By Hemanth Kissoon
“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday night. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?” Mark ‘Rent-boy’ Renton (Ewan McGregor), TRAINSPOTTING.
Those iconic words helped define the late-90s Brit pop-culture hegemony for about four years (1996-1999) and have echoed through every film about addiction since: drugs are at first a glamorous, exciting escape from the mundane but soon spiral into crime, humiliation and pain. However, arguably the definitive film about the fallout of drug addiction is the masterful REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, as truly a harrowing anti-drug film as you can get. And by ‘drug film’ I don’t mean people getting stoned on weed but getting high on Class A.
With that in mind, CANDY falls between many stools creating a niche for itself. It is not balls-to-the-wall gut-wrenching like REQUIEM, nor is it iconic as Trainspotting, it does not aim to be cool like Spun, nor is it as epic as Traffic, it is not a biopic like BLOW, nor an adaptation of a modern classic like FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, nor is it zeitgeist-capturing like HUMAN TRAFFIC, and not as dreamy as LITTLE FISH.
CANDY is about the metaphorical fall from Eden. Structured in a Biblical analogy of Heaven, Earth and Hell, watch as Cornish’s titular heroine is seduced to taste the forbidden fruit (heroin), and given it by boyfriend Dan (Ledger), who in an interesting gender reversal is the Eve to her Adam. The snake is the always impressive Rush as Casper the gifted chemistry professor, who can extract the narcotic from his lab at the university under the radar.
Set in an Australian suburb, budding artist Candy falls for the poet Dan and their passion for each other looms large. As their relationship deepens so does their habit, turning from the recreational to full-blown addiction before the audience’s eyes. Being an artist and a poet at the start of promising careers, mean that the couple frequently go to Candy’s parents for money and sponge drugs off Casper, which eventually turns into prostitution and identity theft. Their descent into hell could also be a cynical allegory for all relationships?
The tone of the film shifts from whimsy to darkness like the seasons from spring to winter. The sense of foreboding is palpable. You know the couple will fall but how far is palm-sweat inducing. The film does not attempt flashy visuals, but just lets the story unfold allowing a great cast to strut its stuff. Cornish, like her role in Somersault, again is luminous, and looks and moves like she is not of this world. Hopefully her next few parts will prove her to be more than just ethereal. Ledger keeps building on his ascending reputation with a dislikeable yet not unsympathetic fall guy, and Rush demands your attention with that voice of his whenever he has a scene. Noni Hazlehurst, as Candy’s mother, better watch out or she might get type-cast as ‘Aussie drug-mum’ after a similar turn in the compelling Little Fish. All have come together to portray the price of addiction and a broken family.
Not as tough going, many will be relieved, as REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, but CANDY still leaves you with a bitter taste.