Heaven Knows What

Heaven Knows What ★½

Heaven Knows What is a bleak reality film about young drug addicts in New York City. The film is based on the memoirs of Arielle Holmes, a 20-year-old heroin addict. Holmes portrays Harley, her fictional self. Caleb Landry Jones portrays Ilya, another drug addict and Harley's love interest. Landry Jones is the only professional among the key actors. Filmmakers Benny and Joshua Safdie found the rest of the cast on the streets; that is, they found real heroin addicts to portray fictional heroin addicts. One actor was not able to attend the premiere at the New York Film Festival because he is currently imprisoned at Rikers Island on drug charges. To say the Safdies are concerned with authenticity in their film would be an understatement.

I had a problem with the story and the characters from the start. I found it impossible to like or sympathize with the characters. They are pathetic losers who only care about scoring drugs. Their activities and relationships center on drugs. I disliked every single one of them. I live in NYC and see people like them every day. As cruel as it sounds, I have zero tolerance and zero sympathy for them. When I lived near Tompkins Square Park, which has long been a den of seediness, I witnessed a lot of drug activity. On a daily basis, I saw drug addicts hustling locals and tourists for money to support their habit. I saw drug addicts tweaking on park benches and passed out in restaurant bathrooms (many restaurants had signs outside the bathrooms that said DO NOT DO DRUGS HERE). The addicts always earned nicknames so that when they died (they always die), the neighborhood people would know which ones they wouldn't be running into anymore.

Living where addicts hang out and do their drugs, I knew Heaven Knows What would end in despair and death. The film is a painful watch. There are a few moments in the film that are bright--a scene in which an escape exists for Harley in the form of a motorcycle ride and a scene in which she bathes and shows how normal she could look if she simply gave up the drugs. The majority of the film, however, is scenes showing drug scores and drug taking. They are monotonous and not entertaining to watch.

I understand why someone might admire the Safdies' work. Their fictional realism is very...umm, real. It is something that you do not see often in cinema. I, however, do not need to see the Safdies' realism because I see it every day. The film offered no take-away message for me. It only reinforced my disdain for drug addicts.

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