“But Anne,” you’re already saying, “Requiem for a Dream is a drama.” Trust me, that doesn’t make it any less frightening.
Watcher beware! If you can get beyond the fact that this movie is about four people destroying their lives through various addictions- but surviving- it also contains two instances of onscreen vomit, one instance of a needle entering an open wound, ECT, increasingly frequent and increasingly gross CUs on a track mark, strangely sexualized forcefeeding, and at least one use of the N word from a white man. You can see about half of these coming a mile away; the other half occur during montages in which we cut quickly between each character.
With two exceptions, every sexual relationship in RfaD is heterosexual and monoracial. The two exceptions are presented as desperate, disgusting, and horrific. Thematically, it comes with a large dollop of the virginity myth. You’ve been warned.
I believe novelist Hubert Selby Jr’s initial goal with Requiem for a Dream was to write about people we already know. Harry, our younger-20s protagonist, is working his way up in the world, bolstered by his best friend Tyrone and his designer girlfriend Marian. Harry’s mother Sarah, an empty nester, finds herself getting increasingly hooked on a health-based talk show. You could easily have gone to school with the younger squad- I know I did- and Sarah is very much your average “retired” stay-at-home mom. Darren Aronofsky, for his part, put together an incredible live cast to match the written characters, pulling out both Jared Leto’s and Marlon Wayans’ best performances to date.
Requiem for a Dream is a painfully believable story. You not only know everyone by sight, you sympathize with them from the beginning. Their thought processes are understandable even as they cross lines ours wouldn’t. Of course an older woman struggling with weight loss might start a miracle pill regimen, which might begin to wear off. Of course an up-and-coming fashion designer would do anything to raise cash for her first storefront, and obviously her boyfriend would be campaigning right beside her. Of course young people struggling for dosh turn to monetizing their interests first; sometimes they’re interested in heroin. So it goes.
In four story arcs and three seasons, we watch Sarah, Harry, Marian, and Tyrone pursue their dreams with chemical interference, sometimes for better, mostly for worse. Everyone makes it out alive… somewhat. Body parts, mental health, safety and integrity fall to the wayside as we watch them grow increasingly dependent on their substances of choice, positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’ll help them grow and improve as individuals. It’s terrifying- not in the “boo” sense but in the “oh God I need my partner NOW” sense. Ultimately, it’s a fairly existential discourse in how to gauge your self-worth. I humbly recommend not to do it like this.
Requiem for a Dream has been included on Ghoul’s Errand for high sequences that lean heavily on experimental possession horror. Voices distort, cams go shaky, stereo sound indicates that something we can’t yet see is heading right towards us. Among the credited employees is a “refrigerator puppeteer”, and there’s a related song that I’m pretty sure is used as background music in hell. When the high scenes aren’t scary, they’re realistic even for the relatively sober; I’ve downed enough Benadryl to recognize when and why peoples’ speech would suddenly go wonky. It’s a home-hitting, sophisticated scare- certainly not for everyone but worth a look if your mental health permits.