There was a time when Less Than Zero was my favorite movie. The first time I saw it in the late 00s, I fell in love
Initially, I saw a segment about the film on VH1’s I Love The 80s-1987 episode and was fascinated by the commentary. They mainly joked about Robert Downey Jr.’s drug habit in the film and how his personal life reflected his dismal drugged character he portrayed Julian. Ever since then, I had it on my radar to watch.
Also, this film was important to me because it was one of the first “mature” films I watched. Growing up, I watched a lot of films with tons of graphic and mature content, but I never was moved by them. On the other hand, Less Than Zero proved to be a great awakening to the world of drug abuse, addiction, and being a “low-life”.
The film opens with three highly rich seniors (Clay, Blair [Clay’s girlfriend] and Julian) graduate from high school. Before the fall school semester, Clay leaves to attend college across the country. During his Christmas vacation, he returns to find Blair and Julian both consumed by their own destruction. Blair is a model and cocaine addict that had an affair with Julian at one time while Clay was away. Julian, on the other hand, is a self-destructive alcoholic, crack/cocaine addict, and failed aspiring businessman that owes thousands of dollars to a local drug dealer whom Clay knows from school.
The film goes back and forth between Blair and Julian’s reckless lives while Clay is just in the middle trying to grasp their lifestyles of excess, cope with betrayal and impact of drugs to his friends.
Ultimately toward the end, the film shifts focus to Julian and his addiction, family issues related to drugs, and his fight to be sober. Unfortunately, Julian dies at the end of an overdose.
The great thing about this film is it explored many topics that were popular in the 80s that are prevalent today.
One that’s apparent is drug abuse. At a time when crack-cocaine was a huge epidemic in urban poor areas, this film helped portray drug abuse from the white privileged side of America. Far too often, the drug scene of the 1980s depicted inner cities and the “Regan era” cuts to social services that led to the inner-city turmoil. However, this film explored the hidden upper-class drug abuse problem that’s normally overlooked by society. This is important because the drug abuse narrative perpetuated by mainstream media depicts drug usage as a minority problem, yet this film displayed an authentic face of addiction. The face that private care facilities and centers conceal to save embarrassment.
While the film does have a lot of drug abuse, it has a very anti-drug message I think. When you look at Julian’s sickness from his drugs and literally all the sweat Clay and Blair shed for their friend, a message that’s conveyed is drugs are financially, emotionally, physically, and anthropologically destructive.
Many have family members or friends that have an addiction. It’s hard to love a family member who is a drug addict that steals constantly or has brought nothing but hostility, strife, and a cloud of despair to one’s family.
Trust me, I know from first-hand experience!
Julian’s parents were in a similar situation. They tried to help him recover numerous times, and even his younger brother hated him because of the pain he put them through. They were fed up by his foolishness, so they kicked him out.
As sad as this sounds, sometimes love means doing difficult things to those who we love such as discipline. Even God disciplines those he loves. (Pro 3:11-12).
This reminds me of the Fatherhood of God. God loves all as a loving Father over all creation, but as He watches His children disobey and live in sin, I believe God’s heartbreaks. If He rejoices when one sinner repents, then I think it’s possible that God is distressed when His children remain in sin. It’s the deliberate rejection of grace which leads to a complete hardened heart!
At one point in the film, Julian, just like any person that helplessly hits rock bottom, made a sincere act of change. Then, his father was willing to open his heart again and invite his son into his life.
This has the parable of the prodigal son written all over it. The wild son that radically turned his back on everything, lived a sinful life, repents of his behavior and comes home to his jubilant father.
Lesson learned: No matter the devastating past or sin we’ve done, God will take any one of us back!
Unfortunately on his journey to sobriety, Julian relapsed. Blair and Clay immediately came to his aid and decided it was best to start over as a trio away from the chaos of their privilege. Along the journey, Julian died.
I like to think Julian died contrite knowing what he did was wrong and was willing to change. However, the viewer isn’t afforded objective certainty regarding Julian’s destiny.
We should all keep the hour of our death at the forefront of our minds. Our culture tries to demote or eradicate the significance of our eternal destiny by simply saying “the lights go out” but the reality of an afterlife is reasonable.
In fact, our souls demand an afterlife. We long for a cosmic transcendent location as our inheritance. It’s the epitome of justice for our righteous earthly existence. Also, the fact that there has been a global consent in all ages for the existence of an afterlife, to me, seems to point to its existence. Worshipers have had a relationship with some being they felt intuitively and innately connected to.
All of this points to the reality of our eternal destination. It’s imperative to our existence and something we shouldn’t neglect as a trivial option among many ordinary ones.
Less Than Zero has some central themes that I find wholly relatable to the Catholic faith. This film is a seminal production of the 80s that has timeless underlying spiritual and noticeable social truths embedded. I encourage everyone to view it and take heed my thoughts on the topic.