Artwork by Chloe Leeson
These films show the devastating lengths addicts will go to feed their habit as drugs overcome their lives. It sends them spiraling into a descent that is hard (and in some films, impossible) to climb back out of. Often unflinching and hard to watch, these movies depict the horrors of addiction and its devastating ramifications. Many films have explored the nature of drug addiction, but these are a few that stand out.
The Basketball Diaries: Leonardo DiCaprio has given phenomenal performances from the very start of his career such as The Basketball Diaries. Fun and wild boyhood hijinks turn ugly as DiCaprio, a high school student, becomes addicted to heroin. Eventually, he comes out on the other side and goes through withdrawal and rehabilitation. One review from its release said, “For those few soul-freezing moments, you get a glimpse of the great actor Leonardo DiCaprio is going to be.” It is amazing to look back at this film now and see the talent that we would see time and time again, it is ever-present in this young performance. DiCaprio accurately portrays the desperation and pain that goes along with addiction, especially from an adolescent.
Requiem for a Dream: Requiem for a Dream likely needs no explanation, it is renowned for its utterly harrowing depiction of addiction to drugs such as diet pills, heroin and cocaine. The film itself, particularly in the ending and the deterioration of Ellen Burstyn’s character, is the stuff of nightmares. If schools want children to stay away from hard drugs, make them watch this film.
Candy: Candy tells the story of a young woman, who falls in love with Dan and his love for heroin. The film is divided into three parts, Heaven, Earth and Hell. Heaven deals with the bliss from first experiencing drugs and Earth coming to terms with the following costs of addiction. Candy prostitutes herself, loses a pregnancy and is banned from seeing her family after constantly trying to steal from them. In Hell, they part ways to try and get their life back together. The overlooked film has fantastic performances from Abbie Cornish and Heath Leger as the respective leads and addicted couple. It is particularly poignant upon the passing of Ledger, as is most every film of his. Again, we are reminded of a wasted life and talent taken from us far too soon.
The Panic in Needle Park: The Panic in Needle Park is another story of an addicted couple, with Al Pacino in his first film role and Kitty Winn. In the 1970s, New York had a lot of decrepit and drug-ridden areas. It’s realism and unflinching look at people during that time and place makes for a hard watch. The Panic in Needle Park portrays the sheer desperation of drug addicts living in those conditions. The film is very gritty, often showing needles going into veins or people going into seizures. The grueling documentary-style film is buoyed by fantastic lead performances.
Down to the Bone: I wanted to include Down to the Bone because it is not as well known. It stars Vera Farmiga, an underrated actress who constantly turns out impressive performances. This indie film, instead of depicting the lives of addicts in the city as most of the aforementioned films have, depicts the life of a suburban wife and mother. It is important to see drug addiction from a female perspective, particularly that of a mother. The film is a harrowing character study of a woman struggling to remain sober when she has so many other responsibilities, yet it never villainizes her. Down to the Bone is extremely underrated and worth seeing.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.