Movies We Like
We’ve all seen movies that circulate around addiction, whether it be substance abuse or recreational activities. The success of their messages can either scare the pants off an audience, urging them to never go down that path, or pull recovering addicts into a reminiscing spell. But Candy is somewhat different. Directed by Neil Armfield and co-written by the novel’s author, Luke Davies, it is a story more about the addiction of being loved and its consequences than of substance abuse.
Heath Ledger plays Dan, a sensitive, almost puppy-like poet who is addicted to heroin. Candy, played by Abbie Cornish, is an artist who falls madly in love with Dan and all of his habits, including the drug. Together they think they’ve found a bliss and complacency unlike anything they’ve ever experienced that would be the envy of any romantic, as well as a "secret glue" holding their world together. Though this euphoria is aided by the opiate, the real drug they fall under the influence of is their infatuation with one another.
The plot unfolds in a calm, linear manner, maneuvering between their comic and desperate efforts to steal from ATMs and snatch appliances to pawn for cash. Their fallbacks in terms of money droughts include Casper (Geoffrey Rush), Dan’s gay and well-to-do mentor who is a chemistry teacher and finds a way to make his own liquid heroin, and Candy’s parents, whom they deceive in order to get money. The two get married and everything seems wonderful until theft, lies, and neediness can no longer keep up with their habit. It is at this time that Candy dives into prostitution, making their relationship a disaster and destroying the boundaries that made the two feel comfortable and balanced.
The strengths of Candy rest in the film’s performances. Unlike the book, which plays more to Dan’s aggressive and selfish demeanor, the script allowed for Dan's more delicate and vulnerable spirit to be shown, rather than revisiting the clichÃ©d and overused portrayals of rock ‘n’ roll misfits. Ledger’s performance, which successfully outlined the character's need and selfishness, is brilliant because it is well-paced and highly emotional. He gives Dan an almost heroic edge as he tries endlessly to convince Candy, and himself, to stop using and live more fulfilling lives. Ledger uses things as subtle as body language to advance his character, a skill he mastered and used in various films prior to and following this one.
Cornish’s character varies from the book by being firmly more aggressive and, at times, just plain savage. Her performance, for me, is what ultimately made this a good adaptation. To merely get the dialogue and scenes down is not essential. If you can capture, by changing or keeping, the essence and spirit of the original source, you’ve done it a great justice. The message is still the same and done so in the same stages as the novel: from being in "heaven," both in love and under the influence, to "earth" where reality begins to kick in, and finally "hell" where all bets are off and no one comes out a winner. But the ending of this film, and the book, are also different and superb because there is no tragic ending in the conventional sense. True, these characters go through a lot, but they do come to a resolution that is acceptable in the end. This, along with the performances, places Candy above the rest. If you can warn people about the risks of drugs, good for you. If you can show people the difference between drugs, addiction, dependency, and the choices that need to be made in order to have a healthy lifestyle, then you’re ahead of the curve.