Daniel in the lion's den

^ drug-addicted and drug dealer, con men of vulnerable girl addicts : Daniel is both hero, villain, and living symbol of drugs as living death in documentary “Heroin : Cape Cod USA”

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Last night I attended a screening of a documentary, “Heroin : Cape Cod, USA.” Governor Baker and his wife hosted the screening; almost his entire administrative team saw the same movie that I saw, 75 minutes of camera focus on drug addicts, dealers, parents, town officials, health workers — but mostly the addicts, young people, as they ingest or shoot up the drugs that could very well kill them — and sometimes do kill them.

One sees the broken smiles, the bony torsos, the bruised fingers, the resignation, the coolness with which they feed a hunger whose ravages they know only too well. Many are handsome or beautiful, which makes all the harder watching them self destruct.

One also sees the tears in their parents eyes, the hopeless sad stare, the quiet re-tellings of good times — long past — between parent and child.

One sees the gurneys on which the overdosed die despite vigorous CPR.

Almost the entire documentary takes place at night. Many scenes, of cars rushing along fogged-out streets, or sandwiched by glaring neon, feel more like Amityville Horror, or Silence of the Lambs, than like Cape Cod of an evening. The comparison isn’t merely visual. Most drug assignations take place at night. So does the 160-mile round trip into Boston that one Daniel, an addict and dealer, takes every night to see his supplier.

Daniel is the hero and the villain of the film. He is its symbol, its hopelessness, its sufferer and its instrument of others’ suffering. It is very, very hard to watch him.

No one injects a drug during Daniel’s trip into Boston, yet for me it’s the most painful, most hopeless part of the film.  By what possession does Daniel drive all that distance at a time when most of us are regenerated by sleep ? What control makes him degenerate his health, his body, his soul even, rather than regenerate ?

We see Daniel imploring his girlfriend Colie not to go to detox, not to do what Marissa — as skeletal, spasmodic, and broken-faced as anyone in the film –says an addict seeking recover must do : separate yourself from all that you have been and from everyone you know, and walk through that detox door.

It is a very hard to do, says Marissa. We learn at film’s end that she later died of a drug overdose, at age 23.

Colie walks through that door, however, carrying all of her possessions, like an emigrant, going to another country.

At film’s end we meet her a year later, in full recovery, smiling and working two jobs, grateful — but not boastful at all. Next we see Daniel, now with a new girlfriend, Cassie, broken face ready to cry. She knows where she is : in the valley of the shadow of death. One wants to wring Daniel’s neck; but how can we, when we know that he is just as trapped, helplessly a con man, as any of his girlfriends ?

Daniel is the film’s angel of death, diseased through and through with the dying he brings to broken girls with a gentle smile. He is the film’s symbol for drug use itself : the substance with a smooth smile, a twinkled eye, a kind voice, all of it in pill form, or smoke, or injectible liquid.

To recover from addiction, an addict must leave Daniel far, far away, alone, as he is alone even when accompanied by a drug-weak girl he has conned. Daniel must have the door shut on him. He knows it perhaps more desperately than any of his girlfriends.

The film forced me to ask the question : why them, and not me ? Fifteen years ago I had surgery to fix an umbilical hernia. The hospital pharmacy gave me 40 percoset pills. I used two — later returned the other 38 to the pharmacy; indeed, let nobody know I even had them, because they are worth mucho on the street and I had no intention of seeing them stolen from me. Why was I given 40 ? Pain from a ripped stomach muscle required ,me to use two, but after that, I used ibuprofen : it did not remove the pain, but it eased it enough.

And again : how come the percosets that i did take did not addict me ? Why the people in the film, but not me ? I found nothing in the percoset effect to make me want more of it. I didn’t miss it at all. Why then do addicts come to need painkillers ? What pain do they think they are killing ?

I have no answers for these questions. All I know, from my own life and from the film, is that painkiller drugs act on some people the way a deadly virus acts on others. Until a body is invaded by a virus and becomes victim to it, who knew ? Same for painkillers. There’s nothing at all to distinguish the young people in the Heroin film from any bother young people, except that, a painkiller once taken, they were from then on owned by the need for more of it.

From then on, it’s a race between death and life to see which one will win. The Heroin film suggests that in most cases, death wins, and that even for those who life rescues, it’s thereafter a constant, everyday struggle — just as it is for people afflicted by AIDS, or diabetes, or drug-resistant tuberculosis.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere