Tag Archive for drugs

On Celebrity, Addiction, and Art: Why Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Matters

Update, 2/7/2014: Aaron Sorkin‘s brief tribute to Hoffman from Wednesday, February 5 struck a chord, so you should go read it. DeBieHive also published a great piece on addiction, and the way it affects not only the addict but everyone around him. 

Yesterday one of my favorite actors, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was found dead in his New York apartment with a needle hanging from his left arm. He’d openly discussed his issues with addiction before, and today a friend of his claimed the actor genuinely seemed to have his life back together. This is exactly what people said about Cory Monteith.


“We are uncool.” A discussion of the quicksand that is celebrity in Almost Famous.

Every time someone famous and talented dies, those of us in the real world are subjected to ridicule for mentioning it. My Facebook has blown up with snarky, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” and “I have no sympathy for this,” and “Who the fuck cares? You didn’t know him.” These same folks said the same thing about Paul Walker and Monteith when I mentioned I was upset to hear of their deaths. (And by the way, though I can’t say I respected Walker’s acting career particularly, NO ONE deserves to die that way, particularly not someone who devoted large chunks of his personal life to charity.)

Why is any death less significant than any other death? Why do people feel the need to slither out of the woodwork and vehemently attack those who mourn the passing of young, talented people?film Heist 2015

I have seen either 28 or 29 of the movies in which Mr. Hoffman performed, and each time he was onscreen he affected me. That means at least 60 hours of my life, not counting time in the college classes in which I studied his roles, and time spent contemplating and writing about his performances, I spent with this man. He played grief, anger, intensity, love, and poignant humanity in a way that no other actor of our generation has. He had an incredible presence, a way of inhabiting each and every role he got his hands on, that deserves recognition no matter the way he died.

“I do many, many things.” (2012’s The Master).

Maybe instead of taking to the internet to claim you lack sympathy, that “the only reason people give a shit about this guy’s death is that he was famous,” it’s time to discuss why our culture venerates celebrity, loves to follow the travails of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and their ilk, but condemns the drug abuse that so often accompanies this celebrity. These people live in a world where anything and everything is available to them due to stature, money, and a cadre of hangers-on who wish to provide. Maybe it’s time to quit being self-righteous dicks about death, and discuss the fact that drug abuse is common, not only in the poor and under-educated, but among the wealthy, famous, and talented. Let’s face it: it’s even common in the middle class. And that in any case, it’s a terrible illness that needs not your contempt, but a discussion of how to help stop it. How do we care for the addicted? How can we provide assistance to those in need? Publicly scrutinized deaths like those of Hoffman, Monteith, River Phoenix, or Amy Winehouse (and the list goes on) should not be ignored or shoved aside. Those who mourn them should not be viewed in contempt. Let’s actually talk about drug abuse. Let’s actually talk about celebrity. Let’s not diminish the importance of someone’s death because of the cause; let’s not diminish death, period.

Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman. I, for one, will miss you as though you were a friend. Your brilliant performances will live on in celluloid and digital prints and your memory with the people who loved you. I hope your demons no longer haunt you. I’ll continue to hope that a life like yours will bring out the best in people instead of the worst. That you’ll be an inspiration for those to come.


“I’m a fucking idiot!” In one of my favorite performances in film history, Hoffman played poor, rejected, messed-up Scotty in P.T. Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

Movie Review: Side Effects (2/9/13)

Movie Poster: Side Effects

Side Effects

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay by Scott Z. Burns

Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

How long is Side Effects? 106 minutes.
What is Side Effects rated? R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language.

CLR Rating: 4/5 stars

Movie Still: Side Effects

Rooney Mara as Emily Taylor in Side Effects.
Photo: Barry Wetcher/©Open Road Films

Fantastic Four live streaming film

Steven Soderbergh goes out in style with classic-style thriller.

Steven Soderbergh has a range unlike most of his compatriots, and he doesn’t buy into the Hollywood bullshit. The man arguably began the indie film craze in the 1990s with sex lies and videotape, coaxed a good performance out of Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, dabbled in ensemble heist flicks with the Ocean’s franchise, and in the last year, has cinematically paid tribute to such varied and fascinating personae as Chippendale dancers and female MMA fighters. This weekend’s Side Effects is apparently his last film; he’s retiring from “cinema.” In a recent interview, he eloquently explained his frustration with making big movies, attracting talent, and the shift in the cultural significance of television. For a man with such impressive range, Soderbergh indicates he’s got his feet firmly on the ground. Most of his work adheres to the Classical Hollywood style, and Side Effects is no exception: it’s a complex but clean vignette in the key of Adrian Lyne.

