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Three Must-See Movies about Addiction

A wise man once said that the purpose of all art is to “make the stone stony” again. What he meant by that was that art enables us to see the world and all the familiar things in it with fresh eyes, as if we’ve never seen them before.

Movies, too, possess this extraordinary power. Directors often use it to discuss important subjects and make us think about them more thoroughly. They employ visual and sound effects, manipulate timing and spatial relations, and use other elements of the cinematographic language to broaden our perception, wake up our emotions, and deepen our understanding of other people’s struggles.

One of these struggles for millions of people worldwide is addiction – an important topic we should educate ourselves about.

Granted, a film about addiction may not exactly be the best choice if you just want to relax at the end of an exhausting workday. That’s why we made sure to include in our pick not just dramas that shake you to the core but also a movie that takes a more lighthearted approach to this subject.

Rounders (1988)

Rounders follows the story of Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), a student paying off his student loan by playing poker. At the beginning of the movie, Mike loses all of his savings and promises himself and his girlfriend he won’t play poker anymore. Instead, he finds a part-time job to pay off his debts, but the promise is soon broken when his friend Worm (Edward Norton) goes out of prison.

The three poker players portrayed in the movie are very different from one another. Joey Knish (John Turturro), Mike’s mentor, thinks of poker as a good source of extra income. For him, poker playing is just a way of earning money on the side, nothing more. He’s a realist in his gambling exploits. Mike’s friend Worm, on the other hand, is more of a con artist than a gambler and thrives on cheating others. And in contrast to the two, there’s Mike himself, who sees poker as a lifestyle and a need, something addiction specialists would have no trouble identifying as gambling disorder.

Some viewers criticized Rounders for depicting gambling as a glamorous activity and something that can be an acceptable occupational choice. Indeed, in one of the movie’s most famous scenes, the dean of the law school Mike attended before dropping out to pursue his gambling career concludes that “We can’t run from who we are; our destiny chooses us.” Well, we’ll have to disagree with you on that, sir.

Trainspotting (1996)

Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting is a movie that follows a group of heroin addicts in an economically depressed area of Edinburgh. And even though there were heated – and, in our opinion, absurd – debates about whether this movie takes a “pro-drug” or “anti-drug” stance, everybody agrees that the way it portrays drug addiction is spot-on. Director Danny Boyle knows that addiction turns a person’s life into a string of unimaginably tedious daily routines that only two things can alleviate: more drugs and the compassion of fellow drug users.

The movie follows the story of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), a young man who struggles with heroin addiction, and his group of friends. The story is narrated by Renton, who introduces us to his friends. All of them are in relationships, but nobody is settled in any way, and there’s no place they can call home.

The movie offers a sobering perspective on addiction, what it does to people and their families, and how easy it is to relapse once you’re in the same drug-using company.

However, what makes this movie truly inspiring is the empathy and absence of moralizing. The makers of Trainspotting clearly thought that their job was to faithfully portray the life of a heroin user, and that the viewers are perfectly capable of drawing their own conclusions from what they see.

When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

When a Man Loves a Woman is a movie that tells the story of how alcoholism affects marriage. And while most films represent the upward path of becoming an addict – the initial lapse, hitting bottom, and, finally, recovery – When a Man Loves a Woman takes a different approach. The real journey begins when an addict sets their foot on the path to recovery.

Alice Green (Meg Ryan) is a high school counselor who drinks all day. At the same time, her husband Michael (Andy Garcia) knows she drinks occasionally but is not aware of the extent of her alcohol habit.

For Alice, the final relief comes when she confesses her problems with alcohol to her husband. For Michael, the agony starts the moment she stops drinking because he finds himself unable to let go of the responsibilities he was taking upon himself while Alice was struggling with her addiction. To him, this looks like losing control, and he feels threatened. The great thing about this movie lies in the uncertainty in which it ends – we don’t know if the couple will work it out because, after all, that’s life depicted realistically. Not all stories have a happy ending.


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