The subject of addiction is one that has been explored frequently throughout the history of cinema. It’s a difficult subject that can be captured in many art forms, sure, but there’s something about the visual medium that makes the subject more visceral, personal and powerful. The film offers a way to enter a character’s mind or observe a character from a distance, depending on the approach taken. Sometimes movies depicting addiction will do a bit of both.
The following movies are hard to watch, and while the descriptions here aren’t graphic, the subject matter itself may upset some. They are films worth talking about nonetheless, as addiction is a human condition that affects many people in different ways; sometimes as an exercise in empathy, sometimes as a cautionary tale, and sometimes as a bit of both.
A classic British film that has certainly raised the profile of its star and director, Danny Boyle and Ewan McGregor respectively, Trainspotting is a quick, entertaining, sometimes funny, but also deeply disturbing look at a group of friends in Scotland, many of whom are addicted to heroin.
It’s a film that balances multiple tones at once, blending it all together into something surprisingly cohesive. It’s also notable for being one of the most honest portrayals of drug use in film, as it explains why some people turn to a substance like heroin and why it’s so hard to quit with a remarkable clarity. It is therefore an empathetic and revealing film, although as a warning, it has several scenes that are quite difficult to watch, due to its brutal honesty.
“Uncut Gems” (2019)
Rather than looking at addiction or addiction, Uncut Gems uses its supremely intense 135-minute runtime to explore a self-destructive gambling addiction in fierce and unrelenting detail. It’s hard to watch, but certainly engrossing and hard to look away from, being about a man (Adam Sandler) who lives on a knife edge, constantly facing mounting debt and unable to know when to stop.
It’s something of a modern tragedy, about a protagonist sinking deeper and deeper into a hole throughout an entire movie. It’s definitely about the ups and downs of the game, whether it’s taking risks with money or getting involved with loan sharks, and he’s not afraid to show the consequences. of what can come with too much thrill, when finances are at stake.
In a general way, Amy is a documentary about the tragically short life of singer-songwriter Amy Winehousedied aged just 27 in 2011. It is an intimate and heartbreaking film, and covers in detail the various substances that Winehouse became addicted to, alcohol ending up being the cause of his accidental and fatal overdose.
It’s emotional and impactful because of that alone, but Amy is also a film that casts its net outward, at the public and at large, suggesting that no one took Winehouse’s struggles seriously enough at the time, and that the tabloid articles written about him and the jokes made at his expense only made his personal struggles more difficult. Not only Amy face the addiction, but it also shows how difficult it can be to deal with when you’re in the limelight and the living nightmare of being constantly scrutinized by people who don’t know what you’re really going through.
‘Christian F.’ (nineteen eighty one)
A German film about a girl in her early teens who becomes addicted to heroin and the things she has to do to fund this addiction, Christiane F. is one of the most heartbreaking, heartbreaking, and darkest movies of the 1980s…or maybe even ever.
The film masterfully uses the pop/rock music of david bowie (which also has a cameo) to show off the vibrancy and energy of young life in the film’s opening scenes, replacing it with some of the musician’s dark, ambient bits used sparingly in the film’s forlorn second half. Traumatic and difficult to watch, it is nevertheless a powerful film about something that has marked – and still affects – young people. It was based on a real personafter all.
“The Lost Weekend” (1945)
The lost weekend stands as one of the earliest examples of a movie addiction-themed story. It represents a man (played by the great Ray Milland) going on a big drinking binge for a weekend, describing in unflinching detail how every drink sends him lower into a spiral he can’t escape.
It may not be as hard-hitting or realistic as some more grounded recent films that tackle addiction, but it was groundbreaking stuff by 1945 standards. It was honored with multiple Oscars for its look at alcohol addiction and still holds reasonable power all these decades later.
“The Fire Within” (1963)
In The inner fire, the public enters the mind of Alain Leroy. He is a man who has just been discharged from hospital after being treated for an alcohol addiction, and although he has been “cured” by medical standards, he finds that rehabilitation to life after addiction is boring, tiring and almost too exhausting to handle.
Rather than capturing a downward spiral into addiction, The inner fire examines the difficulty of what comes after an addiction is overcome. It’s a less explored angle, and that makes it a one-of-a-kind (but very difficult to watch) film. By presenting a difficult life without joy, the film itself is difficult and contains little or no joy. It’s by no means an entertaining movie, but it’s certainly an emotional, different, and ultimately important movie.
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)
by Martin Scorsese the wolf of Wall Street is a film that addresses more than one form of addiction. To start, Jordan Belfort tells the audience about the various drugs he takes as part of his daily lifestyle, through his storytelling. We see how it affects his life throughout. While the film may be funny, it ends up being surprisingly heartbreaking and could take audiences expecting humor completely off guard.
The film also touches on the addictive nature of money and power, with Belfort’s relentless pursuit of both being a different kind of addiction. He’s been shown to hurt himself and others because of this desire for more and more wealth…although despite all his criminal activity, the film – cynically enough – suggests he suffered little personal consequence for his wrongdoing and his greed.
by Steve McQueen cold sad movie about sex addiction, Shamealso includes one of Michael Fassbender best performance of his career to date. He lives a fairly solitary life that revolves around his need for constant sex, and this has been shown to have a great emotional impact on him and his family.
It’s a tough movie to watch, which in many ways proves just as heartbreaking as addiction-related movies that deal with physical substances. Being purely psychologically addictive doesn’t make the addiction any easier to see, and the film’s confidence in tackling such a unique topic should be (and was) applauded.
‘Oslo, August 31’ (2011)
Borrowed from the 1963s The inner firewhile updating it for modern times/audiences, Oslo, August 31 is not quite a remake. That’s because it turns out they’re both based on the same 1931 novel. While the 1963 film deals with a recently treated alcoholic coping with life after alcohol, this 2011 film features a young man who has received treatment for heroin addiction.
The struggles of connecting with people and finding purpose in a world while sober are described here in vivid and unflinching detail. It shows how easily relapses can happen and how empty life can feel when you’re stuck with no direction. It’s a brutally tough watch, but brilliantly made and played.
“Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
Requiem for a dream is a film that makes its villain not an individual or a group of people, but the concept of addiction itself. The film is a stylized, sometimes exacerbated, but always brutal film about how the lives of four people are changed and impacted by their addiction to various substances, whether amphetamines or heroin.
Due to its abrasive approach, Requiem for a dream doesn’t always feel like the most balanced or realistic of addiction-themed movies. Instead, it aims to showcase the worst that addiction can do and strays into near-excessive nightmarish imagery as a result. However, this approach is also effective in a way that is brutal and shocking to the senses, and when it comes to presenting the message it wants to convey, it undeniably succeeds.
NEXT: The Highs And Lows Of How Best Picture Oscar Winner ‘The Lost Weekend’ Portrays Alcoholism