Based on the autobiography of Eric Detzer, Poppies: Odyssey of an Opium Eater tells the tale of former heroin addict Eric (David Bertelsen), a man convinced from a young age that he’s related to Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes (the inspiration for Dracula), and is therefore of a cursed lineage. In his case, however, Eric doesn’t thirst for blood… he thirsts for more heroin.
Still, he’s been through the ringer and has seemingly hit rock bottom and come out on top. He has a lovely family and a job with child protective services helping kids, and all is well, except addiction never really goes away, and while he has been winning the war against heroin, he’s not doing so well when it comes to not eating, and becoming addicted to eating, some opium poppies that he discovers growing in his backyard and in his neighborhood. As the film rolls along, however, his latest child protective case involving the adopted son of a police agent/informant sets him up for a battle far more intense and brutal than his daily one with addiction.
For starters, this film looks really good. Nowadays, quality cinematography is not necessarily the most important aspect of independent filmmaking; the handheld experience has been given an implied intimacy, whether it deserves it or not. Sometimes that has been abused, so it’s nice to see a film that manages to allow the story and performances to create that intimacy instead.
Beyond that, for a film about a guy who is convinced he’s the latest in a line of Draculas, who used to abuse his body with heroin and is now abusing his body with poppies, there’s a level of sweetness to the proceedings that I didn’t expect. Eric turned his early junkie life around for love, and leads the dual life of a loving family man trying to make a difference in children’s lives but unable to battle beyond that one addictive flaw.
I’ve not read Eric Detzer’s book, so I don’t have a personal image in mind when it comes to how the person should or shouldn’t be portrayed on screen, and I can’t speak to the authenticity of Bertelsen’s performance. He does, however, manage to make an extremely sympathetic character out of someone who is notoriously not the most easy to sympathize with: the drug addict.
Poppies: Odyssey of an Opium Eater doesn’t live in the stereotypical world of the cinematic junkie, and is a tale of redemption with an unexpected thriller turn. When the subject matter turns particularly rough, it doesn’t become the type of film one would routinely describe as “enjoyable,” but the film keeps a strong, though tragic, balance between saving one man’s soul while attempting to protect a child’s.
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