'Beautiful Boy': Why it Matters

Warning: spoilers ahead.

In the movie Beautiful Boy, David Sheff is constantly asking himself “Why?” Why did his son, Nic, fall into an addiction to crystal meth? Why can’t he, as a father, do anything to help his son, his beautiful boy? And why aren't his attempts at getting his son back working?

Based on a pair of memoirs by Nic and David Sheff, who are played on screen by Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy brings attention to a subject that, in 2018, is still taboo to talk about. In 2017, approximately 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses and between 2010 and 2015, the number of deaths from drug overdoses involving psychostimulants more than doubled. Despite the fact that this is a prevalent issue, we still find addiction hard to discuss and easy to misunderstand. We still feel uncomfortable when the subject comes up even though there are plenty of us who have direct knowledge of or experience with addiction and addicts. We still struggle to find the right ways to perceive and to represent addiction without doing harm to those who have dealt with it or to those who have seen a loved one go through it. And that, according to Chalamet, is exactly why this movie is so important. In an interview with Time, he says "We talk about drug abuse as a moral failing. For us, that’s a hope for the movie: that it starts a conversation to see it not as a taboo.”

At one point, Nic says to his father that the first time he tried crystal meth it was like his world went “from black and white to Technicolor” and that he felt better than he ever had. Throughout the movie, we see Nic move through the cycles of recovery and relapse. As viewers, we feel David’s frustration as Nic seemingly begins to get better, only to return to drugs because of the good feeling they provide him with. David helps his son again and again. Our hearts break as David faces the feeling that he failed as a parent, as he carries the weight of his son’s decisions. David loses sleep, does research, travels far and wide, chases Nic down, and cries over him to no avail. One night, Nic calls his father asking for help one more time but this time, rather than coming to the rescue, David says no and at that moment the whole theater seemed to brace itself for the worst. We start understanding addiction from both sides and it's more complicated than we could have ever imagined. As an audience, we're right along with David: unsure of what to do anymore, convinced that this is a losing battle, grasping for an answer that seems out of reach.

But that’s the important thing about this movie and the thing I want to draw attention to: it doesn't try to tell its audiences how to deal with addiction. It doesn't pretend to have all the right answers or to even inch closer to those answers by the time the ending comes around. The movie doesn't come to a tragic conclusion nor does it reach a happy ending. Instead, it embraces the heartbreaking challenge, the implausibility of finding one correct way to navigate the issue, the heartbreaking concept of being a parent and feeling incapable of helping your child. At the same time, it sends a glimmer of hope to those dealing with addiction that they aren't alone, that they can go through hell and still find their ways out.

Beautiful Boy may not come to the ending that viewers are expecting from a movie, but it reflects the inconclusive nature of these moments for the real life of David and Nic Sheff. It creates a tension that is a reality for many people. By the end, the movie gives the audience things to consider about the importance of talking about addiction, the harmful ways in which society seems to almost normalize drug usage, and of the way that sometimes even when you put all your effort into helping someone, you can’t and that’s not your fault.

Beautiful Boy is exactly the kind of conversation starter we need. It’s an important way of saying that even in the difficult times, you aren't completely alone.

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