11/07/2016

Requiem For A Dream - Futility: How Do You Slow Down A Runaway Train?

Thoughts On: Requiem For A Dream


This is the final part of my in-depth analysis of one of my all time favourite films.


Over the last 5 parts we've covered the terrific narrative movement this film has, the almost literal ride it takes you on, and then themes of past, present, responsibility and regret. What this all culminates into is a film about life in the guise of tragedy, a movement towards inevitable disaster. I think this is what all great stories, all great films, are. They are a transcription of life dressed up as something. In other words, stories are lives compressed. They are lessons learned, journeys taken, rides endured, that are translated to words or images that are caught on film, written on paper. This is what a story is - snap-shots of life. The best stories take this concept of snap-shots and define it with themes. Like I said, they dress life up as to tell of specific problems, to teach specific lessons. I've said this about writing and screenwriting, but I'll reiterate. The best lessons in life are the almost useless ones, the most ambiguous, most generalisiable, but still categorical. These are the best lessons because living is a subjective experience. You can't live your life under a specific set of rules that worked for one person because we quite simply aren't the same. Now, what this means for stories, for words that represent life dressed up as something, all comes down to the audience. Stories must be broad, secretly non-specific as to connect with as many people as possible - to allow us to figure out the specifics of the lesson implied (not really taught) under one specified theme. This all kind of begs the question of why I'm clarifying the movie's message and picking it apart over so many posts, but, let's ignore that. Instead, let's try to get a final grip on the colossal think piece that Requiem For A Dream.

Requiem's specific theme is tragedy. This story is of tragic lives. It tracks hope along a rough road that all characters end up falling off of, their lasting words being nothing more than a sorry (if anything). The point of this comes down to emotions. The purpose of showing a tremendous spiral into tragedy is to make us, the audience, experience dire futility. The question inherent to the title, Requiem For A Dream, is thus: what was I supposed to do? We see this best with Harry. His story line, like my posts, bring everything together toward a futile sorry. Harry's Requiem is linked to his mother, of Sara losing a husband and turning to her son as the only person she has left in her life, but Harry not being able to handle that because he felt smothered. So, whilst he's made to regret everything he cause by the end of the film, what does that do for anyone? There's two approaches you can take to this seemingly rhetorical question. The first is to zoom out of the narrative in Jodorowsky-esque style and say, 'it's all just a film'. What this then implies is that when people run into dead, futile ends, that's it for them. But, for the onlookers, they've just witnessed what not to do. They've watched a person dig a hole and throw themselves down, meaning they should have no trouble in simple edging around it. This means that this film is nothing more than what it seems: 'a very expensive anti-drug campaign'. Whilst there is this element to Requiem, I feel there's more to be fleshed out here. If we take another approach to looking at the final question of the film, 'what was I supposed to do', but imagine it's us, not Harry, Sara, Marion or Tyrone, saying it, then, we're forced into a much more complex situation. If films are lives, snap-shots, lessons then why should we take an approach to them that's outside looking in? Why shouldn't we put ourselves in the film? I won't leave you with that rhetorical question though. To expand on what I mean here, just look at action films. How do they make us excited, thrilled, exhilarated? They put us in the action. Whether it's with Michael Bay-esque explosions, gun shots and crashes you can't help but feel, great character work exemplified by the likes of a John McClain or Indiana Jones, awe inspiring choreography seen in The Raid series or numerous Jackie Chan films, joyous, blood-drenched, fetishistic, squirt-fest, cum at your face, scenes like Tarantino's Crazy 88 sequence... action draws you in. The same happens with drama, romance or suspense. We have to be drawn into the emotions of the scenes, the feelings of the characters, the mysteries and conflicts at hand. Art films or the subtextual, ambiguous parts of a film also need investment - you putting yourself in a character's position. So, what this all makes clear is that to really get into Aronofsky's masterpiece, we have to put ourselves in the position of characters.

Now, it'd be easy to put ourselves in characters' shoes at the beginning of the film, or even mid-way through. But, the 'what was I supposed to to' becomes a 'what am I supposed to do'. And the answer to that is simple. Stop taking drugs, get a job, get into therapy, chin up, don't be stupid. Where it makes sense to take over the character narratives is the end of the film. I believe this is why it ends where it does, to have us continue with the characters' plight and face the questions they do.

  
 

Warning
Obscure and painful pun imminent.

We'll lay this to rest with a metaphorical LOGarithm. Sorry. With the song Laid To Rest by Lamb Of God, we have the way in which to deal with all of the characters' narrative conflicts. To get into this we'll take a look at the chorus:

Smother another failure, lay this to rest.
Console yourself, you're better alone
Destroy yourself, see who gives a fuck
Absorb yourself, you're better alone
Destroy yourself.

