Years ago I decided I’d seen just about every permutation of the drug addict movie that I cared to see.
I hadn’t reckoned on “Animals.”
This feature debut from director Collin Schiffli and screenwriter David Dastmalchian (who also stars and based the story on his own drug history) is a revelation, not so much for what it tells us about heroin as for what it tells us about the human capacity for love.
As the film starts out, Jude (Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw) are living out of their car. They’re junkies, but at this stage of their shared habit it all seems, well, romantic.
He’s thin and dark and kinda goth. She’s girl-next-door blond. They are clearly smitten with one another and determined to share everything — from physical intimacy to their stash.
Their days are spent hanging out near Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Schiffli occasionally punctuates the human story with shots of various animals in their cages at the nearby zoo — not-so-subtle symbolism and one of the few times when the film feels forced.
When we first meet the couple, they’re what you might call middle-class junkies. They can pass for normal. They don’t seem particularly desperate. In fact, they’re enjoying themselves immensely.
They run nonviolent scams — like shoplifting CDs and reselling them on the street — to get their hands on money and drugs. If they need to up their income, Jude publishes an ad offering Bobbie’s sexual services. She’ll show up for a prearranged session at some lonely guy’s home, collect half the evening’s fee, and announce she has to deliver it to her pimp out in the car before any physical business gets underway. She and Jude laugh all the way to their dealer.
The first half of “Animals” is about drug addicts who seem to think that their love will get them through anything. The second half puts that thesis to the test. Which is stronger, romance or heroin? When your veins are twitching, are you selfless enough to give your last fix to that special someone?
Shot and performed in a naturalistic manner, “Animals” somehow manages to turn most of the drug cliches inside out, putting a human face where nowadays most of us like to think in terms of policy.