Substance Abuse in Film

When I first moved to the city, one of the things I had to learn to adjust to was the sudden influx of people I was exposed to daily, that were dealing with issues of homlessness and drug addiction. Our campus sits in a very central part of Toronto, and we run into people who face these challenges every day, yet it is something we rarely speak about. Most Ryerson students are aware that we have a safe injection site not a block away from our student center, and most of us (in non-covid times of course) pass it on a daily basis. But we are so busy scurrying around, that many of us don’t take in the weight of what that means for our community. There is a stigma around addiction that hinders us from wanting to discuss it. And of course one of the most known ways of sparking conversation and connecting the public with social issues is through on screen representation. But, many films that touch on addiction are glamorized and romanticized depictions of the issue. Despite this, there are select movies out there that portray a more raw image of substance abuse. There are two movies in particular, each with a drastically different approach to the topic, that both reflect the grueling effects addiction has on the individual and those around them.

Requiem for a Dream

Requiem For A Dream – Trailer

This 2000 film is an unsettling and frankly frightening depiction of drug addiction. The movie follows 4 characters in a downward spiral into the depths of substance abuse, each living to find their next fix, consumed by their addiction. The character in the film that really stood out was Sara Goldfarb, who is the mother of one of the other characters. Sara becomes addicted to her diet pills, and though she is not the stereotype of a character with addiction, she spirals just as deep as any other character, if not deeper. At times I found this film hard to watch because it truly felt as though you were living through the eyes of these characters as their lives spiralled into the dark abyss of addiction.

Beautiful Boy

Beautiful Boy Trailer #1 (2018)

Based on a real story, this film follows Nic Sheff as he battles his addiction to methamphetamines and his father, David as he does everything in his ability to save his son, and protect his family. This film comes from a lighter perspective as it is rooted in the love Nic and his father share. But, it paints the realities of how an addiction can ravage a family in a very devastating way. This film’s ability to highlight the grief and distress of families in this situation was both heartbreaking and enlightening.

While I will say that there are aspects of both of these movies that could still be considered romanticized because they are still films and films must appeal to an audience somehow. But these two movies have an ability to create characters in situations that people would never want to see themselves in. And with substance abuse, it is important to remove idealization, to show the cruel realities of how addiction can tear away at one’s life, and how the stigma around it makes it incredibly difficult for people to reach out for help. So if there is anything I hope to see out of the future of the film industry, it is more depictions of difficult topics that are able to spark conversation, and instill empathy in people. If we are going to build a social climate where people who are battling substance abuse feel comfortable reaching out, we need to start tearing down stigmas and create more safe spaces.    

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