Requiem For A Dream - Sara

Thoughts On: Requiem For A Dream

The fourth part of the series where we'll analyse Sara's journey from a lonely mother, to a shell of a woman.

Sara has the most painful and significant story line in Requiem. However, her story isn't at the core of this film. The core belongs to Harry, who'll we'll go over in the next part. This is because everything about Marion's, Tyrone's and Sara's life, and the lessons we learn from them, stem into his story. In short, Harry is the protagonist with the most responsibility in this picture. Nonetheless, the most crucial aspect of Sara's story is the presentation of addiction as something not of substance-based need, but emotional longing, a sense of abject despair. We see this in the poster above, it's the pills that facilitate a numbness, that allow Sara to forget food and literally hollow herself out as to feel happier on the outside. That means, to talk about Sara's story, we're not going to need to analyse the technicalities of the film like we did with Marion, but the emotions, the feelings of the character that all culminate in an existential idea of inertia. What we are then going to look at is her addictions and how they feed into her central monologue.

We'll start straight away with the addictive imagery. To get to the essence of emotion, of Sara and the film alike, we have to spiral inwards. We'll do this by exploring from the effects of T.V, of food and of the red dress. So, to start, we have T.V, more specifically we have Tappy Tippon and his Juice. If you own the special edition of this film, you may have seen the full cut of his special called, Tappy Tippon's Life Story. Seeing this is crucial to getting a complete understanding of the film in respect to Sara (and then Sara in respect to other characters which forms the whole narrative). In the film we only see small snippets of Tippon's advertisement and it's mainly just repeated small segments. The most memorable thing about this would be that he has 3 main things you must quit over 30 days to have a better life. However, as most would have counted we only learn of two: no red meat and no refined sugars. The third parameter is... drum roll... no orgasms. Knowing this on top of Tappy's life story are key to a deep understanding of the narrative. Nevertheless, it's having the incomplete picture of Tappy's advertisement that allows you assume he's a crook and talking out of his ass (which is partly important). Seeing the full advert however does much the opposite. To watch it in full (only 5 mins) click here:

If you didn't click that, or just weren't paying attention, the key points are:

No red meat, refined sugars, or orgasms.
Commitment and passion.
Tappy was once fat, lost his job, was suicidal, but turned his life around.

For this 5 minute segment to be all that Sara watches is very telling of something crucial to the film, and we need to get into that before getting into what this all means in relation to her story. So, constantly watching Tappy cites the consumerist undertones of this film. Maybe this is an advert between shows, or maybe this is one of those segments that go on before and after programming schedules. You could argue that this is on a channel that exclusively features this commercial and others like it, but Sara watches this religiously. I don't think anyone in their right mind could watch the same 5 mins over and over and over. This leaves us with the former inference - that Sara's waiting for her programmes to come on. It's in this that we see the core conflict of her character (that she has to wait) but also the fault of consumerist constriction. When we are dependent on other people, systems, businesses for entertainment, enjoyment, levity, we are also lumped with requests and asking prices - advertisements in other words. It's after every 15 minutes that we have to watch 5 minutes of sales pitches (almost all of them fabrications, half-truths, or lies). This is an insane part of our society that is hard to step back and look at. Not only is watching T.V simply sitting and looking at things happen, something no different than staring into empty space from an outsider's (non-human's) perspective, but we're also spending a quarter of that time watching something uninteresting, something we don't really want to hear - lies, fabrications, half-truths. This is why Tappy's advert is almost precisely 5 mins by the way - and is also why it's constantly repeated in part, but never completed. It cites the perpetual insanity of advertisement and salesmanship that we accept just because we want that 15 minutes of 'entertainment' - in other words, people pretending to do and be things, to lie to our faces, to give us... I don't know, some sense of belonging. That's an incredibly scary truth of T.V, of cinema even. I could argue now that 'good cinema' is better than 'good T.V' (which I wholeheartedly believe) but that's a tangent unnecessary to take. Instead, it's recognising that all forms of entertainment and media are a little insane when you step out of the bubble, but also, that, in the end, that's not so bad. Having said that, let's look at the advert itself in relation to Sara.

