This is a remarkable documentary. The title: ‘Chasing Dad – a Lifelong Addiction to Heroin and Alcohol’ indicates the nature of the problem – the mad chase on the treadmill of despair that every family experiences, where addiction is present.
While dad is obsessively doing his own version of ‘chasing the dragon’, we meet a succession of unhappy but touchingly tender people – son, daughter and girlfriend, whose own lives have been dreadfully damaged by this reportedly violent and abusive monster. Except that dad does not seem to be a monster – he is a very ordinary guy with a huge drug problem and surprisingly, a compelling on-screen presence.
Sure he is devious, manipulative and dishonest. His denial attitude is as well dug in and armour-plated as the veins in his needle-pocked arm, from which the nurse tries to get a blood sample. But monster? More of a nuisance really, because he is a typical addict, desperate for the next fix and living right on the cusp of criminality to get what he needs, a human being chased by his own demons of shame, fear, despair and self-hatred.
His behaviour is as obvious to us as it is to his unhappy neighbours who want to see the back of him and his dodgy friends. He says more than once: ‘I f****** hate myself’ but he doesn’t need to – it is f****** obvious to us that he hates himself, from the first few seconds of the film.
What makes this film special is the tension that is present in every frame, because the man behind the camera is his son, one of the major victims of his dad’s addiction. This is the first film by young Philip Wood and it may be the most emotional film that he ever makes. Though nearly all the dialogue is spoken in a most unemotional manner, we never cease to be aware of the feelings bubbling underneath, even though father and son, the main focus of the documentary, find it almost impossible to put them into meaningful words.
The dialogue may be banal but the camera speaks volumes as it zooms in on the father’s drug sodden eyes, his compulsive smoking, his shifty grins and his awkward attempts to lie and to ingratiate himself back into his son’s good books – an impossible task if ever there was one.
This is what drug addiction is like – forget Trainspotting or Pulp Fiction. This is a film where nothing much happens but everything is going on beneath the surface, and that is reality.
Young Phillip made this film about his dad, old Phillip, after years of alienation, to try to understand what has happened. It is touching and encouraging that, despite the near impossibility of meaningful communication between them, young Phillip (and his sister as well) do display patience, firmness, love and compassion, albeit interspersed with moments of frustration.
Their version of tough love, together with an eviction notice from the council, appear to have combined to get the desperately ill Philip Snr into rehab for a lengthy stay. We see him still there as the film ends, on a cautiously upbeat note. Does rehab signal that the chase is over or is this merely a pause for breath? It is a day at a time for all concerned.