Movie Review: “Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy”

Written by Brent Holmes February 10, 2012

Drugs and Other Loves

NOTE: This review contains some spoilers. Read at your own discretion. 

Opening the Domestic Arrivals Film Festival at Museum London, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy is a Canadian film based off of the short story “The Undefeated from the collection Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance by Scottish author Irvine Welsh.

The film follows Lloyd (Adam Sinclair), a drug smuggler and user, and Heather, a struggling middle-class Canadian immigrant (Kristin Kreuk) who fall in love at a club. Kreuk gives a good, if slightly inconsistent performance as Heather, while Sinclair not only looks like a cross between Sam Worthington and the Assassin’s Creed character Desmond Miles but his character has the same amount of depth.

There are a handful of great secondary performances. Billy Boyd has great range as the pseudo-religious addict Woodsy and Little Mosque on the Prairie star Carlo Rota is intimating and repellent as the low-level drug lord, Solo. Colin Mochrie also makes a brief yet enjoyable appearance, unfortunately he is cast against type playing a serious priest rather than a funny character.

The film’s strongest character and subplot emerge from Lloyd’s strained relationship with his depressed father Jim (Stephen McHattie). This plot line brings some of the most depth of our Sinclair’s performance but also is the most touching relationship the film presents.

Visually, the film is quite powerful. The parties and raves are well shot and having the crowd fade in and out when Heather and Lloyd meet is a nice visual touch reminiscent of West Side Story (1961) and Pride and Prejudice (2005). The exterior shots of Scotland are absolutely beautiful and well lit.

The biggest problem with Ecstasy is that is a highly addictive drug and Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy seems to ignore that fact. The film is an anti-thesis to Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000), where in the latter, higher ideals such as love were overpowered by physical substances, here Lloyd’s love for Heather is enough to overcome his addiction. It’s an unrealistic presentation that downplays the damage that drug addiction can do.

The film’s central relationship is one that is familiar to recent constructions of lower class relationships: the male is only interested in the female absent of any overall vision for other areas of his life, the female recognizes the need to work and to not be defined completely by her relationships. This was explored quite well in Blue Valentine (2010) where the suggestion was that relationships in present day culture are irreparably damaged, but in this film that idea is part of the scenery and is not wrestled with as a larger theme.

The plot is rather lackluster with predictable twists, even one of the final gotcha moments at the end is disappointing. There was a sense to which one could read in different meanings to explain what is happening. Is Heather really doing drugs with Lloyd or is she sober and disillusioned when she discovers that he is on ecstasy? Are the final scenes of the film real or imagined? The film doesn’t have enough ambiguity to give these readings validity.

The central question of the film is about whether or not Heather and Lloyd’s love is real or a product of drug use, but with all the other subplots, the film becomes grounded in a set reality. Drugs in this film are presented as an absolute negative, which one has to admit they are, but it minimizes the capacity for the question to be asked. Heather is grounded in her reality and pulls Lloyd into it, there is a stability that prevents questioning what is and is not real that prevents the film from saying anything unique.

Canadian film maker Rob Heydon took eleven years to make Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy. As far as Canadian films go, it is a very strong visual film with stylistic camera work and effects. Unfortunately, the film is too sober and as a result doesn’t provide a deeper commentary on drug culture or relationships, but it does succeed in bringing out some great performances and interesting subplots. It is worth seeing for the craftsmanship that went into its production, but that is all the ecstasy the film provides.

My Rating 6.5/10 

 

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About Brent Holmes

Brent Holmes is a Film Studies and English Major attending Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario where he is working towards a PhD in Film Studies. He currently writes for We Eat Films and The Western Gazette (on the latter, he serves as Arts & Life editor).

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