The first part of this scene (previous section) introduced Sara’s main pastime, watching “Juice” on TV, and her propensity to comfort eating, both of which she performs simultaneously and in a ritualistic manner.
This is the second part of the scene. It is where the inciting incident occurs, where Sara’s (far from ideally) well-ordered life starts making its way out the window.
When building scenes, the more visual and aural elements you can use to show rather than tell the story, the better.
Let’s first see how this scene could have been put together:
Picking up from the first part of the scene, Sara is still eating chocolates while watching her favourite programme on TV. The phone rings, she answers immediately since it is next to her, and the caller breaks the news that she’s won a place to be on TV. Sara is overjoyed and starts dancing around the room and calling all her friends to break the news.
Let’s now see how Aronofsky has constructed it instead:
1. It starts with Sara fiddling with the antenna while “Juice” is on. She does so for 12 seconds even though the phone is ringing. Not a big deal at first sight, but let’s listen carefully to what the presenter on TV is saying:
“It will change your life. You know how my life started. I was an overweight man living in a one-bedroom apartment. I couldn’t get the money to feed myself anymore. I had no will to live. I hit my rock bottom. I stopped right there. In 30 days I changed my life.”
First, it is giving us a few hints about the shape of things to come in a nicely incidental manner. Second, it is telling us what type of messages are being fed into her brain and shaping her value system, thus helping us understand her motivation for taking the course of action she’s about to take.
2. After several rings, she finally answers the phone. In the beginning she thinks it’s a sales call and tries to get rid of the guy, but when he mentions the magic word “television”, she suddenly gets drawn in.
One very important role sound plays in this film is that of adopting Sara’s subjective point of view to take us inside her head. This is how:
It is clear that Sara is annoyed by the intruding caller who is interrupting her favourite pastime and wants to get rid of him quickly. The tension she is experiencing is built by having the sound coming from the TV set and from the receiver simultaneously compete for Sara’s attention. This way, the viewer shares that tension.
In terms of editing, we are constantly taken from a medium shot of Sara on the phone to point-of-view shots of the TV screen. As soon as the speaker on the other side of the line mentions the word “television” the medium shot becomes a close-up of Sara’s face.
In terms of sound, as soon as she hears that she’s already won an opportunity to be on TV she gives the speaker her full attention. We know this because suddenly the sound coming from the TV set recedes into the background (fades down) and the voice of the speaker becomes clearer and more prominent. Sound allows us to get inside her mind by replicating what is called selective hearing – the human brain’s natural tendency to filter out unwanted noise and conversation.
Finally, sound and picture join forces to give emphasis to this key moment – her realisation that she’s going to be on TV and that therefore her life is going to change – and to take us deeper into her subjective point of view . When the caller tells her “you’ve already won” the message begins to sink in and she becomes more attentive. Her eyes become dreamy. she raises them to look at the TV set and at this moment the film cuts to her point of view, the TV set. Right at that moment a “We Got A Winner!” credit appears on the screen. The film cuts back to her and the caller repeats the sentence, “you’ve already won!”
Part 1 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 1
Part 2 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 2
Part 3 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 3
Part 4 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 4
Part 5 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 5
Part 6 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 6
Part 7 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 7
Part 8 Requiem For A Dream: Sara’s Subjective Journey To Insanity 8