The first two steps (no red meat, no refined sugar) we hear are the segue into the proceeding level of Sara's spiral (food and pills) so we don't need to dive too deep into that. But, the third step which we don't hear in the film is both intriguing and confusing. No orgasms. This is the end all and be all of chemical rewards. The orgasm is the body's ultimate weapon of asserting some kind of natural way or idea of norm. The orgasm rewards reproduction and the perpetuation of our species. This is thus intrinsic to Sara as she has Harry - and he's her complete world. Moreover, she has lost her husband. This means her orgasms, if she has any (I know, not nice to think about, but stay with me) are nothing more than an attempt to feed the mechanical beast that is her body without any kind of truth, any kind of social affirmation that sex gives as a result of being with another person and having the chance to actual procreate. As you'd have picked up, we have a motif here: feeding the mechanical beast that is the body. This is what Sara does with food too, but, again, we'll come back to that. Tappy wanting Sara (indirectly) not to have orgasms is his way of saying: tame the beast that is your body. This idea of control isn't a bad thing, it even seems to make the advert seem like it's making sense, that you should listen to the guy. But don't take him to heart. To understand why, we have to look at his life story. His life story is a decent into his lowest low where a little girl asks him: 'please, don't cry'. This gave him the will to quit destroying his body for 30 days. Those 30 days then gave him the hope and strength to give up and improve his life over the next 6 years. This element of personal strength, of going over the first hurdle is what we can all agree on. This is what makes Tappy seem like he's making sense. But, he skips over something fundamental, which is where Sara, like most people, fall. And this is all linked to Tappy's third step, orgasms. Like he says, and the film repeats, even slows down: '[this third step] drives most people crazy'. The orgasm, or lack thereof, is a big reason for going crazy - the fact that we don't get a chemical rush. But, there is something more. It's the social aspect. This is where the little girl (yeah, I know, not a great jump to make - sorry, it was unavoidable) comes in. Both the chemical pleasure of an orgasm and being told 'please, don't cry' make clear that a huge percentage of what we do, what we are programmed to act on, is for other people. Tappy makes it clear, in the end of his speech he says he wants to be our version of the little girl to give us the means to find our own purpose in living. Sara finds her purpose of living in her son and friends (but in the end T.V and the red dress). What is key here is that we live for others, for our born and unborn children, or for those we live by and for, those who see us and expect different - like us not crying or being sad.

It's in the latter point that we see where Tappy betrays Sara. What he says is that she needs to quit things, needs to control her body, without making clear the true reason why we do things. We do things to make others happy so we feel we fit in, so we in turn feel better about ourselves. This is the cycle of emotion and humanity. We have to give to receive. That's how our bodies work, how society works, but, this is also our major weakness, it's how everything about us can be destroyed in milliseconds. For the same reason we love (to be loved back) we kill as to not be killed. There is always a response to our actions, negative or positive (meaning reciprocal or not). We see this in loving and killing. We kill not to be killed - a negative response that give a positive result - we're still alive. We love on the other hand to be loved back - a positive response giving a positive result - we're in a mutual loving relationship. Why I'm making this point in such a fundamental, no-brainer kind of way is to demonstrates the simple mechanics of why Sara spirals out of control. The responses to her actions have no positive result. She diets, watches T.V, has kids, tries to be social, but gets nothing in return. What does this all come back to? It all comes back to consumerism. In the same way Sara watches T.V, putting up with adverts, she also loves Harry without getting much love back, putting up with the pain he causes. It's then made clear that what kills us is ourselves. We need that give and take, we need other people, but we can only control half of the equation. We can try to manipulate the other side, try to select the right piece to the puzzle, but we can't control it. Tappy found his piece in the little girl saying 'please, don't cry' but we are all unique when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of personal perspective and identity. Tappy is not a one-key-fits-all deal. He pretends to be, and that's what kills Sara. This doesn't mean that Tappy's ideas aren't valid, that his point can't work for many, but that they most definitely won't work for everyone. He paints with a broad brush, but doesn't make that clear with the painting produced. This is the fundamental half-lie, the fabrication, the ploy of salesmanship, of consumerism. We're all reduced to an average. This is ok. This is completely fine. But, what isn't is that the average, the 75, 80, 90, 99.99% is being sold, not told. The complete truth isn't transparently translated. Whilst we're on the subject, the opposite is equally as dangerous. We don't need to be told that we are all 100% unique, that we are unconditionally worthy, special or necessary. That will kill you all the same. What is important is having the bigger picture and the small details at the same time. It's the abyss, the incalculable, the convolution, the back and forth, the kaleidoscope of possibilities that need to be recognised. However, recognising the incomprehensibility of the universe and of life can kill you all the same. And thus we come full circle again (which is the point). There's no one-size-fits-all.

Ok, so seeing how the advertisement works in relation to Sara, and how it plants the seed of destruction in the fabrication it produces, we can come to the food she eats. I note here that the catalysing detail is the hope of Sara being on television, but we'll come to that in a minute. Staying with food, Sara decides that she needs to fit into the red dress by going on a diet. Now, picking up a detail from Tappy's advert, she lacks 'commitment and passion' in the beginning. She gets through a day before calling her friend about the doctor and the pills. What this makes clear is that she didn't listen to Tappy's half-helpful words. So, not only did she not get the truth in regard to her own individuality and needing her own object of happiness (possibly her son) but she decides to go for this empty goal (which is filled in by the idea of television) on an unadvised path. Sara takes an easy route. The path of the pills automates the process of dieting. She relinquishes control. What she does is feed the beast that is her body with as taste of its own medicine - chemical control. This doesn't mean that all drugs, that all chemical control in and around our bodies is bad or that we all need to take control and responsibility of everything about us. This is irrational, not to mention impossible. The truth of drugs is simply that we should use them as a tool, we need to have our objectives and use them (quite obviously) responsibly. We've all heard this a thousand times  though and dismissed it as painfully obvious, but it's with Sara that we can see why, despite this being so obvious, people still get addicted to drugs and make mistakes. Again, this comes back to Tappy Tippons and consumerism. People want and need, we live with incentives such as orgasms, such as chemical reinforcement for having friends, doing good things, bad things, but, we lack the final goal. I've been going over and over and over this idea of conflict on this blog, especially recently with posts centering on the The Matrix essay. This all comes down to this image:

