenting on drug dependency, but in fact, it is more about obsessions of the lonely. Sarah Goldfarb wants to acquire a taste of the American dream. She is a victim of television and an intimate cannibalistic capitalistic society. Like many Americans, Sara spends her elder years in front of a TV without contact from friends and family. She feeds into the show she watches; it thrusts her to the extremes. Watching only infomercials can impact one’s brain profoundly, and like Sara Goldfarb, it began to leak into her subconscious and what she believed.

Harry Goldfarb is an addict, but the sequences the audience surveys of his girlfriend, Marian Silver, reveals he is entirely captivated by her. Throughout the film, the audience watches as Harry does the most for Marian, and in doing so, he nudges her to start designing again and to launch her store. They believe that if the two sell enough drugs, they can move up in the world. But they can’t make it, the highest they reach is a vacant building. People like Harry and Marian exist, the ideology that if they suffer at the moment that when they succeed, it will feel so much better. It’s a distinct American perception that working hard for what you desire is the proper way while receiving hand-outs is considered lazy. Tyrone C. Love’s, Harry’s best friend, obsession is to become something more than a heroin addict on the street. The viewer watches as a younger Tyrone runs to his mother and says, ‘I told you mom, one day, I’ll make it’. Tyrone makes a name for himself as a drug dealer. As he stated, he wants to succeed, to make his mother proud.

The dreams of the four characters take shape in the form of a television première, an intimate relationship, a local business, and a step up the economic ladder. However, each individual faces the puzzle of how far they should go to nurture the desire for wealth, prosperity, and fame. Their preposterously unrealistic goals lead to dire consequences: Tyrone agrees to the hustle and bustle of a drug cartel; Harry gives up the dream for love between him and Marian and encourages her to prostitute herself for drugs; Marian is seized in the downward spiral of depravity, prostituting herself to a drug dealer and his partners; Sara Goldfarb becomes addicted to diet pills and starves herself. She imagines her refrigerator threating her, and breaks down, landing herself in a psychiatric ward. These responses to striving the American Dream impact each character in a multitude of ways, but like in real life, there’s no set plot and path an individual follows. This film reinstates that each small choice you make impacts your life in major or tiny ways.

Requiem for a Dream is more than anecdotes of dependence and the aversions they induce. The film is the requiem for its cast, and despite the variation of each fixation, collectively, the main obsession remains the American dream, and how it consumes and pushes us to the extremes to fulfill them. This delusion is materialism, and it has become an obsession we cannot ignore.

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“Please give a juicy welcome to Mrs. Sara Goldfarb. I’m delighted to tell you that you have just won the grand prize…Let me tell you what you’ve won: Your prize has a sweet smile and his own private business. He just got engaged and is about to get married this summer. Will you please give a warm and juicy welcome: Harry Goldfarb!”

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Critical Analysis of the Film Requiem for a Dream. (2020, October 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
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