Meals of a Game Show Star
by Jack Wang
Requiem for a Dream (2000) is a movie that explores the concept of addiction. The plot is divided between a junkie trio led by Harry and Harry’s mother, Sara. Each character’s story intertwines as they chase their drug-fueled dreams. In this paper, I will discuss how Sara’s addiction to food pushes the boundary at what we consider a drug and a habit.
At first glance, our characters’ drug of choice are heroin and amphetamine; however, a closer look reveals that hard drugs are only replacements for their true addictions. Harry’s friend Tyrone, for example, uses heroin to fulfill his need for motherly love. Sara, on the other hand, quells her loneliness through watching TV game shows day and night. She fantasizes appearing on the show one day in her red dress with her beloved son, Harry. When she gets a call that tells her she’s been selected for the show, Sara goes through drastic measures to fit into her old red dress.
Sara is addicted to food. In the beginning of her diet, Sara considers eating less. Breakfast was a grapefruit, a cup of black coffee, and a hard-boiled egg. The movie uses cuts to skip the process of the food being eaten, only showing the food in the untouched and consumed states. The abrupt time-lapse accentuates the meager quantity of food, completely devoured in the matter of milliseconds on screen. Extreme close shots of Sara’s sour expressions further reveal her distain for diets.
The refrigerator externally represents Sara’s food addiction. Each time she is hungry or eats, the camera cuts to the fridge. This occurs right when Sara ditches her diet and starts on amphetamine pills, contrasting her new meals (pills) to the old (food in fridge). Once she begins her prescription, the sunlit fridge starts a transformation towards darkness. The fridge comes to life one night, shaking and threatening to detach itself from the wall. The frightened Sara takes even more pills to battle her growing amphetamine tolerance and returning hunger. Eventually, Sara suffers a psychic break from overdose and watches the fridge finally detach itself and attempt to swallow her. This is the first time the camera gets a close look at the fridge. The low angle shot and poor lighting heightens the menace of the fridge (Figure 1). The fridge opens to reveal the fiery maws of hell rather than the yellow interior shown in earlier scenes. Instead of Sara consuming the contents of the fridge, the fridge is now threatening to consume her. This is a parallel to how Sara’s obsession with her weight has consumed her.
Sara’s story represents addiction to several things at different layers. At the surface, Sara is addicted to amphetamine pills. At the deepest level, Sara is addicted to the idea of connecting with her son. The second level is where we are most interested, Sara’s addiction to food. She cannot resist the temptations of food which makes the fridge her biggest enemy. Throughout the film, she fights against her addiction by ironically creating a new habit. By the time Sara is admitted to the hospital, her exchange of addictions is complete. She no longer finds any enjoyment in food and has to be force-fed unappealing slop that lacks color and texture. Sara’s downfall is tragic yet relatable. How many of us can quit the simple joy of eating?
Requiem for A Dream resembles an onion, unpeeling the layers of addiction of each character. Skin deep, they are junkies addicted to hard drugs. Beneath the surface, they are complete human beings with earthly ambitions. Sara’s addiction to amphetamine is caused by her loneliness and need to connect with her son. The game show exposed a habit Sara had all along, an addiction to food. The in-depth revelation of Sara’s path to self-destruction makes us realize our own vulnerability to addiction, and it doesn’t have to be heroin or meth. Many things we love, like food, can become a horrific habit. All it takes to trigger the transformation may be a bad situation and a lofty dream.