May 11, 2021 – But a Hollywood movie cannot just be about boredom. It requires a meaty emotional conflict, preferably one that can be resolved in a couple of hours. Deb, for instance, says she blames doctors who overprescribed painkillers for Molly’s addiction, but the audience later learns that she left her family and that Molly grew up in a volatile, loveless home. A daughter’s feeling abandoned by her mother, the mother’s blaming herself for her child’s addiction — here is something we can chew on.

The demands of mass-market Hollywood dramas seem almost engineered to prevent honest portrayals of addiction. The films now conceive of it as a medical illness instead of a moral failing, which is positive. But Hollywood still needs to reduce a complex illness into something like a sports movie or boxing match. Molly either wins or loses, gets high or not. Her illness must ultimately be conquered by valiant displays of will. She must survive a cold-turkey withdrawal while her mother, whom she has burned one too many times, musters her last ounces of support and compassion.

The harrowing withdrawal, with its days of hellish sweats, is the most obvious aspect of addiction to dramatize: a trial of grit from which the character emerges transformed. Perhaps this is why naltrexone seems to be a favorite among some of America’s drug-court judges, who may view withdrawal as its own form of redemptive punishment. Maintenance treatments are arguably more effective and don’t require patients to be sick for a week, but they do not follow the dramatic path in which a character must reach a gripping, life-altering crisis point.


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