The most successful element of the movie, by far (save for the incredible music and the way it fits the mood / style perfectly) is the portrayal of drug use.

The first time we watch the characters take heroin is a rush for the viewer. Pop, wizz, shunk. A dozen 2 second clips of imagery: the spark of the flame, heroin on a microscopic level liquifying, the flow of fluid, the sound of the sigh and a groan of pleasure, a closeup of pupils dilating at an extreme rate... and then two men my age having fun. Enjoying themselves - experiencing pleasure and closeness and a bond.

No needles, no blood - nothing icky.

The reaction it gets is that is so cool. If from those 20 seconds the movie doesn't manage to show you precisely why heroin (and drug use in general) has appeal you're missing the main point of the movie.

...and every single time they shoot up for the rest of the show the sequence is identical. Nothing is changed. Every time the visual fireworks have less and less effect on the viewer. You become desensitized to it. You keep reminding yourself what it was like seeing that for the first time and being oh so impressed... but the repetition gets you a little down - nothing is ever like that first moment of ecstacy.

I have never seen a film so capable of portraying precisely what drug use is all about. How natural it becomes. How it seeps into your life. How it becomes routine. How it connects and in many cases drives friendships... and how much searching there is to find that first time epiphany all over again.

I knew from the moment I heard about this movie, I had to see it. Not exactly because I wanted to, but I had to. I like to subject myself to seemingly uncomfortable experiences to see how I react, since we all have the ability to surprise even ourselves. I’ve done that with almost every drug I’ve done. I would take them by myself, alone in my room, to see for myself what it was that had me hooked. Just as they are isolating, every drug begins sociably enough. To get drugs, you have to deal with at least one other person, and when you try it for the first time, there’s almost always someone there, a seasoned vet, who guides you through. I don’t think you can get to that point, as I did, without becoming yourself, fairly seasoned. For me it was cocaine.

I would get a 20 bag and lock myself up in my hotel room for the night, and snort line by line until it was all gone. Then I’d lay down on my bed and stare at the ceiling and witness whatever images began to play in my mind, noting the speed and repetition that comes with the passing of time once you have determined that, at least for the night, there will be no bump to maintain your high. You have done it all and you’re broke and you’re not going back out into the world tonight. This is where you can find all the torment and deliverance, within your own body and mind.

I’ve never done heroin, and I don’t ever plan to. But I can relate to some things. How it is that the whole world can be compressed so small that it can be focused on one thing, one object, one chemical, one price, and one reaction. The whole world could be falling apart and your cupboard bare and walls blink white back at you and none of that matters, as long as you have that one thing. Drug addiction has this scary ability to sift everything else into the periphery, to put you one on one with the smallest of carnal cravings and leave you two alone together to duke it out. I have known the periods where you wait, how they seem to hang in the air while you busily scatter about, not wanting to go outside, not wanting to be seen by a world that may recognize your need.

To see Requiem is to witness the breaking point of human willpower. All the characters in the end are laying in a bed somewhere, most of them curled up like babies and turned to the side, still processing what it is that has happened to them. I believe the entire movie takes place in the time span of less than a year, which is almost as long as my coke habit lasted. If a movie had been made during that point of my life, I wonder how it would look. If it could be made, I would force myself to sit through that too, because although I don’t want to dwell on it, I don’t ever want to forget it. Not that it is possible, really, for me at least.

Even now, a few years later, when coke is mentioned in conversation or used casually by someone I know, part of me wants to get some, part of me is more than sensitive. In addition to having compiled faith in knowing what it means to be delivered, I rationalize that, with my luck, even though I escaped potential death in my prior life (coke being as stepped on as it is in this city), the one time I would try it again, I’d likely get a pure bag and die right there, and that would be the best scenario. I’d rather not push my luck, or the grace bestowed upon me, so I don’t.

Unlike other drug-oriented movies, Requiem really has no sub-plot, no meddling distraction from what is taking place in the characters’ lives. Anything outside of the score remains there, a mere inconvenience, par for the course. That, to me, is most of how my drug addiction was; I shut my heart off and couldn’t feel anything, so what I did to or with my body didn’t matter. It was, looking back, the worst year for my life as a human.

I would suggest to anyone, even those who have no personal experience with drug addiction, that this movie should be seen. It is a rare art form, one that disturbs, horrifies, and yet enables us to identify with it on the most basic level. When Harry’s mother talks to him about how lonely she is having no one to take care of, how this opportunity to appear on TV through the mail and lose weight through uppers has allowed her to have motivation in what’s left of her life, we all, no matter how old or young we think we are, can sympathize with feeling less than optimistic about our own lives. Judging from the time period in which the movie was made, none of the outcomes are particularly fantastic, except for the fact that everyone in it survives, if only with parts of themselves. I would suggest that you take a friend, because someone should be there to be speechless with you on the ride home.

