Drug addiction and alcoholism is a major part of American culture. As the gatekeepers of our culture Hollywood has taken notice and over the years created numerous movies centered on the topics of addiction and alcoholism. Some have played exclusively on addiction stereotypes, barely scratching the surface of this complex issue, while others have dived deeper, looking to put forth the most honest and unflinching portrayal of addiction possible.
The latter is sometimes hard to watch. Their realism capturing the emotions and downfall of the addict in ways that mimic real life. They can turn your stomach and make you want to shut off the TV, but for all the discomfort, they offer an important glimpse into the misunderstood world of the addict or alcohol.
If this is something that you are interested in then you should check out the 7 movies listed below that are universally lauded for their realistic depiction of addiction and alcoholism.
Less Than Zero
Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero, follows college freshman Clay Easton on his return home to Los Angeles for Christmas break. His best friend, Julian, played by Robert Downey Jr., and his high school girlfriend have become addicted to drugs, and Julian is on the hook for $50,000 to his drug dealer. The movie explores the excesses of the 80s and while the setting of super wealthy Beverly Hills is not particularly relatable for many people, Julian’s downward spiral into chaos and addiction is one of the most realistic ever portrayed on film.
Requiem for a Dream
Requiem for a Dream is not for the squeamish and it is the type of film that can ruin your day. I have only ever watched it all the way through once, and that is because it does not turn the lens away from any part of addiction. From Ellen Burstyn’s portrayal of an aging widow who unwittingly becomes addicted to prescribed medications, to Jared Leto’s physical disfigurement at the hands of his addiction, this film viscerally grasps the insanity that is drug addiction. The ending scene of the film is shocking and will leave you with that, “what did I just watch” feeling.
Spun is a lesser known film, but its representation of meth addiction is as accurate as I’ve seen. Its all-star cast does a great job at capturing the sleeplessness delusions of amphetamine addiction and like Requiem for a Dream, it will leave you unsettled at some of the things that you witness during its almost 2-hour long runtime. At times funny, shocking, and sad, the film will make you feel all of the emotions that addiction can bring.
It is not often that a Hollywood blockbuster gets alcoholism correct. In films like this, it is usually a peripheral issue, used as a plot device, and the alcoholic is so stereotypical that they have no substance. This is not the case with Flight, and in fact, I would say that Denzel Washington’s portrayal of an alcoholic pilot is probably the most realistic I have ever seen. From him getting drunk right before an important interview to his use of cocaine to pick himself up, to the last scene where he finally comes clean, the film shows exactly how heavy alcoholism can weigh on a person’s soul. If you haven’t watched this film yet you are missing out.
Upon its release, Trainspotting became a talking point for American politicians due to its graphic portrayal of heroin addiction. This realism is thanks to director Danny Boyle and actor Ewan McGregor, who do an amazing job at bringing Irvine Welsh’s novel to life. McGregor plays Mark Renton a Scottish heroin addict, who along with his friends, dives deeper and deeper into his addiction throughout the film. At one point in the film, Renton attempts to get clean and the scenes where he is experiencing withdrawal are vivid and hard to watch. The film also explores relapsing and death, all while showing the very dark life that heroin addiction can bring.
The Basketball Diaries
The Basketball Diaries is an interesting film because it is one of the few films to depict heroin addiction in underage teenagers. The film is based on the work of Jim Carroll and it is autobiographical in nature. Leonardo DiCaprio does some of his finest work in this film, playing Jim, a promising high school basketball star who becomes addicted to heroin, all but ruining his chances of a career in basketball. The film explores child abuse, underage prostitution, and how destructive drug addiction can be on a family. Though the film is
dark at times it does show that redemption is possible.
Leaving Las Vegas
Whether you love or hate Nicholas Cage, you can’t deny that Leaving Las Vegas is an amazing film. Many people feel that Cage’s performance in this movie is the most realistic portrayal of alcoholism ever captured on film and that is for good reason. Cage plays Ben Anderson who decides to move to Las Vegas in order to drink himself to death. Holed up in a hotel room Ben proceeds to do just this, along the way meeting prostitute Sera, played by Elizabeth Shue. The film does an incredible job at capturing the psychic pain that the alcoholic experiences and just how difficult it can be to get out from under it.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.