Side Effects is the twisty story of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a depressive young woman whose wealthy husband (Channing Tatum) has been in prison for insider trading. Upon his release, Emily begins to flounder. After a failed suicide attempt, she starts seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist who prescribes a new SSRI called Ablixa. Among Ablixa’s many side effects (dizziness, irritability, dry mouth, all of those enticing terms the announcers in drug adverts list soothingly as the camera pans through a serene emerald field or focuses on a woman happily enjoying a meal with her husband), one stands out: parasomnia, or sleepwalking. The fine print can be a real beast, particularly in the drug world. In a series of gentle but startling twists, it becomes clear Emily has fashioned herself quite a tangled web. Her former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) jumps into the fray, and before long, both doctors and patient are mired deeply in an ethical quagmire.

Overuse of antidepressants is a contentious topic in the medical community. Detractors of SSRIs and other variations of mood-altering drugs have declared these medications make patients feel “not themselves,” while proponents note that they simply even out misfiring brain chemicals. We are a culture of fast food, fast cars, and fast recovery – and what faster way to stop feeling a poisonous fog rolling through your head than to pop a pill? This is perhaps a cultural phenomenon unique to America; as Dr. Banks notes, in the UK it is assumed someone taking antidepressants is sick, but here in the U.S., it is assumed they are getting better.

Soderbergh subtly portrays Emily’s experiments with various drugs (Zoloft, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Effexor) with distorted reflections, mangled silhouettes, and gentle focus pulling. Emily can’t see herself in her own reflection, whether in the soaring glass wall of a Wall Street gala or in the bathroom at her job. Her face is not her own. The question, formed subtly in imagery and then unambiguously in plot, is whether the prescription drugs, piled one on top of another to patch her rapidly fraying mental state, distort and detach her, or if she isn’t at all what she seems.

An early review called Side Effects a “pharmaceutical thriller,” and while catchy, that’s a bit of a misnomer. Although Soderbergh cites Fatal Attraction as inspiration and Side Effects does indeed utilize the sketchy nature of Big Pharma, it’s a clean psychological drama with hints of other genres: there’s a little bit of Psycho in the final reveal, and more than a touch of Rosemary’s Baby in Thomas Newman’s lilting score. It offers a bit of murder mystery a la Dial M for Murder, and a healthy dose of femme fatale. Its intrigue is perhaps a bit too complex; it’ll take you a few moments to sort out what’s actually happening. The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, a frequent Soderbergh collaborator, is subtle, intelligent, slightly hypnotic; when secrets begin to bubble to the surface, you’re left feeling a little dumbfounded.

Rooney Mara’s standout but tiny performance in The Social Network impressed David Fincher so much he cast her in the American version of the Swedish Millenium series. She proved a chameleon able to more than hold her own against Daniel Craig, Robin Wright, and Stellan Skarsgaard. Emily Taylor has a touch of Lisbeth Salander, a veiled fragility tinged with psychosis and startling intelligence. Mara’s talent is in her ability to play tough and delicate in tandem. In Side Effects Mara again holds an entire film on her shoulders, outshining veterans Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones; the Hollywood standbys are more than adequate, but neither puts in a breakthrough performance.

On a long trip over the holidays, I listened to the audiobook of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a distinctly American murder mystery gone awry. By the time I reached my destination, halfway through the book, I was absolutely certain whodunit. By the time I returned home a week later after finishing the tale, I felt like I’d been sucker-punched by the novel’s series of sudden twists. Side Effects isn’t quite as shocking or astonishing, but the numerous plot corkscrews and loop-de-loops may leave you feeling a bit tired. Soderbergh prefers ambiguity over pandering, and something tells me if critics have problems with the complexity of plot, he’d respond like this.

The film opens with a long, Hitchcockian zoom into an apartment building; it closes on a slow zoom out from the window of a mental institution, neatly shutting the metaphorical window. Ambiguity be damned, this is what you get. Soderbergh, says a friend and collaborator in the Vulture interview, favors style over substance. That can certainly be said about Side Effects. Stylistically it’s a classic, well-made Hollywood psychological thriller. It lacks a bit of the depth and substance you might wish for, but if you’re in the mood for something smart, clean, and thought-provoking, it’s just the remedy.