How Two Addicts Try to Fight Their Way into the System
Written and Directed by Vondie Curtis Hall
Reviewed by Bruce Triggs
got delayed going to the latest junkie film because an addict asked to
take a nap on my couch. I couldn't be mean to him on my way to a film
that's kind of compassionate could I? I might become one of the heartless
bastards behind this movie's "social service" desks. So I had lunch, let
him sleep, and went to the later show.
Everybody must know by now that star Tupac Shakur got killed before
Gridlock'd came out. His death is a loss when you see his work
here. It may also sadly overshadow the critical message Gridlock'd
offers about addicts' struggle in this country today.
Though the main characters Spoon and Stretch, played by Shakur and Tim
Roth, are heroin addicts, the story isn't quite about addiction. (For
that you can see last year's Trainspotting, or for a more grueling
trip check out the older German film Christine F about a fifteen
year old making all the wrong choices.)
Gridlock'd has its share of drug use scenes, but it's really
about people trying to quit, and getting no help at all. Everything pushes
them to keep using, or to just give up hope and die. It's almost like
a street life 1984 or Brazil (it's often funny), but unlike
those films unfold in imaginary settings, Gridlock'd is real, right
Life is fragile for a drug addict. The hero's girlfriend is in the hospital
in a coma, OD'd on alcohol and heroin. (An extreme example of Hollywood's
minimal roles for women.) Without her, they'll soon be homeless. Everything's
falling apart, so they set out to get straight, to make a new start in
life. Well; it ain't that easy - not by a long shot.
Before they get treatment all they have to do is:
Get a Medicaid card, also an HIV test. Then it'll be 7-10 days to get
into detox. . . Oh, but only alcohol is treated here now. You've gotta
have a temporary Medicaid card, but they're issued only for medical "necessity,"
(addiction doesn't count) and takes 4-6 weeks. So they need to get on
welfare, and the application has to be sent to Lansing.
It's a scary comedy movie - too bad it's so true. I count nine office
visits in one day before they say, "fuck it" and go get high to regroup.
One reviewer commented by this time you really hardly blame them, and
I have to agree.
The title of the film is played out literally by the characters repeatedly
running from one lead to another across city traffic, trying not to get
hit. They're too poor to be driving, all their time spent on foot. Office
to office from one desk jockey to the next, they keep moving, hoping for
a break. There's a great scene in one office where they go through an
empty "Disney line" maze pointlessly in their way. (They don't have their
"E ticket" or something, and space-mountain is closed anyway.)
They get nowhere, and the story could've bogged down (going nowhere's
what the movie's about) when it pick up speed as all hell breaks loose.
The crazy plot has cops and dealers ("Who are those guys?") with guns
around every corner. Our duo barely gets out of a dead end so they have
space to run, when they hit another wall. Shakur and Roth keep going,
and you just hope that these junkies will get what they need and find
a place to rest.
Most of the people Stretch and Spoon encounter along the way are almost
as trapped as they are. The faceless bureaucrats are obviously stuck in
the jobs they hate; that's why they're so mean. They get paid but hardly
do anybody any good. There are a few helpful people among the many battered
characters, most notably a mysterious man who, though apparently blind,
stereotypicaly sees better than most of the other people running around.
Meanwhile, we're kept in the know, sort of, as we cut to the words of
TV commentators - most people's only regular view of the street life going
on around us. (Unless they read Real Change.) The TV gives weird
little nudges to the plot, and hints at stuff we never quite get to see.
(Who did that gun belong to?)
Everybody should find something in his movie to side with: people hate
government waste, people hate bureaucracy, people hate the lack of compassion
we see so often in our jobs. We can all relate. Funny thing is, here we
are relating with junkies. The film is about people struggling against
being "disposable" in the eyes of others. Gridlock'd forces the audience
to ask whether everybody has hidden value.
These "Drug Addicts" are almost surprisingly shown to be dreamers. I
didn't even recognize them at first, but in flashbacks away from the street,
they're musicians and poets. "Cushy junkies" a friend of mine said - as
opposed to living on e street all the time - but they are real close to
losing all they've got, (in addition to getting killed) at every turn
in the story.
Eventually the maze ends. Should we call it comic or tragic? I'm not
sure. It's tragic enough along they way. Who knows what happens next?
The movie's over, Tupac Shakur is dead. We're back in real life. Meanwhile,
outside our theater there are about 20,000 IV drug users in King and Pierce
Counties alone and a total of 2 heroin detox beds. (One for a man and
one for a woman.) That's pretty damn close to none. There are about 425
methadone slots with waiting lists. But you only get in if somebody quits.
We never even get to see treatment in this movie. Maybe there'll be
a sequel? (Gridlock'd II: The Treatment Zone. Who'll play Shakur?)
Our heros may some day get into detox, but if so, that lasts for 7-10
days. That ain't much for changing your life. For treatment locally, there's
a month wait for an interview, then one to two months wait for a treatment
date. These guys would have had no chance to get what they needed here.
I've heard people advised to lie about where they live and go try Oregon
or California where "treatment on demand" may be available. (Quote from
one user advocate I interviewed, "That movie's set in New York isn't it?
They have it easy there!")
How can it be right when we pay to put people in jails, hospitals and
morgues and we never even let them try treatment? Voters agreed to $7
million for a new Pierce County jail with an additional $5 million a year
to run it. The jail is currently half full of drug cases. They get no
treatment while incarcerated, and then they're right back out on the street,
with no change in sight. This movie's the truth, and it's worth seeing
and doing something about.
My first recommendation: call ahead to save some running around. Two
guys on the phone all day would be a less dramatic movie though.