Chasing Dad, is of course a play on Chasing the Dragon, or in other words, heroin addiction. This is a film about father and son.
‘This is it Phil. This is my life.’
‘I don’t know who you are.’ But the filmmaker tells those watching. ‘My father’s been addicted to heroin as long as I can remember.’
Later, his dad confirms this. He tells his son, and the camera, he started using the day his son was born. But bad Dad can’t be trusted. It’s a habit, he says, telling lies. He can’t help himself. It’s an unnatural relationship. Father, son and camera. Phil Wood senior. Phil Wood junior. Who is exploiting whom and for what reason? Is everyone in the film, including the cameraman, director and editor who is making the film about his dad’s addiction also a user, but in a different sense? The narrative arc in these films usually follows a familiar thread beloved of dramas. Promises, promises. I never said that. I never done that. NO, I’m not using. Well, maybe a little. You know it’s not my fault. I can’t help it. You don’t want to know.
So early on in the film Phil asks his Dad about the silver foil that’s lying about. ‘Are you up to your old tricks?’
‘It’s hard enough getting off this shit,’ Dad tells him. This is called the guilt trip. He’s gouching on camera. That’s a moment when an addict’s eyes go for a wee rest and a body if it’s standing, relaxes into a stupor, and butts forward before consciousness resumes and the missing seconds deleted like an advert break in the hope nobody will notice.
‘I’m only drinking,’ says Dad. And the silver paper was to fix the aerial on the telly. Course it was. He promises that he’ll soon be ‘six feet under’. Sclerosis of the liver. Sure to do him. He’s got a hospital appointment. And an appointment at Romford Police station. And an appointment at court. But it’s for nothing. Just stealing electricity. He’s got a notice in from Romford Council telling him that they’re going to evict him. But he’s not worried. Course not.
‘Are you lonely Dad?’
The camera pans into his face and you sense this is the truth. You see this is the truth, because he’s allowing his son to follow him with a camera. And even when his son threatens to quit filming or does quit filming, his son tells the camera that his Dad has been texting and phoning him. His dad is lonely. That is a truth.
But Dad has got Maria.
‘Maria, who’s she?’
‘Not a girlfriend, girlfriend, just somebody.’
Maria on camera explains. ‘We met in the Jobcentre…just sort of clicked.’ [There’s a joke here somewhere]
‘What happened to your eye?’ asks young Phil.
Phil is in his thirties, his dad in his fifties and Maria, I’d guess, in her twenties. For not a girlfriend, girlfriend she is much younger and she has a black eye. She explains there was a bit of a mix up, ‘and she got blamed for something she didn’t do’.
Maria speaks the same language as Phil’s dad.
‘Why do you drink?’ Phil asks her.
‘Boredom. I should be doing a lot more with myself.’
Jump shot to Phil’s sister, Emma, talking about her dad, their dad. She hated him. They hated him. Hated that he beat them. Beat his mum. Stole whatever he could and sold it. She used to go home and smell the drugs. Find all kinds of shit and paraphernalia. Or her dad would be on a cleaning spree, cleaning everything in the house at one-hundred miles per hour. Home was not a happy place, or a happy space.
Later Phil admits he used to tell his mates his Dad was an alky, that was better than being a druggy. That he used to tell his mum he was staying with friends, walk about all night, sleep in the park. Drink before going to school.
There’s an interlude where Dad admits he was a shit, but didn’t want to hurt anybody, didn’t want to hurt their mum, but at least he never hit them.
‘Yes, you used to hit us?’
‘What really?’ Dad seems flummoxed.
Phil junior confirms it.
‘I don’t remember that,’ Dad says.
Outtake of Dad going for a hospital appointment. The nurse can’t find a vein. He explains that’s because he was a heroin addict. He’s brought a leaflet back. He wants his son to see it. Want his son to know, that he talked to someone about his alcohol addiction and it’s all there in the First-Stop leaflet. ‘I’ve had enough.’
But there are some things that even Dad can’t explain. Who, for example, are the people that moved into his room and are staying in his house. Then when he gets some visitors there’s a confrontation. The son recognises one of the older men, one of his dad’s knockabout mates.
‘You stole off my dad!’ he accuses him.
The man isn’t happy about that. He makes some noises, but with a camera pointing at him, and Phil senior ushering him out the door, and into the back garden it’s obvious the men are here for drink or drugs, perhaps both. The camera picks up what they are saying and we hear them discussing drugs.
‘He’s come to do a bit of gardening,’ explains Dad.
‘He’s just there, chopping the grass.’
Phil’s sister Emma explains although she’d ‘absolutely hated him,’ why she no longer hates Dad. And that Phil had never really got involved unless Dad was hitting mum. How she’d been broken when Mum packed a bag and left. Sent Dad a letter. Left him. Left them. ‘Dad was broken. He really was. Really, hard hit’. After twenty years he’d never expected that. But now Emma understood it was an addiction.
Dad gets evicted from his council house. It’s not his fault really. People were using it as a gaffe to deal drugs and play loud music when he wasn’t there, he explains. Then there were the arrears in rent. Earlier he’d said it would be unthinkable if he was evicted, because he’s have nowhere to go. Now, he’s not that bothered. He’s selling everything in the house for £150.
His son asks if that’s a good deal. The answer is it’s the best he’ll get. He’s got somewhere to stay.
Maria explains that his dad had been lying to him. That he’d people selling and dealing drugs in his flat. Homeless people had stayed with him and a few people that were on the run from the cops. She too was on heroin, but now she’d a methadone script and she was kicking it.
Dad gets money from a relative and gets into rehab. ‘I’ve just had enough,’ he tells the camera. ‘Same old. Same old.’
Dad is discharged after six months in rehab. And he’s found a place in a half-way house. Things are looking up. Happy ending.
The cynic in me asks for how long?