‘Requiem for a Dream’: The Tragedy That Gives Me Hope

Comparing a movie's lost dreams with my journey with Friedreich's ataxia

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by Matthew Lafleur |

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The 2000 Darren Aronofsky film, “Requiem for a Dream,” doesn’t pull any punches as it shows the hellish descent of four people into a life of addiction, while the dreams they had for their lives become further and further out of reach. Although it’s mostly overlooked today and objectively bleak, it’s one of my favorite films, and I was excited to watch it with two good friends about three weeks ago.

As the movie ended that night, with the credits rolling and the epic soundtrack thundering in my living room, one of my friends switched on the lights and read my wide and eager eyes silently asking him what he thought of it.

“I need a minute,” he answered solemnly.

“That was terrible!” his wife exclaimed, clearly not needing a minute. “Next time, I’m picking the movie!”

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I Can Still Walk in My Dreams

I had hoped my friends would see the same brilliance in the movie as I did, although I shouldn’t have been surprised by their reactions. After all, some call “Requiem for a Dream” the most depressing movie of all time.

Somehow, I love it. In its sadness, I find glimpses of hope.

Crazy, right?

Does living with Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) cause me to see movies like this differently from most people?

The dream

Perhaps to fully understand the answer to that question, I need to recall my mindset when I first saw the film as a senior in high school in 2004.

Back then, I was still ambulatory, but questioned how long I would be. I knew the basics of my diagnosis at the time, and I saw FA’s writing on the wall. Most of my dreams as an able-bodied adult were passing away, and I was mourning them.

Something about having dreams for a future that would never be made me relate to the main characters.

One example is when Sara Goldfarb, an aging mother played by Ellen Burstyn, gives the the “red dress” monologue, which describes her dream of being a game show contestant on television. It’s a staggering speech that highlights Burstyn’s acting skills: “It’s a reason to get up in the morning,” Burstyn’s character, Sara, says, “… a reason to smile. It makes tomorrow all right.”

Both Sara’s desire to be on television and my own desire to remain able-bodied sadly would not happen.

Sara’s speech heralded her own tragedy. Seeing no alternative to her desperate desire, she and other characters in the film needed to mourn their dying dreams. They needed a requiem.

The requiem

Requiems are Catholic Masses delivered for the dead. Like a Gothic cathedral, the movie serves as the setting for a requiem Mass for the central characters, who mourn the dreams they had for their lives. Artistic cinematography is the requiem’s decor, phenomenal acting is the incense, an incredible soundtrack is the choir, and hope in spite of tragedy is the mysterious sacrament.

But can there really be hope in this tragedy or beauty in the ashes? Moreover, how can this movie about the death of dreams be a favorite of mine?

Because in real life, dreams need no requiem.

I cherish “Requiem for a Dream” because I see one great difference between the on-screen struggles and those I encounter in real life, particularly my own FA challenges. I can appreciate, and even love, this movie because I’m taught one lesson over and over: Although my dreams shifted as I grew, they’re certainly not dead.

I’ve adapted to a disabled life. While that wasn’t part of my childhood dreams, I had no other choice. So my dreams changed.

As of this writing, FA hasn’t killed me yet. Until it does, I’ll keep getting up every morning and finding reasons to smile.

Maybe Sara Goldfarb and I have more in common than I thought: Even though I spend much time and great effort working toward a cure or treatment for FA, perhaps my dream to walk again is as unrealistic as Sara’s chance of being on television.

Maybe I’ll never walk again. But the difference between Sara and me is that even if I have to modify my dreams, I know that tomorrow will be all right.

Even if there is no cure for FA, tomorrow will be all right.

My dream doesn’t need a requiem. It’s just changed over time.

Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Friedreich’s Ataxia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Friedreich’s ataxia.


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