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Half Nelson & Requiem

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There are few topics in cinema more popular than drugs and addiction. While there is no formal "drug" genre, the cinematic obsession with one of the darker sides of humanity certainly deserves its own subcategory (a list of drug films can be found on Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia; Wikipedia). Whether they are political commentaries or personal moral tales, films dealing with drugs and addiction provide a canvas upon which social problems that manifest themselves in the lives lead by the characters can be examined. Half Nelson (Corwin et al., 2006) and Requiem for a dream (Barenholtz, Flynn, Simchowitz, Weschler, & Aronofsky, 2000) are two of the major releases in recent years dealing with drug addiction. This essay will explore these two films in depth, and one character from each film will be analyzed through Individual Psychology lens.

While Requiem for a Dream focused on the reasons behind the lives lead by those inflicted with addiction and the dire consequences of their habit, Half Nelson was more concerned with the struggle to connect with others, to find a place for oneself in a world moved not by one person, but by various groups colliding and coexisting. I responded emotionally to both films, though I found Half Nelson to linger with me more after the film was over. I have the opportunity to interact with many individuals with addiction who would exhibit many of the problems portrayed in both films. The face rubbing, body twitching and anxious pacing body language exhibited by Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson looked authentic to me. I know someone who had to face the possibility of having his legs amputated due to the infection brought on by his multiple drug injections, much like what Harry had to actually go through in the film. The idea that these characters were just chasing a miscalculated dream complicated by the effects of their drugs made the situations depicted in Requiem seemed rather hopeless. Half Nelson, on the other hand, looked at those who are still hanging on to their place in the world. It was rather hopeful message that help could be found even in the most unexpected place.

Requiem, for the most part, was technically spectacular. Aronofsky gave the audience a taste of what the world would be like as perceived by drug addicts by using quick editing, split screens, distorted lens, and extreme close ups. Hallucinations were either lyrically beautiful in soft colour (when Harry dreamt of Marion on a look out into the ocean), or manically terrifying in jarringly lit rooms (when Sara hallucinated that her fridge was attacking her). The idea was to experience the lives of these characters to gain some perspective of what they were going through. The film was a culmination of what could potentially go wrong in the lives of addicts; the misfortunes piled upon these characters in a way that, though entirely plausible, was overkill. The helping professionals were shown to be either indifferent or harmful to the characters. Sara was given amphetamines and valium carelessly by a doctor, got committed against her will, and in a confused state signed a document that allowed the hospital to put her through electric shock. When Harry sought help in a hospital, the doctor called the police instead of treating his wound. His family members or loved ones could not help him, for they, too, were in the same spiral as he was. Each character was too busy filling up his or her needs to really have a mind to take care of each other, despite good intentions. The film could've benefited from a more balanced portrayal of the helping profession, and it would also have been a much better film if the second half wasn't filled with an assault of misfortunes.

Not every drug addict is on the streets or planning for his next meal like those depicted in Requiem. In Half Nelson, Dan had a stable job and a clean love interest. The depiction of drug use in Half Nelson was less aggressive and almost completely devoid of sensationalism. The camera stayed still for the most part, lingering in certain places, and speeding up with some close ups when Dan got high. Rather than going for hyper-realism like Requiem, Half Nelson stayed grounded with linear time and normal spatial perception. It gave the audience more of a spectator role than Requiem did. Curiously, there was no sign of any helping professional, or the justice system (with one exception of the scene where Drey went to visit her brother) having a direct impact on their lives, though the society in general made an impact on them on a larger, more historical sense.

Because of the racial focus of the film, one had the sense that the creators of the film wanted to de-criminalize the black community. African-Americans often are given loud, stereotypical roles to portray in films. Half Nelson featured an intelligent, empathic,



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