There are aspects of our lives and perception that feel like this. But, it's with Requiem that we can recognise the bigger picture. Our bodies are programmed with forward momentum, but momentum towards an unknown. Control thus becomes our key objective. Because Sara hasn't got her own Matrix (yet - fingers still cross, still letting it go) she can't control reality, the world around her. So, she tries to control what she eats to change her internal sense of reality. Giving this responsibility away (using the pills) is in turn dangerous because you are rushing towards a great unknown without comprehending each step along the way. If Mario ever does get to the top of these stairs he would have done so through perseverance, he would feel and remember each step he took to get there. And that's his lesson in life. The question you then need to ask is: what is the end goal without the journey toward it? Well, just look at Sara. She took the pills to fast track getting into that dress, to then fast track getting onto T.V. But, hold on. Something doesn't make sense there. She misconstrues getting on T.V with getting fitting into her dress. She conditions herself to think that the journey and the end goal are the same thing, allowing herself to believe that the journey isn't made up of a thousand small journeys, but one simple set if steps. This is why dieting in this manner leaves her a shell of a person. It kills her because the journey towards the great unknown is lost beneath her. Moreover, it kills her because of her consumerist bond to waiting. This is the most intimate relationship any human holds. We all wait. We all live in a reality bound and controlled by time. Everything we do is to ensure the next second isn't much worse that the last (hopefully). The trap here is that it's easy to ignore the moment just in front of us, to think about the second 10 steps away. But, in doing this we then sabotage that future by destroying the path to get there. This doesn't mean we need to live in the moment. This is quite obviously a gross exaggeration, a half-lie and fabrication. The moment has and always will have been and gone. Don't try to live in it because it's too hard to find. In other words, don't try to live and hold onto an idea of this one moving moment. We need to accept that we live in this spotlight on a scale of infinity that one day will go out, whilst thinking about as many moments as humanly possible, as many moments as our fleeting idea of a moment, the moment, needs. That's the truth, and the fact that it's not simple, it's not quipey, short, tweetable, is the reason why living in the moment in a consumerist, blind, want, want, want way will kill you. To ignore reality is to doom yourself (until The Matrix happens and we can all let it go - hopefully).

So, it's in food, in Sara's diet that we can understand the importance of waiting in life, which paradoxically makes the idea of adverts and Tappy ok again as they force us to wait, to stop consuming, to stop and look around once in a while. This is true, but at the same time, adverts are a form of pseudo entertainment that feeds us with unhelpful, incomplete ideas. It's now that we can round this off with the crucial point of Sara's story, the black dot she runs toward: T.V. She wants to be on television. Why? The answer is obvious, but also incredibly painful as it will take us around in another circle. She wants to be on T.V to tell the world about her son and husband. This is all, again, social affirmation. Her appearance on T.V is no different from the orgasm Tappy tells her she shouldn't have. And this is the core lie Tappy tells. He tells us that we shouldn't feed ourselves, we shouldn't adhere to an impulse that will give us a chemical dose of affirmation and good feelings, all so we can end up getting a... drum roll... chemical dose of affirmation and good feelings. This all raises the question of the 'journey' I've been talking about. Will the end be worth it? If we don't know this then we have to look at life, at the paths we tread now in the same respect Schrödinger does his cat. Moreover, we can't measure happiness, we can't introspect without messing with the system (ourselves - emotionally). What this means is that we have a devastating observer bias, as well as a soul crushing paradox of our lives having meaning and being meaningless all at the same time. In other words we don't have the means to fix ourselves, nor do we have the means to see the problem. This is life, this is the crux of Sara's story. She wants to appear on T.V to get a chemical rush. This doesn't seem like a great plan though, does it? It'll just leave her empty. At the same time, she wants to lose weight, take pills, eat food, watch T.V - and all for a chemical rush. These don't seem like great things though, do they? What seems to be the answer? Maybe she should accept her core goal of family, of social living. Maybe she should get her chemical dosage of social affirmation from friends, Harry, her husband. But, they're all dead, abusive, or useless, aren't they? It's now that we move onto her monologue...

This is the true 'To Be, Or Not To Be'. Fuck Shakespeare, Sara says it best. Jokes aside, the end of that clip is probably the most poignant thing. Harry cries, but to numb the pain, he takes the drugs. And that's probably what you want to do right about now, right? You want to forget the hole that is life, the unfathomable trap, this inescapable futility that brings us to the brink of tears. The truth is that you can close this page, you can go back to Twitter, YouTube, you can go watch T.V, have a snack, watch a film - which you'll probably do - but, in doing this, you'll forget. You'll forget Sara, you'll drop the existential plight of life and you'll be able to smile. This is why Sara's red dress is so important. It makes her happy. It allows her to live in as many moments as she can cope with. It allows her to wake up and it acts as meaning in life.

And this is where we end, our two key motives in life are pretending we exist for some intangible reason and then forgetting what is most obvious - that we exist for no apparent reason.

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