Requiem for a Dream colour analysis

by Toby Woollaston

RequiemBarcodeI have explained in a previous post the significance of cinematic colour complexion to aid our ability to “feel” a film. You can read my entire thesis on Aronofsky and phenomenology by following this link. Here I will illustrate this with the colour signature and barcode of  Aronofsky’s second feature Requiem for a Dream.  The colour signatures are a consolidation of all the colours used in a film and serve to distinguish a film’s propensity to lean towards a particular hue. The signatures are broken down into the RGB (red, green, blue) colour-space and the values represent the brightness of each hue (the higher the number the brighter the hue). The colour barcodes represent the colour of each frame in the film. Each frame has been captured and squeezed into a strand of colour. When the colours are placed side-by-side chronologically, the result reads like a colour barcode of the film. Starting from the beginning of the film at the left, the barcode can be read as a colour timeline and indicates the dominant colours for large portions of the film.

Requiem for a Dream operates within a relatively cool and light palette. As the colour signature shows, it has the highest values along all of the RGB hues, indicating that it is the brightest of Aronofsky’s films. Of the three other colour films studied, the value of the red hue in Requiem for a Dream is higher than the green and blue hues. In particular, the red hue makes a stronger representation in the darker tones. However, Requiem for a Dream indicates a relatively higher propensity of blue, in relation to the other two hues. Requiem for a Dream changes hue throughout its timeline, and this change takes inspiration from the seasons. The chapters of summer, autumn, and winter are used to mark the harmful progression of addiction and also provide a context of time in the narrative. The colour barcode illustrates how the colours match both the seasons and the film’s metaphoric descent into winter: summer is dominated by warmer reds; autumn by earthy hues; and winter with “cold” colours, such as blues, purples, and greens. The film is able to utilise colour to make us feel seasonal variation. This operates on a phenomenological level and allows the spectator to feel the anxiety of descent — a feeling inextricably tied to addiction. Throughout Requiem for a Dream, the seasons are not expressed explicitly through traditional representations, such as the cracking ground of summer, the falling leaves of autumn, the snow of winter, and so on. Instead, the camera is firmly fixed on the protagonists as the denizens of artificiality. The protagonists are trapped within man-made environs, and by proxy the spectator is also trapped within this synthetic environment. Yet a sense of seasonal change is still experienced beyond what the signposted inter-titles indicate, and the seasons are felt through the use of colour. The spectator’s embodied cinesthetic experience allows the colours of Requiem for a Dream to be felt non-cognitively, allowing for the onset of mood before proceeding with cognitive assessment using Ihde’s fourth rule (which prompts the embodied spectator to seek out structural or invariant features) and fifth rule (which prompts the embodied spectator to ask why these structural or invariant features affect him or her).