I draw your attention to lines 2, 3, 4 and 5. These all align with the characters' end situations. Firstly, Tyrone and Console yourself, you're better alone. It's in the first picture we can see that his Requiem is his mother. He never could make it, thus, he could never prove himself. The answer to his situation, of his failure, is to console himself as he's better alone. (Hang around, we'll get into why in a moment).

Next, Marion and Destroy yourself, see who gives a fuck. This line is a confirmation of Marion's actions. She has exploited herself, turned to prostitution, ruined her art-work, given up essentially - and all for money and drugs. She gave it all up for a cycle between dirty singles and pounds of impure powder that will eventually destroy her.

Next, Sara and Absorb yourself, you're better alone. Again, a confirmation of action. Sara's conflict comes with her inability to cope with reality. She pitches all her hopes and dreams into television. She disassociates a process of fixing her relationship with her son, of finding happiness with friends, some kind of social affirmation, from something she must do, to something T.V (an appearance on a show) can do for her. So, with the end, she does absorb herself, she spirals into a fantasy that leaves her alone.

Lastly, Harry and the simple, Destroy yourself. With the lie Harry is told by the nurse, 'Someone will come' and having given the arm for drugs, only the leg left to give, it's clear that he has nothing to live for. The answer to this in his mind, as would be most, would be to give up comprehensively, to commit suicide.

Now, what's important to recognise now is that this is a metal song. I am in no way suggesting that these characters, or ourselves in their positions, should be smothered to death as they are failures. To understand what I mean, it's best to start with the lyrics to this song as a whole:

If there was a single day I could live
A single breath I could take
I'd trade all the others away.

The blood's on the wall, so you'd might as well just admit it
And bleach out the stains, commit to forgetting it.
You're better off empty and blank,
Than left with a single pathetic trace of this

Smother another failure, lay this to rest.
Console yourself, you're better alone
Destroy yourself, see who gives a fuck
Absorb yourself, you're better alone
Destroy yourself.

I'll chain you to the truth, for the truth shall set you free
I'll turn the screws of vengeance and bury you with honesty
I'll make all your dreams come to life,
Then slay them as quickly as they came

Smother another failure, lay this to rest.
Console yourself, you're better alone
Destroy yourself, see who gives a fuck
Absorb yourself, you're better alone
Destroy yourself.

See who gives a fuck.
See who gives a fuck.
See who gives a fuck.

Failure.

If there was a day I could live,
If there was a single breath I could take
I'd trade all the others away.
I'd trade all the others away.


You can look at these in two ways. Firstly, you can assume they are to be sung (screamed) at someone you hate. On the other hand, you could assume that they are to be sung (screamed) toward yourself. This turns the song into one of self-hate and regret. But, with the self-hatred comes a clear solution:

Smother another failure, lay this to rest.

The failure to be smothered here isn't the character, it's their actions. The core idea of this song is one of perspective and one of control. This all comes right back to this image:


When you have perspective, when you have the ability to perceive, you must have control over yourself. I touched on this with the idea of free will and responsibility. We may not have absolute control over our worlds, over our own bodies. We may suffer from addictions, depression, mentalities that simply want to destroy us in spite of our best efforts. Nonetheless, it is us who perceives, who feels the highs, the lows, the self-destruction, the self-hatred, the futility, the consequences. This is reason enough to assume you must take control. You must fight, or you must give in. You must take the idea given by the lyrics as something you can say to yourself. You then must decide how you will react. Will you see yourself as the failure? Will you see your actions at the failure? The ultimate and most poignant question the film give us is then: what can you do? What this means is that to move on in life you mustn't bury your history - life isn't a venture into free porn, and, as Magnolia makes clear, you may be done wit the past, but the past might not be through with you. This means that to move on in life you must bury your perception of the past. It can come back and bite you in the ass any time it wants, you simply can't control that. But, what we do have partial control over is how we view what we have gone through. To overcome adversity you sometimes have to set things aside. You have to turn that 'what was I suppose to do' into 'what can I do'. The point in this all comes down to the reason why I said we should pick up on putting ourselves in the characters' shoes, not in the beginning, but the end. In perceiving we are never given a chance to act on a 'what was I supposed to do'. What you nonetheless have to hear is what you can act on, is a 'what can I do' or 'what am I going to do'.

This is the crux of the film. It gives you tragedy and dares you to get on with your day. How we overcome tragedy, how we overcome anything including ourselves is to take this broad idea of responsibility and make it personal. Whether you watch a depressing film and then listen to heavy metal or read a shitty magazine then go pet a cat, futility is an idea and (with a pretty nicely linked reference) to get over it you must firstly tell yourself, I'm not afraid any more:


Sorry, I'm not afraid any more, you have no power over me:


In the end, if what we perceive is our reality, is our own chance of perceiving truth, then to see your way through certain situations you sometimes have to close your eyes. So, how do you stop a runaway train? I don't know. But, if you're going to figure it out, you better calm down, take a breath and then get running.





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