Study Guide

Requiem for a Dream Setting

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Coney Island

Step Right Up

Today, Coney Island is dedicated to "defending the honor of American popular culture." And what's more American than cotton candy, carnival rides, and illegal street drugs?

Nothing, that's what.

Requiem for a Dream has it all. Harry and Ty sell drugs near abandoned carnival games. They have signs like "shoot out the stars and win," which is what Harry and Ty are trying to accomplish with their get-rich-quick scheme. Another carnival sign in the background says, "balloon racing," and heroin is sometimes smuggled in balloons. What kind of carnival are they running here?

The carnival backdrop suggests risk and thrills, which is what Harry, Marion, and Ty say they want to get away from, yet they can't break their addiction to the adrenaline rush. Plus, there's an eerie scene where Sara smears lipstick all over her face and dances around the room like a cross between Bozo and Pennywise from It. You can't have a carnival— or a horror movie—without clowns.

We Know What You Did Last Summer

The film also uses time in two different ways. In a meta sense, the film exists outside of time. The book was published in 1978, and the film feels like it could be set anytime between then and 2001. There are no cell phones, but Harry uses some modern-looking DJ equipment and buys his mother a nice big TV.

The other way the movie marks time is through its use of weather. Each successive act is a new season: the film starts in summer and ends in the dark, cold dead of winter. As the characters get more desperate, the days get shorter and darker. Ty reminisces about summer, as New Yorkers are prone to do when the city is frozen solid.

TY: Last summer was a motherf***ing ball, huh, Jim? It just seems like a thousand years ago since last summer, man.

HARRY: It'll be like that again, man.

This little exchange recalls Sara's longing for "the best place in the sun." Everyone wants a little light, but that isn't always easy to find.

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