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"Harry locked his mother in the closet." That's Hubert Selby's favorite line from his novel-that-became-the-world's-bleakest movie, Requiem For A Dream. Catches your attention, doesn't it?
It doesn't quite work that way in the film's opening scene, but the film version of Requiem still grabs you by your tenderest of bits and doesn't let go.
Sara Goldfarb hides in the closet when her son, Harry, comes to steal her TV. No, he isn't desperate to catch the season finale of The Bachelor. Harry and his friend Ty sell the TV for drug money. That night, Ty has an idea. He's tired of hustling the streets. Pushing stolen TVs is hard. Ty thinks that he, Harry, and Harry's girlfriend, Marion, should all go in on a pile of good stuff. They can cut it and resell it for profit.
What could possibly go wrong?
Meanwhile, Sara gets a call that she's going to be on television. What could it be? Let's Make a Deal? The Bachelorette? The Real Golden Girls of Brooklyn? She has no idea, just that she'll be a contestant on some sort of televised program. Thrilled at the chance for fame, and the opportunity to brag about her son and dead husband to the nation, Sara plans what to wear on TV.
You've heard that the camera adds ten pounds. Well, life adds more. Sara wants to wear the red dress she wore to Harry's high school graduation. There's one problem: it no longer fits. Sara tries the eggs and grapefruit diet, but she wants to lose weight faster. Instead of trying the Japanese Long Breath Diet, Sara finds a doctor who will prescribe her some diet pills.
Again: what could possibly go wrong?
Harry and Ty's drug plan is working out. They stuff all their accumulating cash in a secret shoebox. Harry wants to use some of the money to purchase a retail space for Marion, a budding fashion designer. And he also wants to buy his mom a new TV—it's the least he can do for stealing the old one. (Make sure to get a smart TV with Hulu so Sara can stream Dancing with the Stars, Harry. Old people love those Chmerkovskiy brothers and their shaking sequins.)
Harry visits Sara to tell her about her brand new TV. He notices she's grinding her teeth, not in anticipation of many hours of Walking Dead reruns, but because of all the diet pills she's been taking. He warns her to cut them out, but she refuses.
She's so happy to be on television. It gives her something to live for, because she's old and lonely and has nothing else. Guilty, Harry says he'll visit her soon. Then he shoots up and forgets all about it. "Visit" must be drug slang we're unfamiliar with.
The drug trade is like "bae," beards, and top knots – it's really hot for a while, then it goes out of style. By the time you realize you're out of step, it's too late. A drug war breaks out, forcing supply off the streets. Ty's arrested, and Harry has to bail him out. Then their drug business crashes. They have to dip into their cash to buy drugs just for themselves, to feed their own addictions. They're soon broke like a joke…and the joke is not funny.
Also not funny: Harry convinces Marion to ask her sleazy therapist for money. She has to have sex with the gross guy in order to get her drug money, and she does it. Afterwards, she's sick, and pukes in a gutter. She and Harry start fighting regularly about his inability to get drugs. "Bringing home the bacon" must also be drug slang we're unfamiliar with.
Across town, Sara has built up a tolerance to her diet pills. She starts taking two at a time. Then four. She begins to hallucinate—she thinks the man in her favorite infomercial is in her living room, and she imagines the fridge trying to eat her. She flees the monster appliance and wanders the streets of New York.
People on the subway think Sara's crazy. Her gray roots are showing and her red housedress is dirty and tattered. She wanders to the TV studio that promised her she'd be on television. They explain that it takes a while to get the call. She doesn't want to wait. Concerned for her health and safety, they call the police, who take Sara to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Harry has a plan. Instead of waiting for the drug dealers from Florida to bring their product to New York, he and Ty will go to Florida and get the drugs themselves.
Say it with us: what could possibly go wrong?
On the way to Florida, Harry develops an infection from a dirty needle. It quickly spreads, and his arm turns red and black—kind of like C-3PO's in The Force Awakens. Ty takes Harry to the hospital, where the doctor alerts the police. Both men are arrested. Harry collapses in prison and he's taken to the hospital.
Back in New York, Marion can't wait for Harry to return. She visits a man who will trade drugs for sex. He invites her to a party where she engages in a variety of humiliating sex acts in front of a crowd of screaming businessmen. In return, she gets…heroin.
All our characters have hit rock bottom.
Sara receives electroshock therapy. Marion cuddles with a little stack of sex money and dope. Ty does manual labor in prison. And Harry's infected arm is amputated.
Alone in Florida, Harry knows Marion won't visit him. Alone in New York, Sara still imagines herself on TV. As a guest on her favorite program, Sara sees herself winning the grand prize: a happy, successful son. Dream Sara and dream Harry—who has two arms—embrace, and tell each other, "I love you."
Fade to black.