13/12. Trainspotting/Candy: Blessed are the pure of heart…
NOTE: The next three posts will cover 2 positions on the list as the films discussed are linked in some way. This is why the list is a top 22. Actually that doesn’t really explain anything. Don’t tell anyone though ok? Everyone act natural.
For various reasons that I won’t go into in depth I am on more than nodding terms with the impact of addiction. In recent years many good people have been more vocal about the importance of not painting all people with these difficulties with the same brush and tirelessly campaigning for greater awareness and understanding. This is, unsurprising, a cause I support. One thing I am less keen on is blanket statements about experiences and problems. For example, a lot of people through the years have been very quick to say that addicts are selfish so now the same people who protest such sweeping claims take the opposite position: They are NOT selfish. They can’t help it. Try and empathise with their choices and not write people off.
But anyone who has ever been or known an addict well can testify to the fact that self involvement and avoiding consequences are usually part of the cycle. That is not to say they are evil or should be ignored but what are we achieving by suggesting that selfishness plays no part in the stories of addicts? Hell most people who live to tell the tale of frequent and all consuming drug abuse are usually able to describe a moment where they looked in the mirror and really saw themselves. Then comes the choice. Is is reality or oblivion? Gamble on which one looks more appealing, take a deep breath and go…Inevitably there will be a trail of chaos left in your wake either way.
Both Candy and Trainspotting deal with heroin addiction but from opposite sides of the world. In Traninspotting we are treated to the highs, lows and even lower lows of Edinburgh junkie life and in Candy the deterioration of a hot young Australian couple whose passion for each other is matched only by their passion for hard drugs. Both films have scenes where babies die because their parents are too lost in their own spiral to take in the needs of another. Both scenes take place roughly half way through the film. None of the characters have yet hit rock bottom.
Now before I get to discuss the two scenes separately (again, no clips of the moments in question I’m afraid although in this case you should thank me) I might as well tell you my bias for Trainspotting. Trainspotting was adapted from one of the best books I have ever read to one of the best films I have ever seen. Candy…well…it is not as well written and therefore not as convincing. The most common complaint I have read is that the lead characters Heath Ledger and Abbie Cornish are just too beautiful to be drug addicts. Well I have many things to say about that. But I will stick to two things:
1) Two of the best looking, most charming, kind and seemingly functional people I have ever known died of a drugs overdose. Fun fact: Some addicts shower.
2) Take a good long hard look at the list of prescription medication Ledger was on when he died and tell me again he is too attractive to be a drug addict.
So yeah, it is not their attractiveness that makes Candy less enjoyable it is just…Trainspotting is more interesting to watch. There is no better way to demonstrate this than by showing you their opening scenes.
Candy is directed a bit like a student film. I get it! They are spinning on a fairground ride cause that is just like drugs and love…Like what this film is about. Clever.
Listen to the music…watch the slow motion. Note the casting of Oscar winning actor Geoffrey Rush. LISTEN TO THE POEM. This film is super cereal.
Now watch the opening to Trainspotting. Please. Have a great 2 minutes on me:
It is gloriously thrilling. You know these guys, you are in. You are just so IN.
In another misguided piece of common criticism, some people have confusingly taken the thrill of the opening as glamorising drug use. But if you watch this film and see glamour and want to emulate these people then there is something already lose in your brain and no amount of intervention will help.
Oh the razzle dazzle…
Candy is as much about the relationship between the two characters as anything and they are just kind of tedious as people, no fun at all, and hard to care about. The characters in Trainspotting are largely horrible but they are also funny, entertaining, dangerous, recognisable and often covered in shit.
So yeah, one film is better than the other. But who wins in the battle of the disturbing moments? It is a very close thing.
In Trainspotting we are introduced to Mother Superior’s place (named for the length of his habit) where the characters go for the fix and…wait. Hold up…Is that a…
Oh God you don’t belong here!
Baby Dawn is previously seen twice before the title appears on the screen and is easily forgotten about. Which is kind of the problem as it turns out. Quickly following a joyless montage of our lead characters going to greater and greater lengths to score, we the audience are jolted into Hell by the sound of Alison screaming. The others head to the cot and the camera slowly pans over the reveal of Baby Dawn lying soiled, damp and cold in her cot as her mothers terrible screams fill your ears. But she can scream all she wants. The baby is dead.
Renton, played superbly by Ewan McGregor, narrates dourly: ‘I wish I could think of something to say…something sympathetic…something human.’ Seemingly because there is nothing else to be done, some of the characters quit standing over the deceased infant and go back to cooking up. The distraught Alison begs Rents for a hit and he deadpans: ‘But only after me. That went without saying.’
SUPER glamorous amirite?
The baby goes on to haunt Renton as he tries to get clean in an infamous (and cheap) effect but it is not that moment that gets me. It is the sight of a dead child prompting a group of adults to immediately return to the heroin to get them through it.
In Candy, the characters of Dan and Candy are trying to stay clean but the sake of their unborn and seemingly unplanned child but are not finding it easy. There is very little about these moments that suggest they are anticipating parenthood with any tender delight:
One of the saddest things about addiction is how it can remove your ability to manage anything sober even things that ought to be enjoyable or exciting.
But of course, there is nothing enjoyable about withdrawal. As they start to crack and end up fighting each other, Candy is screaming and suddenly there is blood…So once again we have the terrible frantic and seemingly never-ending cries of a bereaved Mother as their baby arrives too soon and is stillborn. But what really sells this scene, and makes it surpass Trainspotting in terms of my personal disturbance, is Dan’s desperate plea to the Doctor as he clutches his tiny dead son. ‘His leg moved’ he gasps through his stuttered sobs. To which he gets the reply: ‘It’s just a spasm.’ Oh God, that happens? Dan seems to crumble and can hardly stand….Then it cuts to the young couple dozing together, still holding their child.
Horrible, horrible stuff.
I suppose the reason why calling addicts selfish seems cruel is because shame is rarely a good motivator for change when it comes from others. It just makes people retreat further into their coping strategy to lick their wounds. Does pointing out that these people lost their children because of their own terrible choices chance the pain they experience at the loss? No. They need help. They deserve help. They deserve to grieve, to hate themselves without being hated. But the deaths of the children in both films does tell you something important, something significant, something devastating about the nature of addiction:
Some people are not ready to change. Some people never will. And those within range will eventually, one way or another, become collateral damage.
All the ‘my thoughts are with your family’ in the world can’t change that.
Tomorrow…Or maybe the night after that due to travelling commitments…The grimness intensifies with two little words-‘have fun’ and some grainy footage of a real tragedy that seems more relevant than ever…#11/10