Okay, I'm sitting here listening to the soundtrack to Requiem for a Dream. It's almost over, and, much like the movie, this listen has been interesting, something I had to sit through, disjointed (one might say choppy at parts), very well designed, and it held my attention all the way to the end.

This soundtrack starts out slowly, lulling you in with the Summer Overture, and moving from there to a short techno-break, called Party. This song ends approximately where I would certainly feel the middle of a piece of music to be, jumping straightaway into a much slower, laid back song that goes along with Harry's dream of Marion on the pier, called Coney Island Dreaming. It chops from scene to scene, right with the movie. Clint Mansell composed this music right along with the movie, not even allowing the listening audience to get full songs out of snippets that weren't fully featured in the movie. Now, note that I'm not crying about this, I'm just saying. Here's a soundtrack that isn't afraid to skip fadeaways and such, instead letting the people who've got the soundtrack get what they came for.

The soundtrack follows the movie directly, from Summer to Winter. From the beginning of the movie, which was full of dreams and hope, to the end, which was full of withdrawal, despair, and general sadness, although not without its own brand of... well... I'd call it 'hope' I guess. Accordingly, the music becomes much more sketchy, with the eerie distortion of dissonant violin music becoming much more prevalent over the soft bells and traditional quartet sounds.

All in all, this is a CD that is definitely staying in my collection. The Kronos Quartet plays a mean set of strings, and Piano me all you like, Clint Mansell kicks Michael Nyman's buttocks with this one. All Gattaca aside though, this thing is scrumptious, the violins have been stuck in my head since I went to this movie, so I'm gonna sit down and listen to this album, possibly the only way I know of to get them out.

There's not much I can say about this film that hasn't been mentioned above, but at a risk, I will post this just because I want to share it. The film was amazing, but the effect it had on me was more incredible.

I have had a couple friends become junkies, one wound up in jail, the other is clean now. Knowledge of what happened to them in "real life", combined with the powerful montage of the four characters near the end struck a nerve. It struck a nerve big time.

When I left the theater I was shaking. I was chain-smoking. I realized that I started having an acid flashback. I had never had one before, and this one was bad. Real bad. Go nuts bad. Here's the poem that jumped out to describe what happened to me on the way home.

Requiem
The train ride started doing me in
All these drunken morons, babbling their shit
I almost lost my shit
Wanted to reach and grab
And strangle
And break
And maim
Goddammit, they won't shut up
But is that all in my head
I need to go home and crash and shut it up

Just felt like sharing that. This film is amazing, just like Aronofsky's other masterpiece, Pi. Just be careful....

Note: this review of Selby's novel contains spoilers, especially after the fifth paragraph. You will encounter little, however, you wouldn't know if you've seen the popular film adaptation, or wouldn't anticipate once you've read the initial chapters.



"Harry locked his mother in the closet."(3)

Hubert Selby, Jr. has attracted a dedicated following and critical acclaim, but more people know the film adaptations of his work than his work itself. Reasons exist for this fact, many of them grounded in his approach to his subjects. He roots his stories in character and setting, and if film cannot reveal the former with the depth of his prose, it can certainly tell these stories effectively. In addition, cinema can tap his dark subject matter without the barriers created by his often difficult experimental style.

Requiem for a Dream first appeared in 1978. People who only know the film may be surprised by how much the novel reflects its time. We're in the Me Decade Brooklyn and New York City, places once described as a "fabulous film noir set," and we make excursions to places that either missed the Civil Rights and feminist movements or else hold them in utter contempt. Into these worlds he thrusts his characters, each pursuing the American Dream at its most empty.

Sara Goldfarb lives a lonely existence, and has for many years. Salvation comes through the television, and she pins her hopes on the belief that the "McDick Company" has selected her to appear on a show. Her fridge taunts her; she eats too much to cut the kind of figure the audience will want to see. In order to prepare, she takes diet pills of a sort more common in the 1970s than many people now realize. These lead her down a path predictable in all things but the depth which it reaches.

Meanwhile, her son, Harold, and his best friend, Tyrone Love, shoot junk and pursue profits. If they can sell more than they put in their arm, they will be, in their own estimation, successes. The reader knows where these dreams will lead. Harold's girlfriend Marion, also a junkie, sees her standards deteriorate with her health. She knows what she must do to get the next fix. All of these stories, told with Selby's characteristic excess, might seem overly melodramatic, were it not for brilliant flashes of insight and metaphor.

