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Assignment: REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
Citizen Kane's finale image--don't worry, not a spoiler--is of the gate outside Kane's mansion, the mansion in the background. On the gate is the sign: no trespassing. Kane, as a film, is about attempting to understand the life of a person, and demonstrates the impossibility of knowing what is and isn't--was and wasn't--important to that person's identity. This notion is encapsulated by the mystery surrounding the word "rosebud" and its significance as Charles Foster Kane's dying word. The film's ultimate lesson, it is impossible to fully understand someone else, is crystallized by the sign: no trespassing.
This idea about "knowing another" isn't relevant to what we're discussing. But the other two details, the fence and the word "rosebud", are key.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Harry Goldfarb: Jared Leto
Sara Goldfarb: Ellen Burstyn
Marion: Jennifer Connelly
Tyrone: Marlon Wayans
Guy in the informercial: Christopher McDonald
1. Harry + Sara. Harry + Marion. Harry + Tyrone.
The dream for the mother-son relationship is a nice dinner involving Sara, Harry, and Marion. The dream for the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is opening a store for Marion's clothing designs, being clean/at least not addicted to dope, happy, getting married (presumably). The dream for the friend-partner relationship is to successfully deal dope to earn enough money to stop playing in the streets and live legitimate lives.
2. The fence with the "no trespassing" sign--the symbolism entailed: denial.
So, think about the paired characters and think about the fence equaling denial. Now scroll up and look at the picture. What do you see? You see two parking meters, paired by one base. Behind the meters are Harry and Tyrone. Then you see a fence. On the other side of the fence, in the background, but looming over the foreground, backlit (so shadowed, a bit insubstantial) is a roller coaster.
The symbolism is undeniable. The two parking meters represent the film's three pairs (Harry + ...). The fence is a direct allusion to Citizen Kane so absorbs the same meaning: denial. With the Citizen Kane allusion in place, one must then conclude there's a relationship between the roller coaster and Kane's mansion. If Kane's mansion was a symbol for the totality of an individual's life (because the home had all of Kane's possessions), what's the roller coaster stand for? Well, there's really only one answer: the roller coaster represents the rush, the thrill of a dream come true.
We could call this a "mother image" or a "seed image", an image that is repeated in spirit but refined. What do I mean? The roller coaster stands for the generic dream. And a parking meter for a character. Later, we have specific dreams for specific characters. Harry sees Marion, in a red dress, standing on a pier, and he is approaching her. Sara imagines herself on TV, a contestant on a game show. Tyrone pictures himself as a child, being held by his mother (another Kane allusion? (Kane misses his childhood, his mother)). The movie is emotional because each of these dreams is brutally undercut.
Marion, curiously, is the only character without a "dream", so to speak. We never see what she wants, what she wishes for. On the surface, you'd imagine it's a happy life with Harry, right? She says she loves him. Or maybe it's designing clothes? But I don't think that's the case. She's the only character in the movie that really FREAKS about drugs. Harry and Tyrone shoot-up often, sure, but neither of them destroy an apartment because it's been too long between fixes. Marion verbally assaults Harry when the supply runs out. We think she sleeps with her psychiatrist to get money so Harry and Tyrone can buy a new batch of heroin and start dealing and earning again so they can all be happy, but she did it so she could do drugs. We see the depth of her desperation when she calls "Little John", when she fucks him, when she shows up for the sex show and goes ass-to-ass. What happens when she returns to a destroyed home, alone, knowing Harry is gone and may never come back? She curls up on the couch, pulls out her bag of dope, smiles, sighs, and goes to sleep. Her dream is her reality. She's the only character to reach a roller coaster and it's a sad, sickening ride. (Luckily, not all dreams/coasters are the same).
That's sweet, right? They're both opening up. We don't know how long they've been together, but they seem like a new couple, fresh with potential and blown away by how happy they are. As they're talking, their hands are caressing one another. Thumbs trace lips. Fingers glide along stomachs, slide up thighs.
But...The two are separated by a line down the middle of the screen. We're seeing two shots. Harry on the left, Marion on the right. At first you might assume it is one shot showing them together, no walls. Nope. This is, again, symbolism (remember that fence we talked about earlier?).
The barrier is nigh imperceptible at times, but it's there.
You might be thinking: "Stop it. The split shot is used for a multitude of instances during the movie. This is just another use of it. There's no symbolism." I thought you'd say that.
When Harry and Tyrone are low on money, Harry asks Marion to meet up with her psychiatrist/ex and ask for money. I've included three shots. One from the start of the scene, one from the middle of the scene, and one from the end of the scene.
The line represents Marion's relationship to heroin. In the bedroom scene, early in the movie, she's not so much of a fiend so see's Harry clearly. But, as her addiction grows, her sight of him becomes more and more opaque. He's able to "cross" into her territory now (image 1), but the line is still present. Slowly but surely, she is losing sight of Harry, anchoring solely to heroine. And, eventually, she completely loses sight of Harry (first emotionally, then, by movie's end, physically too) (image 3).
Harry is, once again, shut out by a fence.
Another Citizen Kane connection:
For Kane, "rosebud" represented childhood, innocence, time spent with his mom whom he had loved dearly. You see, Kane's childhood was stripped from him when his parents signed over legal guardianship of Kane to an East Coast banker named Walter Thatcher, under the auspices Thatcher would raise and educate Kane in the rich environment his parents could not. Kane's mom does this to separate Kane from his abusive father. She thinks she's doing the right thing. But what we discover is that Kane, despite his tremendous success and vast wealth, still dreamed of and lamented for his lost youth.
The characters in Requiem suffer a similar loss. This is "Summer". All four characters have terrific summers. Sara is selected to become a contestant of a TV show and becomes the most popular of the women in her building. Harry is dealing dope with Tyrone and they're earning bank, are on the brink of the big deal that will get them out of the gutter. Harry also has Marion and they are happily in love, and they lease a commercial space so Marion can design and sell clothes. Sara is happy Harry is on the up-and-up, she's losing weight, excited. Everything is wonderful.
And then we enter "Fall" and everything crumbles. The characters nostalgically talk about summer. Remember last summer? We can get back to how it was in the summer. Summer and rosebud come to mean the same thing: both represent idyllic times that are irretrievable.
Let's not talk about "Winter".