A Heartbreaking Tale of Addiction and Love, ‘Heaven Knows What’ is Unsettling and Brilliant


In one form or another, pretty much everyone has had to deal with the ravages of addiction. Whether it is battling personal demons or a loved one afflicted, the shadow of chemical dependency looms over us all. When these topics are dealt with in cinema, most films that tangle with this topic find themselves formulaically about the quest for redemption, a triumphant tale of a kind-hearted soul overcoming their personal adversity. You know, bullshit. Which isn’t to say that recovery isn’t possible for those dealing with addiction, it’s just that most of these films ignore the darkest elements of the struggle in favor of wrapping everything up with a pretty little bow on top. One film which doesn’t do that is Heaven Knows What, the latest film by Benny and Joshua Safdie, which shuns the tale of redemption in favor of a look at the cyclical nature of addiction.

The film opens with Harley (Arielle Holmes) in a public library, pleading for forgiveness from Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), her on-again, off-again boyfriend. When the long-haired Ilya ignores her pleas, Harley scrounges change and purchases some razor blades. Dejected and rejected, Arielle is pushed to a suicide attempt by the cruel taunts of the cruel man she loves. When she’s finally released from the hospital, Harley returns to life on the streets. She hooks up with Mike (Buddy Duress), a local drug dealer, and the two scrape and scrounge in the different boroughs of the city. The two spend their time shooting up, staying at flophouses, and committing various crimes to help fund their habit. Even in the big city, the world of homeless addicts is still a tight-knit circle and the manipulative and cruel Ilya is never far away. Though he is cruel and indifferent towards Harley, she loves him and, like the heroin coursing her veins, she can’t quit him. Self-medication can dull the reality of their situation, but it can’t eliminate the fact that for each of these tortured souls the next hit might very well be their last.

Heaven Knows What is based upon the unpublished memoir Mad Love in New York City by the film’s star Arielle Holmes, which recounts her own harrowing addiction and her experiences as a homeless addict on the streets of the Big Apple. Directors Benny and Joshua Safdie met the young woman on the streets and encouraged her to write about her experiences. Joshua Safdie and co-writer Ronald Bronstein adapted the writing into a heartbreaking screenplay, a multi-layered tragedy of crippling addiction. Benny and Joshua Safdie then populated the film with some real life homeless people, which works in unison with the film’s naturalistic cinematography. This is a film that captures the look of its source material, never afraid to reflect the true ugliness of its story.

Making her acting debut, Arielle Holmes is a revelation. The actress is capable of slowly breaking your heart with each and every bad decision she makes. Even working within the confines of autobiography, the actress never fills the work with self-pity, opting instead exorcise the demons of her past through an honest exploration of her darkest moments. As Harley’s other addiction, Caleb Landry Jones is also phenomenal as Ilya. You can’t help but have contempt for the character’s cruelty, though Landry Jones is able to sneak in the moments of subtle tenderness that ensnared Harley. Also making his acting debut is Buddy Duress, who the press notes call “a 29-year-old street legend.” Neither of these characters are particularly likable, but you can’t help but empathize with a roster of characters that are circling the drain of life.

The story, the look, and the acting of Heaven Knows What is unsettling, but not in a bad way. That unsettling tone of the film is amplified by the pulsating synthesized of Isao Tomita’s bizarre arrangements of Claude Debussy. The music recalls the synthesizer soundtracks from John Carpenter’s horror films. It gives Heaven Knows What the feel of a different kind of horror film. There’s no evil or fears personified here, but there’s a different kind of destructive entity that lingers around the corner of every frame of the film.

Heaven Knows What is an unsettling and affecting film that explores the horrors of heroin addiction without judgment. Here we have a film that avoids that moment of clarity, where the lead character is forced to confront the errors of their ways before sending the audience out full with a smile on their face. But Arielle Holmes and Benny and Joshua Safdie know that’s not how it works. They’ve crafted a film that reflects the terrifying reality of its subject. It’s not inconceivable that each of the characters on screen might be dead within months, if not weeks. But the film still finds some ironic humor in its subject, like when Mike is telling Harley not get on a motorcycle because it might kill her even though the duo just scored some heroin. Since leaving the screening room, the haunting tragedy of Heaven Knows What has lingered in my mind. This is a powerful film that should not be missed.

