© 2024
NPR for Northern Colorado
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Jacinta' might shake up what people think they know about addiction

Jacinta and her mother Rosemary in the Maine Correctional Center yard in Jacinta, directed by Jessica Earnshaw
Photo credit: Jessica Earnshaw
Image courtesy of Hulu/ABC News
Jacinta and her mother Rosemary in the Maine Correctional Center yard in Jacinta, directed by Jessica Earnshaw

The documentary Jacinta shows a young drug addict in and out of prison. The film won the prestigious Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award at the Tribeca Film Festival. KUNC film critic Howie Movshovitz says it might shake up what people think they know about addiction.

Jacinta is an ambiguous documentary. Along with its main character, the picture feels at times optimistic or depressing or frustrating, as it follows the tumultuous life of its main subject. At times, Jacinta feels like it takes place in an alternate universe.

When the movie opens, Jacinta is 26 years old and serving time in a state prison in Maine for drug use and possession. It turns out that her mother is in the same prison on similar charges. Jacinta has been in prison most of her life since she was 16; her mother has been there more times and longer than her daughter. They’re exceptionally close emotionally, even though they’ve spent most of their lives locked away from each other, and what’s made them close is not necessarily ideal mother-daughter experiences.

Jacinta tells about her mother making her beat up another girl when she was young. Jacinta’s story may make you wonder about these two, but as this remarkably intimate film shows, Jacinta and her mother are not to be scorned or written off. They’ve both been born into horrendous lives.

Director Jessica Earnshaw follows Jacinta, her mother, her family and the daughter she rarely sees over several years. Jacinta gets out of prison, the Maine Correctional Center. She goes to live in a group home called Sober House. Her sobriety doesn’t last, and she’s on camera as she drives along looking for drugs while talking to filmmaker Earnshaw.

Lots of dramatic films show addicts needing a fix. But seeing that uncontrollable hunger in a woman who is not an actor sucks your breath away. After that stark moment, the picture shows Jacinta shooting up in lots of places around Lewiston, Maine. The intimacy with Jacinta, her father, her boyfriend, and most of all her daughter shakes up everything many non-addicts think they know about drug addiction. The boyfriend doesn’t use drugs at first. Later, he’s smoking something, and one of the sober relatives’ comments that non-drug users think they can raise an addict up, but usually the addict drags them down.

Most of what the film Jacinta shows is unexpected. Jacinta is white, so the documentary does not tell the stereotypical account of how drugs ravage Black families in urban areas. White people are also dragged into a terrible vortex that seems to start with a child’s sexual abuse, rape, early pregnancy — passed down from generation to generation.

The relationship between Jacinta and her parents boggles the mind. When she’s needy, she still calls them Mommy and Daddy, as if she’s trying to be a kid again. She and her mother adore each other, even though Jacinta was prostituted by her mother to support the mother’s addiction, even though their lives together are littered with betrayal and exploitation.

Jacinta’s daughter grows up during the film and seems to be the one person able to hold onto her common sense and uncommon wisdom. It’s not that Jacinta and others don’t have either common sense or wisdom; it’s that they’ve lost the ability to act on what they know. You hope the daughter can survive this life.

The prison where Jacinta spends so much time seems like a haven for her. As the film shows it, prison is calm and restful. Inmates do each other’s hair; they play volleyball and watch TV. Jacinta has a bulletin board with family pictures; she makes a scrapbook. She thrives in that structure.

By the end of Jacinta, you might not know what to think about any of this.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
Related Content