2007-01-19 18:01

Dan (Heath Ledger) is a charming aspiring poet and intravenous heroin user who falls in love with, Candy (Abbie Cornish), an art student from a comfortable middle-class family. The impressionable Candy gravitates towards Dan’s bohemian lifestyle and carefree ways. She is intrigued by Dan’s heroin use and decides, against his advice, to try injecting heroin instead of just snorting it. This brings her and Dan closer than ever; their passion for each other explodes but so does their obsession with their “yellow Jesus”. Soon passion and obsession turn into despair and self-destruction. As the couples’ addiction grows, so their lives begin to fall apart.


You’re curious, so you try it. You like it. You try it again. You get hooked. It destroys your life. This is the narrative of the life of any heroin addict. It is also the story of Dan and Candy. The film does not offer any new insights on heroin addiction, it only tells the tale we know so well: there’s the honeymoon phase, the downward spiral and then total desolation.

The film is aptly divided into three chapters: heaven, earth and hell. Unfortunately, the trajectory of these chapters is too familiar to move us the way the film wants to. When you see the first black screen and read the white letters, ‘Heaven’, you instinctively know things can only get worse from here on.

And so they do. For many people the whole film might be one long hell – watching the couple happily spiking in a car wash, in the bath, on their wedding day and even after Candy has found out she’s pregnant. This might be ecstasy for the characters but it causes nothing but anguish to the viewer. This insular world of heroin addiction begins to suffocate you soon after the film starts.

The film has two main flaws. Firstly, it’s difficult to be fond of the two main characters. They are junkies and junkies are hard to like. They have violent mood swings, are selfish, needy, cunning and don’t have respect for themselves or others. Because we don’t bond with Dan and Candy before they start doing drugs we feel distant from them and care less when things start to fall apart.

The film alludes that they were once likable people who really loved each other but there is no real evidence of this during the 108 minutes we spend with them. When Candy starts to prostitute herself for smack money, Dan doesn’t show any real jealousy or even disgust. Both Dan and Candy treat her new life of turning tricks as if it’s nothing worse than a late shift at a convenience store.

Even worse, Dan baulks at his wife’s suggestion that he also start selling his body for heroin. In fact the film pays more attention to his struggle with the idea of selling himself than it does with the actual prostitution of his wife.

The second major flaw is, that the film tries to be ‘cool’. After spoiling their own wedding reception, Dan and Candy go to McDonalds to celebrate. Candy takes a look around the restaurant and with a smile remarks, “We’re the coolest people in McDonalds”.

And she may very well be right. The couple are both good-looking and remain so despite the huge amounts of heroin they take. Except for making their hair oilier, the reality of drug addiction doesn’t do much to hurt their appearances. They remain cool, beautiful and fashionably dressed until the end. No doubt the writers think that this veneer of cool will add something to the film, and not weaken it as it has done.

Neither can the writers resist adding a veneer of sentimentality and arty pretensions. At times the film toys with a bizarre romanticism and even has a few stabs at being poetic. “It was beautiful. Birds filled the sky," says Dan. Candy remarks the two of them lived on "sunlight and chocolate bars."

Despite these flaws the film does have one saving grace: the acting is brilliant. Abbie Cornish’s acting is a tour de force while Heath Ledger once again proves himself as one of today’s best young actors. His calm and charming personality is believable and it is easy for the viewer to experience the film through his point of view. Geoffrey Rush also impresses, conveying his character in understated brilliance.

Candy is a proficiently made and well-performed drama but, despite these rewards, it is just too dark and depressing. The filmmakers want you to feel sorry for the characters but you don’t really care for them, which makes the film seems desperate and self-pitying.

What is most frustrating is that there are no pay-offs for what the characters have to endure in the end. They suffer through a heroin hell only to reach the end of the tunnel and find that there is no light. We suffer with them, unable to tear ourselves away from this awful but fascinating film. As Casper (Geoffrey Rush), their father figure and drug provider remarks, “When you can stop, you don’t want to and when you want to, you can’t”.

- Annel Malan

  • Warning: if you are pregnant do not watch this film. It contains one image that no one with a baby inside her will want to see.

    Candy tells the all too familiar story of a love triangle between a boy, a girl and a drug. It's well made and well acted, but never strikes a vein.
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