Starring: Robert LaSardo, Daniel Louis Rivas, Tess Panzer, Tomas Boykin, Andrew Howard, Ian Duncan, Caroline Guivarch
Recovering from addiction is a surreal process. I can’t say I’ve ever had to go through that sort of process (though arguments could be made that I should), but I’ve seen a few friends try to break away from drug or alcohol addictions. I’ve listened to people crying at night trying to explain why they can’t stop, or how it’s ruining their lives. So often phrases like “I don’t know what happened” or “I felt like someone else” or “it wasn’t me” get thrown around. I don’t think Junkie captures the whole of the addiction and recovery experience, and I think that when it tries it sometimes stretches itself too thin, but when it comes to capturing the madness, the surrealness of it Junkie hits the nail on the head.
Danny lives in his dead mother’s old home with his friend/brother/parasite Nicky. Both of them are clearly drug addled, and you can see that from the get go. Danny wants to crawl his way out of that life. It has cost him his girlfriend, his regular friends, and by all indications his sanity. Meanwhile, Nicky feels the opposite. Nicky is not only heavy into self indulgence. He wants to keep Danny in that place with him. No one wants to be an addict alone, and Nicky makes that quite clear throughout the film. His antics begin as the behavior of an addict, but they’re tinted with some sort of caring for Danny. When a drug deal goes south, it is Nicky who rescues Danny from the threat of violence. Afterward it is also Nicky who harvests the drug dealer’s blood to create some kind of new high.
That’s the way this movie works. There are moments of kindness, warmth, and camaraderie followed by absurdity, violence, and malevolence kicking down the door and taking center stage. From the get go it’s unclear whether Nicky is real at all and isn’t until the end that there’s any exact way to understand his character. Early moments of tension are characterized by interlopers in Danny’s home responding to Danny’s chastisements of Nicky as though they were insults lobbed at the guest.
Those guests include the drug dealer Otto (who is black but Nicky insists is a Nazi), Danny’s ex Sonja (who gives us a sense that Danny may once have been redeemable), and Danny’s father (who makes us wonder if Danny was doomed from birth). Between those visitors, there are hijinks. Insane circumstances that follow an inscrutable dream logic. That’s what makes this movie such an interesting allegory for addiction and recovery. The people and places around recovering addicts often make as little sense as the addicts’ own actions. Whether Nicky is real or just an incarnation of Danny’s relapse in waiting is immaterial. What is really going on is Nicky standing in for all of the forces that drive one away from recovery and back towards addiction.
This review might sound serious, but the movie is very funny. It handles its heavy subject matter with respect, but finds endless ways to poke fun at the suffering of its protagonist and the absurd circumstances in which he finds himself. It plays on the repeated patterns that mark addict behavior by having several scenes begin the same way, with Danny waking up in bed, going to the mirror, and lighting a cigarette. As the movie escalates, there are variations in the pattern, but it’s always there; a Groundhog Day of chaos.
On a technical level, I found the film pretty impressive too. It’s visually interesting and shows a surprising degree of restraint with its use of destabilizing techniques (Dutch angles, shaky cam, etc.). It’s also pretty well written. The script doesn’t really go in a direction, but there’s not so much a story here as there is just a series of increasingly insane vignettes. The dialogue is quick, snappy, zany, and often gross, but it works. Each character has a unique voice, but they all fit within the cracked out aesthetic the film wants to maintain.
The performances were miles better than I expected. Robert LaSardo brings Nicky to life with a bipolar energy that swings so fast it can be hard to tell what mood he’s in. At the same time, Daniel Louis Rivas provides Danny with just the right mix of resignation, desperation, and hope in constantly varying amounts. The cameos are all fair to good as well, but it’s those two that make this movie work.
Addiction is a hard thing to show in a film. So often in devolves into loved ones just explaining to the audience how bad it is while the protagonist cries, or breaks stuff, or tumbles toward rock bottom. It always gets resolved that way, right? They reach rock bottom and see the error of their ways and then find the strength to overcome their addiction and rise to their old heights. Junkie asks about what’s below rock bottom, and it has answers. It’s a movie that looks into the very real abyss that lies between addiction and recovery and wonders how in the hell anyone could ever jump across.