Heaven Knows What opens in New York and Los Angeles on May 29th and expand to other cities following that. 

Shop Deadpool tees in our officially licensed Marvel store!

Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
Steven Seagal Sleepwalks Through ‘Cartels’

Amazingly, there are some people still willing to pay Steven Seagal...

Leatherface 2017
‘Leatherface’ Delivers a Bloody Underwhelming Origin for a Horror Icon

For some reason there are those who think that everything has...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ Entertains Despite Pulling its Punches

Watching Kingsman: The Secret Service felt like you were witness to...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Nights of Azure 2
Koei Tecmo America Details Demon-Slaying Action For Nights Of Azure 2: Bride Of The New Moon

Survive the environments of Nights Of Azure 2: Bride of the...

SteelSeries North
SteelSeries Announces Partnership with FC Copenhagen, Nordisk Film and Their Top-Ranked Counter-Strike Team, North

Three of the Most Successful Danish Brands Team up to Accomplish...

Warriors All-Stars Review
It’s a KOEI TECMO Party – Warriors All-Stars Review [PS4]

Why are games that bring together characters from numerous other titles...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
VIZ Media Announces New Digital Manga Content For August Update

VIZ Media details digital manga updates for August highlighted by the...

VIZ Media Announces New Manga and Literary Acquisitions At Anime Expo

VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), a premier company in the fields of...

Supergirl Makes Contact in ‘Supergirl Being Super’

Title: Supergirl Being Super #4 Writer: Mariko Tamaki Artist: Joelle Jones...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
New Atari 2600/Sega Genesis Systems from AtGames Now Available

Classic Gaming Lives Again with Release of New Atari 2600/Sega Genesis...

urban armor gear
New Urban Armor Gear Exo-Skeleton Case for Android Tablets

UAG creates an ingenious adjustable protective case for the toughest Android...

New Urban Armor Gear UAG Plasma Series LG V30 Case

Lightweight and slim, the UAG Plasma Series LG V30 Case provides...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Mayweather and McGregor Previous Fights Now On Demand on Cable, Plus Interviews, Workouts and More

From iN DEMAND – New York, Aug. 17 – Before the...

Rumble on the Water 2 Delivers Punching Power

July 29, 2017 – Long Beach, CA – The Queen Mary...

UFC Star Jon ‘Bones’ Jones Releases Emoji App – BonesMoji

From BonesMoji – Los Angeles, CA., July 27, 2017 – One...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?

A totally true recap of the most important geek cultural even...

Comics on the Can: Schick Hydrobot and the Transformers

Written by John Barber, Pencils by Steve Kurth, Inks by Juan...

Star Wars Themed Lands Will be the Perfect Safe House for the Rebellion and the First Order

Disney’s D23 Expo has revealed a lot of what is to...

Event News Event Reviews
The Third Annual ‘BeerX’ from 91X in San Diego Featured Sunburns and Beer Goggles

This past Saturday, I attended the 3rd annual BeerX, presented by...

anime film festival
LA-Anime Film Festival Kicks Off to Celebrate 100 Years of Anime Films

Los Angeles Anime Film Festival (LA-AFF), presented by international creative company...

stan lee
Extraordinary: Stan Lee at The Saban Theatre

Comedian, Nerdist CEO, and podcast extraordinaire Chris Hardwick will lead a roster of...

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Gaming Uncensored: Year in Review 2016

A look back at the year in gaming.

Gaming Uncensored Roundtable: December 2016

December’s roundtable discusses story in games with Chad, Josh, and Spencer....

Gaming Uncensored: Podcast #349

Jamie reflects on some of his time with the HTC Vive....

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Lahna Turner’s ‘Limeade’ is a Hilariously Haunting Comedy Album

Many people are roll their eyes at the idea of musical...

Prince’s ‘Deliverance’ Reminds Us of Who We Lost

On Friday, April 21st, it will be one year since we...

Sabroso Fest, How can you go Wrong with Beer, Tacos and Lucha Libre!?!(Photo Gallery)

The Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco and Music Festival sponsored by 95.5...