Selby has received much praise, and rightly so, for his ability to get into the heads of his characters, to speak in their voices and reflect their interests, prejudices, and limitations. Those characters tend nevertheless towards stereotype. Requiem’s addicts and old ladies are less onerously stereotypical than, say, some of the characters found in Last Exit to Brooklyn. And it's not that one couldn't or wouldn't encounter lazy, self-serving union leaders or jive-talking Afro-American men or cruel and stupid racist Bubbas or gay child-molesters1, but Selby's tendency to trade in such characters reflects and reinforces cultural biases that do not always serve our society or his writing. The negative aspects can be seen, in particular, in his minor characters. Against the developed and often psychologically complex monologues of Requiem we have Tyrone's girlfriend, who lacks any distinguishing characteristics.

Selby also loves his darkness. It's not enough that his drug addicts come to bad ends, as heroin addicts often do. They have to be arrested while travelling through the U.S. South, "sweat running down their backs and sides"(261), jonesing and hungry (the restaurants won't serve a Black man, and one service station attendant spits at them) and then turned over to incompetent officials and a redneck legal system. It's not enough that Sara Goldfarb has a nervous breakdown; we see that coming, and Selby dramatizes it realistically and vividly. He ends her journey in the clutches of psychiatrist who ignores an obvious diagnosis and prescribes unnecessary shock treatment. The final product sits "on the side of her bed" and stares "out the window, through the gray glass at the gray sky, the gray ground and the bare trees"(262). She is "put in a wheelchair and taken from the ward, down an elevator, through a long, gray tunnel to a waiting room where other patients docilely sat, their attendants in a corner, smoking, joking, keeping an eye on their patient." She tries "to smile and her face started to stretch in her wide-eyed grin as little bits of spittle dribbled down her chin"(263). The contrast with the lost but lively Sara of the early chapters is heartbreaking. Marion, predictably, ends up in the sex trade industry, cutting up her piece with “five other bitches”(260). We feel for these people because Selby reminds us these things can and do happen. Some readers may wish they happened with less excess; it can seem forced.

Selby writes in long sentences which lack conventional punctuation and paragraphing. He replaces apostrophes with slashes, for reasons that I cannot grasp2, when he does not eschew them altogether. While the approach reflects the stream-of-consciousness monologues that form the basis of his stories, the results can make for difficult reading. And while he writes dialogue well enough that we can determine, generally, which character speaks, the lack of paragraphs at times confounds. His prose can be both brilliant and tedious, falling somewhere between Kerouac and community theater:

When they reached the rear of the bus they sat down with a long, loud sigh. Hey massa Harry, how come you is sittin back chere wit us black foke? Well, ahll tell you brother Tyrone, cause under this white skin beats a heart just as black as yours, hahahaha, lay it on me, and they gave each other five. Sheeit baby, you aint white, youse just pale… and you got to remember baby, beautys only skin deep, but uglys to the bone, and they gave each other five again. Harry made a telescope with his hands and peered through it at the ads along the side of the bus. What the fuck you doin man? Its the only way to look at an ad, man. Your really get to peep the broads without distractions. Harry deepened his voivce: Dont be half safe, put Arried under both your arms. Sheeit man, Mums the word. You think Im putting ya on, eh? Go ahead, try it. Its the only way, man. Im telling ya. All those lovely ads up there and you never noticed them. Harry scanned the ads as a lookout the horizon. Hey, look at that one. I bet you missed it. Does she or doesnt she? Only her gynecologist knows for sure. What he doin peepin at her thang. Yeah, it dont mean a swing if you aint got a thang. They stretched out and continued rappin and gooffin on their way to the morgue.
(17)

This is the world as Selby's characters see it, dreams as superficial as public advertising, dreams that inflict deep wounds on flesh and mind. His people suffer and die and receive no redemption, no absolution. They continue to hold a fascination over a number of readers, they may serve, certainly as object-lessons for others, and they have provided Hollywood with a couple of memorable cult hits. To what degree his stylistic excesses will be lauded or puzzled over by future generations remains to be seen.


1. I'm referring to characters that appear across Selby's body of work, and not exclusively to Requiem for a Dream.

2. Apparently, he used the forward slash because, on the old typewriters, it stood closer to the letters than the apostrophe and this made for faster typing. I get his often lengthy sentences and even his eye dialogue spelling, but I cannot follow the reasoning here, and see no point in the final effect of the work. Perhaps I'm shallow, but it strikes me that punctuation is punctuation, and a slash only distracts me from the word and the written experience.

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