Poet Dan (Ledger) and art student Candy (Cornish) fall madly in love, but their lust for life includes a taste for heroin. Their addiction has inexorably degrading and tragic consequences, and hard choices have to be made.
The redemptive power of love is severely tested when a pair of beautiful dreamers make the classic booboo of many a free-spirited Bohemian, muddling the delicious impulses of creativity and sex with the dangerous seductiveness of the drug rush.
Acclaimed theatre director Neil Armfield’s raw but poignant screenplay — co-written with the author of the Australian bestselling novel, poet Luke Davies — divides the lovers’ story into three stages: heaven, Earth and hell. Heaven is an intoxicating introduction to Dan and Candy, first seen on a funfair centrifuge that shows both the heady whirl they are in and the director’s loving, lyrical approach to them. Candy’s gift for joy is apparent in her painting, ‘The Afternoon Of Extravagant Delight’, but her appetite for sensation is equally clear after her first injection of heroin very nearly kills her. The first thing she gasps when her eyes flutter open is, “That was beautiful. Let’s do some more!”
The inevitable disenchantment falls into the sphere of Earth. This is where the honeymoon and glamour of heroin chic end in squalor, criminality and recrimination. Interestingly, hell is not the harrowing prostitution or even the gruesome brushes with death and madness, but the aftermath, the silence, the absence of love.
The mini-genre of junkie movies has acquired an almost inescapable tedium in the all-too-familiar details, from preparing the fix to the furious betrayals. Candy gets through it on the compelling strength of the performances — not only Ledger’s and Cornish’s, but Tony Martin and Noni Hazlehurst as Candy’s desperate parents and Geoffrey Rush as professorial dealer Casper.
It must be said that these two are remarkably pretty for junkies and their sex drives hold up surprisingly longer than their urges to bathe or eat a square meal. But their energy and passion are what keep them rivetingly sympathetic. Props to Ledger for choosing another challenging role and showing an intense, feeling intelligence at work. Former TV ingénue and Somersault star Cornish completes her up-and-coming phase with a performance that suggests she is the new young Nicole/Naomi.
Those with the stomach for searing drama will recognise superior writing, direction and acting in one of the most heartbreaking films of the year.