The hazy, mind-churning world of drug addiction is explored in director Neil Armfield's low-budget "Candy." Based on Luke Davies' novel "Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction," the film follows the harrowing descent of a young couple into the painful enslavement of heroin addiction. Filmed in Australia with two of that country's best young actors, the film hits a nerve with its mournful portrait of a romance tainted by drugs. It is a somber, painful movie that avoids glamorizing its subject to honestly convey the tragic consequences.
Wasting no time getting to the point, the film opens with its two young lovers Candy (Abbie Cornish) and Dan (Heath Ledger) getting high on heroin. While her experience has been mostly minimal and experimental, she decides to plunge right into it the way he does. She nearly dies from her reaction, but Dan frantically revives her. This abrupt and jolting scene sets the mood for the relationship the two will share throughout the rest of the movie. Isolated from his family, Dan finds a surrogate father in Casper (Geoffrey Rush), a gay professor who is also addicted to drugs. He takes the couple under his wing, providing them with money for drugs or sometimes just with drugs while also giving them sometimes nurturing advice.
When Candy and Dan decide to get married, her parents give them their blessing, not yet completely aware of the couple's addiction. The marriage is, to say the least, tumultuous at first, as the two spend whatever money they have to buy drugs. They take to living in a rundown warehouse. When they have no money for heroin, she turns to prostitution while he steals. Their lives increasingly spiral out of control, and from day to day they go from ecstasy to absolute suffering. Everything changes, briefly, when she discovers that she is pregnant. Eager to provide their child with a healthy upbringing, Dan and Candy give up drugs altogether and move into a small house in the country. Their dependency, however, has grown too strong, and what they thought was a new beginning becomes just another stop on their road to self-destruction.
Separated into three sections titled "Heaven," "Earth," and "Hell," the film unfolds the characters' initial enjoyment of the drug, their wakeup call to the reality of it, and their ultimate downfall. In spite of the name, there is nothing heavenly or wonderful about the first section of the film except in the characters' own eyes. Director Armfield and co-screenwriter Davies are careful not to present the addiction as a positive in any way. Even when Candy and Dan are at their most ecstatic, there is a sense of sadness to the whole situation that keeps the audience firmly in the know. We can only watch, in horror, as these two give themselves over to destruction.
The performances from the two leads are incredible. Abbie Cornish is so poignant as Candy, creating a young woman with depth and intelligence who has suffered for a long time and can find no other outlet. At times vivacious and full of life, at others on the verge of a breakdown, Cornish is an actress of extraordinary talent and uncanny perception. Heath Ledger sheds the pretty-boy image to embody the frustrated Dan, whose love for Candy is the one thing that holds his life together and at the same time is being ripped apart by his addiction. This emphasis on their relationship is really what keeps the movie intriguing. We are not so much invested in the addiction itself, but in the bond between these two characters that is being slowly whittled away at.
As Casper, veteran actor Geoffrey Rush creates a complex figure. He feeds Dan and Candy's vice without hesitation, almost gleefully in fact, and yet he understands the negative outcome that will surely come out of it. As a professor, he keeps up an air of authority and responsibility, and yet in so many ways he is just as naïve and irresponsible as the young couple. The difference is that his naivety seems willful, as if it is a solution to something far worse. Tony Martin and Noni Hazlehurst are heartbreaking as Candy's parents, never giving up on her but unable to help her escape the turmoil of her life.
THINKFilm's DVD presentation is overall very good. The film is delivered in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen TVs. The image is mostly clean, though there are some occasional flecks. There is some grain, and black levels are sometimes murky, but I believe this is probably the intended look. Colors are usually pale, which I also attribute to the director's intention. Although most of the film was shot in broad daylight, the colors appear to have been stripped of their vibrancy to reflect the emotional states of the characters. Aside from this, the image is generally sharp and clean.
The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The film is heavy with dialogue, which is pushed toward the front along with the music. Pretty much the only time the surround comes into play is in outdoor scenes with traffic noises streaming through the rear channels. Everything sounds fine, but there is really not a lot to remark on about this track.
Neil Armfield and Luke Davies provide a nice commentary track on this disc. They talk a little bit about the adaptation and the writing, playfully criticizing each other. Naturally there is some discussion of the production and the responses the film received in preview screenings. This is all pretty standard stuff, and it is an enjoyable listen.
A feature called "Writing on the Wall: Candy's Poem in Motion" gives us an animated interpretation of the touching poem that Candy scribbles on the walls of her home toward the end of the film. The words of the poem appear as text onscreen while Abbie Cornish's voice is heard reciting it. Images from the film appear behind the text. This feature lasts roughly two-and-a-half minutes. A nine-minute making-of featurette, "Candy: The Path to Wild Abandon," provides interviews with the cast and crew as well as some behind-the-scenes footage. A trailer rounds out the special features.
There is no easy way to approach this film. Heroin addiction is serious subject matter, and this is in no way an "entertaining" movie. In the hands of the young leads, the story is made painfully real and moving. Approached form the proper mindset, "Candy" is a rewarding experience. It may not be one that you will want to return to any time soon, but it is one that you will not soon forget.