Daniel Kharlak’s short film, The Dark Ages, is just that, a tale of a man in the darkest period of his life. Harassed by his landlord and barely coping with the fact that his ex-wife, Helen (Joanna Bonaro), refuses to allow him to see his daughter, Wilson (Kenneth Heaton) continues to go about his days either in, or recovering from, a pill-popping stupor. As his need to reach out and be a part of his daughter’s life grows more desperate, so too do his actions and pharmaceutical indulgences.
Wilson’s dark decline is handled in a simple, matter-of-fact fashion for the most part. The film sometimes dabbles in great drama, but mostly just shows a guy going through the mundane routines of a horrible existence. Seeing him recovering from a night of too many drugs by eating Cheez-Its that he’s washing down with beer is a straightforward message that there are some major issues here beyond just his sadness over not seeing his daughter. He may not see them, painting himself as the forever victim, but his continued bad choices are the problem here.
Which makes the film feel more realistic, but also makes it difficult to find sympathy for Wilson. There’s really not a moment where he acts in any other way but in his own self-interest. In that way, the behavior of those seemingly keeping him down seems to be the most sane approach; they know his bullshit, at this point, better than we do, and we’re watching him reach out for family with one hand while cupping his drugs in the other.
I did appreciate that this was a tale of drug addict that eschewed certain drug addict film stereotypes. Wilson is not on heroin, or looking for more cocaine, his addiction is of the more pervasive pharmaceutical variety. To that end, he might actually believe his problem isn’t that big a deal, but when you’re pawning your possessions, can’t make rent and are forbidden from seeing your estranged family… it’s bad.
Overall, The Dark Ages is a competent tale of drug addiction, but also appropriately not a pleasant one. There’s no happy ending here; Wilson has a very real problem, and even if he gets his way and sees his daughter, his life is not likely to turn around in a blink. To that end, this film is a tragic one with an upsetting foothold in drug addiction reality.
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