Top 5 Movies about Addiction
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with addiction, please visit the Drug Abuse Hotline for help.
Addiction is a hard subject to talk about, let alone to make a film about. It has devastated millions of people around the world and there is still a stigma attached to it, no matter how many self-help books refer to it as a ‘disease.’ It’s a fragile subject and not one to be taken lightly. Hollywood has tackled the subject of addiction in a number of films, to various degrees of success. At their worst, movies about addiction are poorly-written after-school-special type films. These are the films shown at rehab clinics and high schools throughout the country.
At their best, however, movies about addiction can capture the battle within that every addict must come face to face with. It is not a pretty, or a simple, subject. But it’s an important one, and one worth discussing. The following 5 films are entertaining in their own right, but it’s the spotlight that they shine on this disease that we want to focus on. Usually, we try to entertain you. This time, however, we want to educate you as we present the Top 5 Movies about Addiction.
5) Blow- 2001
This true story, starring Johnny Depp, focuses on George Jung, a former high school football star who gets involved in the extremely lucrative, and dangerous world of international drug trafficking. This is somewhat of a biopic that shows the extremes of addiction and of actually dealing drugs. The highs are incredibly high (money, nice houses, esteem), but the lows leave you at your absolute worst (divorce, hatred from one’s daughter, prison).
Depp does a fantastic job of portraying Jung through various phases of his life. The really interesting aspect of Blow is that it doesn’t just focus on the addiction of drugs. It also shines a light on addiction to money, power and the idea of the “American Dream.”
4) Leaving Las Vegas- 1995
Adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by John O’Brien, Leaving Las Vegas tells the story of an alcoholic screenwriter who has decided to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. This film is so powerful in so many different ways. Nicolas Cage plays the lead, and while Cage’s eyes have always told a story, it’s in this film that you can literally see the depression in them. Though he has resigned himself to certain death, Ben Sanderson (Cage), meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Sera, which challenge but don’t necessarily change his plans.
This film is important because of how much it reminds the audience that money truly does not buy happiness; nor does “success,” whatever that means. Addiction, especially to something like alcohol, does not care how rich or famous or talented you are. Charles Bukowski said that “Alcoholism is the slowest form of suicide” and this is truly evident in Leaving Las Vegas. This film also, unfortunately, shows that sometimes, addiction is stronger than the love we have for somebody. That is the most tragic aspect of this affliction and it is one that Cage displays perfectly.
3) Clean and Sober- 1988
When disgruntled fans scoffed at the idea of Michael Keaton playing Batman in Tim Burton’s 1989 film, they claimed that he couldn’t “be serious.” He was Mr. Mom, for God’s sake! Supporters of Keaton urged those fans to check out Clean and Sober, a 1988 film that focuses on a hotshot real estate agent with a nagging cocaine habit. Keaton plays the role completely straight, and it’s in his portrayal that one of the biggest truths about addiction becomes evident- it really can happen to anyone.
Keaton’s character is an everyman. He’s not a “bad guy,” per say. He’s just very, very selfish, like most addicts are. He first decides to clean up his life after an encounter with law enforcement, like most addicts do. He tries, and fails to remain sober, like most addicts have done. Clean and Sober is not as powerful as something like Leaving Las Vegas or Blow. It doesn’t have a big Hollywood climax. What Clean and Sober does is offer a glimpse into the realest aspects of addiction- it’s boring, it’s lonely and it’s really, really sad.
It is not the pivotal airplane crash that is the tensest scene in Flight. Yes, the audience is on the edge of their seats throughout the sequence. It’s supremely shot and perfectly acted. We feel as if we are there with Denzel Washington and the rest of the passengers, as he tries to safely land a plane with as little death as possible. He does so, with only a few casualties. It’s an important scene, but it’s not the one that we pay the most attention to, especially as fellow addicts.
The pivotal scene in Flight, the one that breaks our hearts and impacts us the most, is the scene in which Denzel’s Whip Whitaker is trying so hard to remain sober in a hotel room that offers a plethora of alcoholic beverages. Whitaker is quite literally white-knuckling himself because he knows how important it is for him so be sober the following day. His career and his very life depends on it.
Washington does an incredible job of showing the power of cravings and the desperation of relapse. For just a second, we think Whitaker has won the battle against addiction, but then there’s a shot of his hand greedily clutching the first of what will be many mini-bottles. Addiction, as is so often the case, has won the battle. It would not win the war, however, as in the closing moments of the film, Whitaker finally admits, to others but more importantly to himself, that he is an alcoholic and an addict. For many, that’s the most difficult part.
Requiem for a Dream- 2000
Most people don’t dream of becoming addicts when they are little. Something, usually major and sometimes tragic, has happened to them. Good intentions turn into a life of misery with the twist of a bottle cap or the first sniff of cocaine. Addiction, at its core, is not a disease. It’s a symptom of something else, something deeper. Requiem for a Dream shows this perfectly, as it focuses on Sara Goldfarb (played by Ellen Burstyn) and her son (played by Jared Leto). Both mother and son are struggling with addiction- Harry to heroine and Sara to weight-loss pills and are searching for something that many addicts turn to drugs and alcohol for.
Human beings long to connect, to love and to be loved. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen as we would like it to, so we find solace in other things. All too often, those things are drugs and/or alcohol and the further into our addictions fall, the further disconnected we feel. Requiem for a Dream shows the desperation of longing and how that manifests itself into behavior. It is, quite possibly, the greatest film ever made that deals with addiction and it serves as a parable for happiness that is so hard to find and so easily lost. It also shows that, in some cases, it is not AA Meetings and self-help books and lectures from well-meaning “experts” that an addict needs. Sometimes, they just need to know that they are loved.