Deep Focus: “Requiem For A Dream”

Story posted March 9, 2021 in Arts & Entertainment by Paul Martin.

In an effort to expose a larger population of readers to “classic” films, CommRadio’s Arts & Entertainment Department is providing a weekly retrospective of notable motion pictures. These movies are selected individually for their cultural and cinematic achievements. For this submission to the Deep Focus catalogue, our department has chosen Darren Aronofsky’s 2001 film “Requiem for a Dream.”

Addiction is one of the most covered topics in film. The emotional turmoil addiction brings on people makes it ripe for character study, but no film has painted this troubled reality more hauntingly, albeit more realistically, than Darren Aronofsky’s 2001 film “Requiem for a Dream.”

Set in what could be characterized as Brooklyn Beach, over the course of 100 minutes, the viewer watches as four addicts' lives spin out of control due to their inbred addiction to either heroin or amphetamines. The best way to describe “Requiem for a Dream” is like a roller coaster.

At the beginning of the film, the character’s drug use makes them feel as though their dreams are within grabbing reach, only to come crashing down as the weight of addiction leaves all the characters in immensely worse positions from when they started.

A main theme that persists throughout “Requiem for a Dream” is the idea of dreams, or for lack of a better word, the idea of hope. This is best exemplified in the character of Sara Goldfarb, played in a career defining performance by Ellen Burstyn.

Sara is the elderly widowed mother of another main character, Harry Goldfarb. Relegated to a life of watching TV, Sara has very little reason to live until she gets a call inviting her to appear on television. This call gives her a goal, a purpose for living.

In one of the most emotional scenes in the movie, Sara tells Harry the reason she takes the pills is to fit in the red dress she cherishes because it gives her life meaning.

The other three characters, the aforementioned Harry, Harry’s girlfriend, Marion, and Harry’s best friend Tyrone, all have vastly different dreams of their own. Tyrone wants to make his mom proud, Marion wants to own her own clothing store and Harry dreams of a happy life for him and Marion.

They fuel this chase by selling heroin, while also slipping worse and worse into addiction.
What makes “Requiem for a Dream” stand out from other similar films lies in its storytelling and use of shots and cuts.

The film uses nearly 2,000 cuts which is more than double the usual film does in the same time length. These cuts make for a jarring and fast paced film that was unintentionally done to mimic the wired nature of addicts and their attention span.

Another important part of the film lies in its score. The hypnotic and deranged score performed by the Kronos Quartet makes the film even that much more anxiety driven to the point where the viewer themselves feel as though they are the ones going through this addiction too.

While the film received positive reviews, it wasn’t universally praised. A handful of critics noted the unease of certain scenes and the catastrophic nature of the character’s end states and deemed the film as an unpleasant watch.

While the film isn’t for the lighthearted, it will undoubtedly change the viewer’s perception on addiction, if nothing else, scare them of heroin forever.

Paul Martin is a junior majoring in telecommunications and media studies. To contact him, email at

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