Directed by: Josh & Benny Safdie
Written by: Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie
Starring: Arielle Holmes, Buddy Duress, Ron Braunstein, Eleonore Hendricks, Caleb Landry Jones
Complete co-dependency to another, as an extreme, can be harmful to the point where it does not allow any level of independence. Whether it be with a person or a substance, this impact can leave harmful effects, which propels and anchors this drug-addled tale. A specific look at this character’s life that goes beyond the page on which it was adapted.
With no home or other place to go, heroin addict Harley (Arielle Holmes) has a serious falling out with her boyfriend, Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones). This leaves her looking for new people to be around and to serve as a source to feed her addiction.
Quite often, people who do not live in New York and hate the idea of it paint this picture of it being this hellscape where everywhere around them would be homeless people and drug addicts. A harmful stereotype and way of generally looking at people. However, showing them Heaven Knows What would probably not be the best move in order to prove them wrong, as it shows the genuine troubles one could have in this predicament in the city. This narrative just lays it all out there with no qualifiers or care for judgement. This take on the story ultimately makes it such an engaging experience even if it becomes difficult to watch at times.
Based on a book written by Arielle Holmes, who also stars and genuinely experienced what this character goes through, a sense of genuineness flows throughout the film. Nothing gets played up in order to sensationalize what occurs to this character seeing as the very person doing the acting encountered everything here. Quite the intriguing way to tell the story and for the most part, Arielle did well in portraying essentially herself in the story. If anything it would be intriguing to get her perspective on how she felt portraying something that actually occurred in her life and essentially has it documented.
Having her take on this character allows a shining light to demonstrate what it means to be completely co-dependent on others. She gets most of her money from begging on the streets and then uses it to barely survive and then get high. A vicious cycle she found herself in and it only gets worse when she becomes codependent on the men in her life. This leaves her at the whims of these men and how they can drop her out of their lives in an instant and she would be left with nothing. A grim reality but this bleak feeling serves as everything the film wants to evoke from the audience through its narrative.
This film certainly does not supply many laughs nor does it want to, seeing as it wants to highlight the struggle of this life and Harley managed to barely get by. Scenes where she shoots up heroin contain this melancholic visual spark to it, which shows the damage this does to her overall while also demonstrating why she craves this drug so much. Addiction is a disease and she cannot muster what it takes to battle it, which leaves her in a constant cycle of finding others who can help her maintain this source of pleasure. Happy moments come at a premium and even those remotely close to bringing joy would certainly not be considered jubilant.
Co-directing this feature are the Safdie Brothers who have a distinct way in which they capture New York City. Wholly unique as they are unafraid to capture the city they love but focus on the side no one cares to look at or get involved with much like Eliza Hittman. The rough look the film has overall gives it a gritty feeling while also utilizing some fascinating visuals in order to display the impacts everything has on the young woman. This film leads up to their true breakout in Good Time, which cemented them as a directing duo to watch then to what has made them household names, Uncut Gems. You don’t even have to tell me this is a Safdie Brothers film because it carries all of their trademarks that have made them distinctive filmmakers.
Raw, honestly brutal, but always engaging, Heaven Knows What tells a grim but invigorating story about trying to make it out on the streets. It serves as a warning to its audiences but also a piece of reflection for the star and author of the feature. Never has New York looked less attractive but nonetheless, this film captures what it means to struggle in the most basic ways while also trying to feed a dangerous addiction. Hard to recommend this to others with how bleak it gets but still deserves plenty of respect.