I just finished watching Union Square, a documentary film about heroin addiction.
The film was an hour and a half and followed the lives of about 8 people, most of which were homeless and living in Union Square.
My first impression of the film is that it was really, really good. Anyone who is interested in learning more about addiction, heroin, becoming homeless, hustling the streets for money every day–this is the film to watch. It moves through a variety of different topics, highlighting stories from each of the 8 “featured addicts,” touching on such topics as “surviving,” “family,” “detox,” and so on.
I think the film does a good job of conveying the insanity of the disease. It does this through the storytelling and the interviews with each of the characters. They each explain how their typical day goes, how they hustle each day for more money, then blow it all on dope and have to eventually wake up sick and start hustling again. Not only do the people explain this in the interviews, but the film shows them doing each step of this process. And, it shows them doing it over and over again. So you really get a sense of the cycle, of the continuous hustle that addiction runs on a person–especially someone living in the streets. They also show some scenes that illustrate some of the problems that people face in these kinds of situations.
The film explores relationships a bit as well. In one case there is a couple who lives on the streets together and they are both addicted to shooting heroin. They hustle for money and they naturally have fights and arguments. This part demonstrates pretty clearly how each person’s individual relationship with heroin is really more central to their life over the relationship with their significant other.
A word of caution
There are at least 4 or 5 scenes that are very detailed and graphic in which people are shown actually shooting up the dope. If you happen to be a recovering needle user then you might want to skip this film entirely, as these scenes are likely to produce some amount of craving from you. They seemed to overdo this aspect of the film just a little bit for my taste, but it still added quite a bit to the overall gritty feel and effect that the film is intended to have. It is about shooting dope and becoming homeless and trying to scrape out an existence, so I can see why they included such raw footage in order to convey these ideas. If you are early in recovery or are sensitive to seeing people shoot up then you should steer clear. On the other hand, this documentary might be just the kick in the pants you need to start working harder on your own recovery.
For me, it increased my daily gratitude instantly. I am once again grateful just to be clean. In that sense, this film was a little blessing for me.
I recommend it.
The film is available on iTunes for download.
Here is some good commentary by the director: