Addiction is, unfortunately, an increasingly difficult issue in the United States. While addiction comes in many forms, most recently the opioid epidemic has ravaged huge swathes of the country with no clear solution in sight. While films about addiction aren’t exactly a new phenomenon, in the last two decades, there has been a marked increase in movies coming out of Hollywood that aim to tackle the subject in a variety of ways, showing both the physical, emotional, and social impacts that addiction can have on individuals and communities at large.
Requiem For A Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s 2000 psychological drama Requiem For A Dream is a harrowing look at what addiction can do to someone, their relationships, and their family. Following the story of a mother and her son, played by Ellen Burstyn and Jared Leto respectively, the son’s significant other, played by Jennifer Connelly, and his best friend, played by Marlon Wayans, Requiem For A Dream explores how drug addiction can irreparably change lives.
Requiem For A Dream is a depressing film with a fittingly depressing ending, with all four characters experiencing a different negative outcome to their cascading addictions. Where Sesame Street aims to counteract the stigma of addiction before it starts and encourage those suffering to seek help, Requiem For A Dream seems to want to shock viewers with the harsh reality of addiction.
Another dark look at addiction, Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting also looks at the destructive nature of addiction focusing more exclusively on heroin addiction. Trainspotting highlights how poverty and addiction are often intertwined, a factor playing into the opioid crisis in the U.S. today.
The protagonist of Trainspotting, Renton, is played wonderfully by Ewan McGregor who masterfully portrays the struggle of an addict who, despite efforts to clean up his life, relapses into addiction multiple times.
A Star Is Born
Bradley Cooper both directs and acts as the leading man, Jack Maine, to critical acclaim in the 2018 remake of A Star Is Born. While this movie portrays the rising star of Ally, portrayed brilliantly by Lady Gaga, at its core the film is really about the relationship between Cooper and Gaga’s characters. Their relationship is an emotional rollercoaster with massive highs and deep lows.
One of the biggest strains on their relationship throughout the film is Maine’s alcoholism which affects not only their personal relationship but their working relationship as well. A Star Is Born deftly exhibits the toxicity that alcohol addiction can bring about in any relationship and the turbulent nature of living and loving an addict.
The Netflix original documentary Heroin(e), directed by Elaine McMillion Sheldon, takes an unflinching look at the real-life damage that the opioid crisis is causing in Huntington, West Virginia. The documentary follows three women, a judge, a fire chief, and a realtor-turned-addiction counselor as they struggle to save and change the lives of those suffering from addiction in their community.
While many of the people in the documentary are addicted to heroin, opiates that are prescribed for pain by doctors are the gateway into the world of addiction for most, which is particularly upsetting when considering the many optional means of dealing with pain out there. These issues are also particularly heartbreaking considering how they grew into a problem too large to handle before the benefits of other holistic means of treatment like substance abuse counselors became better known. The documentary is equal parts engaging, uplifting, and horrific as it paints a picture of a city’s people torn to pieces over opioid addiction and their struggle to overcome.
Leaving Las Vegas
In an Oscar-winning performance of a lifetime, Nicolas Cage acts opposite Elisabeth Shue, who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, in Leaving Las Vegas. The film tells the story of Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic screenwriter who is let go from his job and moves to Las Vegas with every intention of drinking himself to death. Once in Las Vegas, Sanderson nearly drunkenly mows down Sera, a sex worker played by Shue.
A love story blooms from the encounter, and both Cage and Shue give heartfelt performances that fly in the face of the cliches of the deadbeat drunk and the sex worker with a heart of gold. Ultimately, alcoholism plays the major antagonizing role in their relationship, preventing the two from ever really being completely together.
While Hollywood has a problematic history of glamorizing cigarettes in films, documentaries like Addiction Incorporated act as a foil to show just how addictive and dangerous smoking really is. The 2011 documentary follows the story of Victor DeNoble, a young scientist who inadvertently discovers ingredients within cigarettes designed to make them more addictive, and the eventual disruption that this causes within the tobacco industry and U.S. politics.
Addiction Incorporated is an entertaining film, full of interesting turns and archetypal heroes and villains, but while entertaining it still does a good job of highlighting the addiction by design put forward by tobacco companies.