Requiem For a Dream: The Passage of Time

Well hello again!! I am sorry for my absence in the last week. My hiatus was due to my new job. It seems due to a drastic change in work hours, I might be reduced to writing randomly once a week, whenever I can.  Regardless, I will continue posting whenever I can since I’ve grown fond of writing and talking with the people that follow the blog. I hope to gain more followers and have more conversations with you about my post. Without further to do, let’s talk film.

          Editing is one of the most important aspects of a film. It can make or break a movie as it sets the pace in which scenes are shown. If scenes feel too abruptly cut off, or too long, you may confuse the audience or bore them. The flow of the movie is dependent on how it’s edited, despite of what shots where shown, and it has been proven that depending on the order of certain shots, you can portray a different feeling or a different story entirely. So editing, in essence, is the heartbeat of a film. Requiem for a Dream, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is a movie which uses editing to it’s advantage to tell a story about different people who are addicted to different drugs.

          The Plot: Requiem for a Dream tells us the story of four characters. Harry (Jared Letto), his mother Sara (Ellen Burstyn), his girlfriend Marion (Jennifer Connelly) and his friend Tyrone (Marlon Wayans). The four are all addicted to a certain drug, whether it’s cocaine, crack, or television. As the film moves, we see all four characters slowly digging a hole for themselves that by the end they cannot get out of. If you have not watched this movie, watch it now!!! and don’t read any further, because I’m about to pick it apart.


 “It’s a reason to get up in the morning. It’s a reason to lose weight, to fit in the red dress. It’s a reason to smile. It makes tomorrow all right. What have I got Harry, hm? Why should I even make the bed, or wash the dishes? I do them, but why should I? I’m alone. Your father’s gone, you’re gone. I got no one to care for. What have I got, Harry? I’m lonely. I’m old.”

These are the words Sara says to her son once he asks why she’s using uppers and downers to lose weight. After being called on the phone and told she is to be featured in a TV show she watches religiously every day , She finds a new purpose in life: To fit into a red dress for her debut.

While the movie does paint a grueling picture of different addictions, a certain style of editing calls attention to itself. The speed of the film is so fast that at times, you are shown juxtaposition of two shots side to side, and it’s hard to pay attention to both at the same time as you lose yourself in certain scenes. Other scenes are shown on a time lapse, while others are shown in one long take or shot. But the scenes which do these are very specific and are used even before the drugs kick in or long after. This lead me to believe that the film is not just about addiction and has another layer hidden in it’s style. Let’s take a look.


The fast cuts:

Requiem for a Dream has a lot of drugs in it. We are shown addiction in different forms. However, if you pay attention, you’ll notice that what is sped up through fast cuts in montage is their drugs being readied. With Harry and Tyrone for example, we’re shown them having a conversation. They decide to do drugs, and then the montage comes. Fast cuts of spoons, lighter flames, boiling crack, put together with sounds of fast movement, and suddenly, everything stops. These montages are followed by possibly the longest takes in an otherwise very fast film. The characters slow down, and are shown doing something or relaxing from an awkward or high point of view. The world of the film almost slows down when they’re on drugs. The same happens when Sara watches TV, or when she takes pills, or any other characters do drugs.

These are one of the scenes in which the two characters do drugs, and we are shown them having a conversation, while the camera goes up slowly, in a spiral.

The Time Lapses:

The time lapses are another thing that happen more and more often as we approach the end of the film. The characters, however, are mostly off drugs when these time lapses happen. Sara, for example, is often off pills when she walks out of her home and people pass by her as lightning speed, while she almost seemingly stands still, walking normally among the masses. Harry has moments like this, and so does Marion.

Screen Splits:

When they’re sober, long scenes also ensue, but often we are shown split screens in the long takes. The scenes show you too much happening. Take the beginning shot, where Harry attempts to take the TV away from his mother. We have the view of his mother on the left, and what she’s seeing on the right. The viewer doesn’t know what to look at in the confusing, awkward scene. It makes sense, as in real life sometimes things happen too fast for us to pay attention to, that’s what creates the feeling of a traumatic memory, visually.


When Time Stands Still:

There are not a lot of times when scenes are shot without any type of fast cut or weird time lapse to make us feel awkward after drug usage. There are two specific scenarios in which the editing of the film slows down without drugs. The first, is during a traumatic experience for the characters. For example, when Tyrone witnesses a murder. He is in a car when one of the men next to him is shot dead and although the scene is shot fast, one shot lingers. The shot of him running out of the car and getting caught by the police. The second is during an awkward experience. When Marion is stuck in an elevator with two strangers, when Sara is having illusions about her fridge, when Harry is moving his mothers TV to sell it, when Tyrone is making love with his girlfriend, and when Marion is trying to please her parents by meeting with the therapist that wants something from her, the camera lingers and the scenes last longer. Why? Because awkward scenes shot fast would feel weird, as that’s not how we experience them.


The last thing that we see so much of is repetition. The drug montage happens so many times, you end up wondering, how many times are you gonna put yourself through this? can’t you see it’s hurting you? The main characters repeat mistakes, and despite having an evil fridge behind you, you keep looking back at it, standing still, not doing anything! Repetition is the most tragic thing in this film, as we are shown something over and over again… You can’t help but wonder how much you’ve moved forward in the film, yet how still the characters still are.


My Take:

So what’s the film really about? sure, it’s obvious is about drug usage. But really, what are all the characters trying to do?

They might be victims of drug abuse, but ultimately, what they really are is victims of time. Their lives are passing by and they can’t catch up, trying to catch a dream which they don’t understand yet. So, rather then trying to move along as fast as time is moving, they decide what they wanna do is slow time down with drugs, or entertain themselves in a way that doesn’t make them think about time. They watch television, they take pills and have sex. As such, they waste their time doing nothing in the end. By the end, they realize they wasted their time doing so much to slow everything, they look around, and they’re not having an illusion. They watch the time they wasted passing them by faster then it was ever going. Hence, the editing and effects reflect the characters mindset, and their lives being wasted away, waiting for their next fix, waiting for the money to come to them, waiting for their big television break, waiting for fame and for weight loss, and for love. They stand still rather then take action, as the world turns faster for them then for anyone else. And it’s all their own doing.

Either way, the film is really sad to watch, and the characters, although portrayed comically at times, are really tragic in a sense. Although good times are beautiful, it’s important to keep in mind what you have to do, and not waste time doing what you think is just fun. Playing video games, watching television, drinking, doing drugs, laying down and just looking at a roof is great at times. However, make sure it’s not getting in the way of life, and you’re not impeding yourself from doing anything else. At the end of the day, wasting time is no joke.

What do you think of my interpretation of the film? Do you have your own? I’m interested to hear any opinions had by anyone. Please take the time to express yourself in the comments, if you have time.

And as always Thanks you so much for reading!!


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