Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Establishing Split: Requiem 102 Project #2

This is a FILMANALYTICAL, REQUIEM // 102 and FILM STUDIES FOR FREE video essay by Catherine Grant. It is inspired by a screen capture from 02:09 minutes into REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) and it explores in general the use of split screens in the early sequences of this film.  
     The essay was made according to principles of Fair Use (or Fair Dealing), primarily with scholarly and critical aims, and was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License in November 2010.
Filmanalytical brings you the second entry in the Requiem for a Dream // 102 Project, conceived by its inventor Nick Rombes, Associate Professor of English at the University of Detroit, Mercy, as a form of "collective, distributed film criticism".

Requiem // 102 is modelled loosely on Rombes' ongoing 10/40/70 project, in which he “reads” three screen captures from a film taken at the 10, 40, and 70 minute marks.

In this case, Nick has invited 102 contributors from across the film criticism spectrum to look at, or otherwise be inspired by, one frame from each minute of Darren Aronofsky’s 102 minute-long film Requiem for a Dream (2000), a movie that unsettled many audience members when it was first released in cinemas ten years ago.

To learn more about Requiem // 102, check out the 102 Project’s “About” page and follow it on Twitter. Chuck Tryon's first post on the film is here.

For more on Aronofsky's film and, especially, on the use of split screens in cinema, visit Filmanalytical's sister site Film Studies For Free.

Please watch the above video essay before you read its expanded transcript below:

The first split screen in Requiem for a Dream -- the film's establishing split, as it were -- follows a full-screen image of Sara Goldfarb shutting the closet door to keep out her heroin addict son Harry.

It is made very clear, from everything that happens here and elsewhere in this film, that this is not the first time that Sara has locked out her voraciously needy son; and it is very obviously not the first time that what he chooses to take from her fortress is what she most needs: her television set. (The film vertiginously repeats acts of slamming, locking, and shutting out throughout its narrative: indeed, its own title is delivered in this way at the end of these opening sequences in Sara's apartment).
[The first] split screen appears, then, to issue directly from Sara's characteristic act of self-enclosure. Interestingly, in Hubert Selby Jnr.'s novel, published in 1978, it is Harry who first locks Sara in the closet, a scene omitted from Selby's own adaptation of his work, co-scripted by director Darren Aronofsky. (Does the film put more of the "blame on Ma[me]", as a result? That's certainly a question that bears further examination in relation to its narrative as a whole.)

This visual splitting finds a psychological match in both characters' dialogue

You tryin' to get me to break my own mother's set?
["You" = Harry's "Ma" AND not "my own mother"]
The chain isn't for you. It's for the robbers. 
["You" = the son to whom  Sara gives a key AND the robber she locks out]

Harry and Sara are both shown to split and project their "Good" and "Bad" self-objects and they are also both shown simultaneously holding seemingly incompatible beliefs:
e.g. "This isn't happening" AND "...this should be happening"

Paranoid? Schizoid? Paranoid-Schizoid?

As well as simultaneity of action, the vertically split screens in these early sequences of Requiem for a Dream, then, also repeatedly help to represent the simultaneous holding of "true" and "false" beliefs:

"I know very well, but all the same..."
Such formulations are well-known traces of the psychological defence of disavowal, a [...] state in which split-off, archaic self-object relationships seem to be maintained thus forming a central element in what self-psychologist Heinz Kohut called the "vertical split".

Far from a gratuitous stylistic flourish, Requiem's split-screens are established from the beginning as central to [the film's] figuration of its "vertically split" protagonists. They also prove central to any argument about whether or not the film regards the seemingly different addictions and psychic disorders of this mother-son dyad in exactly the same (eternal) light.

Further Reading: