Introducing a new series on Brooklyn Beat – Requiem for a Scene, where we break down some of our favorite movie scenes of all time and show what makes these scenes great. In honor of this new series, we will be breaking down a scene from Requiem for a Dream, the film that provides the namesake for the series.
Released in 2000, Requiem for a Dream immediately made a lasting impact, serving as one of the strongest anti-drug films ever created. The film focuses on the lives of four people in Brooklyn as their lives are torn apart by addiction. Before moving forward, a spoiler alert is warranted as the scene discussed not only happens later in the film, but is a crucial scene in the development of one of the characters.
At this point of the film, the lack of drugs available in Brooklyn has forced Harry (Jared Leto) and Tyrone (Marlon Wayans) to drive to Florida in order to score a large supply of heroin, leaving Harry’s girlfriend, Marion (Jennifer Connelly) alone and in withdrawal. Prior to Harry heading south, the two had a bitter argument as Marion was forced to sleep with her therapist in order to get money for a drug deal that ultimately went sour for Harry and Tyrone. Mid-argument, Harry leaves the number of a drug dealer who only accepts sex for the product and angrily tells Marion to get her fix from him if she needs it so badly. Alone, and in need of a fix, Marion ultimately calls the dealer, which occurred in a previous scene.
Here, the scene starts as Marion knocks on the door of Little John (or Big Tim, depending on who you ask), the dealer (Keith David). Without seeing anything but the door to his apartment, you already know that he lives a significantly better life than any of the main characters do. He lives on the 18th floor of his apartment, and the address is on a gold plate in a neatly displayed piece of wood. In Harry’s apartment, the drywall is completely exposed as nothing is painted. Tyrone doesn’t even have a box spring for his bed while Harry’s mother, Sara (Ellen Burstyn), lives in a tiny apartment with outdated appliances.
The camera then pans down on Marion, a classic film technique that makes the person appear smaller and therefore weak. A side note, at this particular spot, Connelly looks just like Leto did a few years ago when he had long hair and an ombre. As Little John opens the door the camera is placed on a lower angle, looking up to the dealer and signifying that he is the person in power here.
We then get a full view of Little John’s apartment as he brings Marion a drink and we can clearly see that our suspicions are correct, he lives a significantly better life than our main characters and clearly does well enough to not only afford such a nice place, but to be able to simply trade drugs for sex rather than selling. This point is punctuated by the fact that Little John is wearing a suit despite being at home with seemingly no place to go.
As Little John brings her the drink, he starts a bit of small talk by asking Marion her name, but the second Marion tries to continue the small talk, Little John goes right to business – the “payment” for his drugs. This re-affirms that he is the one in charge here. He knows his place his nice and he doesn’t need to hear about it from Marion. She is here for one thing and he begins by telling her exactly what that thing is. Before she begins to kiss him, she seems to have a slight hesitation before realizing that she needs the drugs and a piece of her soul is going to be sold in order to receive it.
As the kissing progresses into oral sex, the music begins to chime in, adding tension to the scene before culminating as Little John utters one of the most memorable lines of this film, “I know it’s pretty baby, but I didn’t take it out for air.” The violins are now blaring as Marion fully commits to performing oral sex on Little John, signifying Marion’s dependency for the heroin and her willingness to compromise her values to receive the drugs.
While many point to the scene where Marion sleeps with her therapist for money as a point of no return for her character, this is where the point truly is. The fact that she knew she could get money from her therapist and that she knew she would have to sleep with him as well as their prior encounter implies that they have had relations before and while the act did put a strain on the relationship between Marion and Harry, this was much different as it sent her down a much darker path. Before it was sex for money – this time, the middle man is cut out and she is directly receiving drugs for sex. If the heroin didn’t have its full grasp on her at that point, it certainly did when she returned a few days later to serve as the “entertainment” for a group of men Little John was hosting at his place.
While we see Connelly’s performance for most of the film, we only see David for three scenes and roughly five minutes of film, but he gave an absolutely incredible performance in what little we did see him. He was powerful, creepy and a predator all at the same time, which is exactly what his character called for. He knew how to spot an addict and take full advantage of her, as we see in the post-coital scene later on.
For many, Requiem for a Dream has become one of those movies you never watch twice, which is truly a shame given that Darren Aronofsky was at his absolute peak. Between fast cuts, great acting and a brilliant use of music by the Kronos Quartet, Requiem for a Dream takes a dark subject matter and beautifully displays it across the scene. You leave feeling sick to your stomach, and that’s the point. Aronofsky wants to make you feel uncomfortable.