Film review: Better Things

(Cert 15)

A cloud-cover of sadness and pain gathers for this sombre film from British director Duane Hopkins, a social-realist study of drug addiction, and how the marginalised young are very like the very old - those two generations ahead of them. The young live alienated lives, not too dissimilar from the people we glimpse in parallel to them in their silent houses and old-folks' homes, socially invisible, marking time before the grave, but still living with memories that after almost half a century are all too fresh.

The emotional centre of the film is a young woman who has died of a heroin overdose, and we track out to her boyfriend, and other male friends, nearly all of whom have serious heroin problems, though have not yet become habitual needle-users. The tragedy of their lives is their need for love, for rapture, and the way that their relationships have become consecrated instead to drugs.

Better Things is set in the Cotswolds, but Hopkins shrewdly insists that the beauty of the countryside - eloquently photographed - is not the sweet, picturesque thing that townies imagine it is. On the contrary, the landscape is forbidding, opaque, daunting, even cruel. It offers nothing other than a massive indifference, a place to feel lonely in. Nature does not comfort any of the bewildered young people, and offers no calming or explanatory context for their agony. It is just there, crushingly resplendent. Better to investigate this fraught relationship and dizzy alienation, Hopkins experiments in sound design. The rushing wind in the trees amplifies to the point of discomfort and then suddenly gulps out to silence. The sound of the engine runs under a conversation in a moving car, and then suddenly vanishes, leaving only the dialogue, as if heard from inside the participants' heads. This is a dark and painful film, but one with a fervent belief in the possibility of love.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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