Comparing a film’s lost dreams to my journey with Friedreich’s Ataxia

Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 film Requiem for a Dream leaves nothing to be desired as it follows four people’s hellish descent into a life of addiction as the dreams they had for their lives grow more and more unattainable . Although mostly overlooked today and objectively grim, it’s one of my favorite films and I was excited to see it with two good friends about three weeks ago.

That night, as the movie ended, the credits rolled, and the epic soundtrack thundered in my living room, one of my friends turned on the light and read my wide, eager eyes while silently asking what he thought.

“I need a minute,” he replied solemnly.

“That was terrible!” shouted his wife and obviously didn’t need a minute. “Next time, I am Choosing the Movie!”

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

I kinda love it. In his sadness I find glimmers of hope.

Crazy, right?

Does living with Friedreich’s Ataxia (FA) make me view such films differently than most people?

The dream

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

I was still an outpatient at the time, but wondered how long I would stay. I knew the basics of my diagnosis at the time, and I saw FA’s writing on the wall. Most of my dreams as a working adult died and I mourned them.

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Something about dreams for a future that would never make me identify with the main characters.

An example is when Sara Goldfarb, an aging mother, played by Ellen Burstyn, delivers the “Red Dress” monologue, which describes her dream of being a television game show contestant. It’s a stunning speech that highlights Burstyn’s acting skills: “It’s a reason to get up in the morning,” says Burstyn’s character Sara, “…a reason to smile. It makes everything fine tomorrow.”

Unfortunately, both Sara’s desire to be on television and my own desire to remain productive did not materialize.

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

The Requiem

Requiems are Catholic masses held for the dead. Like a Gothic cathedral, the film serves as a backdrop for a requiem for the main characters as they mourn their lifelong dreams. Artistic cinematography is the setting of the Requiem, phenomenal acting is the incense, an incredible soundtrack is the chorus, and hope despite tragedy is the mysterious sacrament.

But can there really be hope in this tragedy or beauty in the ashes? Besides, how can this death of dreams movie be my favorite?

Because in real life, dreams don’t need a requiem.

I appreciate “Requiem for a Dream” because I see a huge difference between the fights on screen and those I encounter in real life, especially my own FA challenges. I can appreciate and even love this film because I’m taught a lesson over and over again: while my dreams have changed as they’ve grown, they’re certainly not dead.

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I have adapted to a disabled life. Although it wasn’t part of my childhood dreams, I had no other choice. So my dreams changed.

As of this writing, FA has not yet killed me. Until then, I will get up every morning and find reasons to smile.

Perhaps Sara Goldfarb and I have more in common than I thought: Although I put a lot of time and effort into curing or treating FA, my dream of being able to walk again is perhaps as unrealistic as Sara’s chance of being on TV.

I may never walk again. But the difference between Sara and me is that even if I have to change my dreams, I know that tomorrow everything will be fine.

Even if there is no cure for FA, tomorrow everything will be fine.

My dream needs no requiem. It just changed over time.


Note: Friedreich’s Ataxia News is a news and informational website about the disease only. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with questions about any medical condition. Never disregard or delay in seeking professional medical advice because you have read something 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 stimulate discussion of issues related to Friedreich’s Ataxia.

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