‘6 Balloons’ Gets at the Grimy, Cringey Nature of Drug Addiction

Marja-Lewis Ryan’s film makes the despair of addiction into an arresting work of empathy.

Opioid abuse has affected families from coast to coast ever since doctors began prescribing addictive prescription drugs to dramatic amounts of the population. Empathy proves hard when there’s lack of a personal connection from people who have not been touched by the epidemic. “6 Balloons” works to show the struggle of addicts and their families for those who can and cannot relate.

“6 Balloons,” starring Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson, first premiered at South by Southwest in March and was later picked up by Netflix, which is now streaming. The film features siblings Katie and Seth on a journey to find him a detox center all while Katie holds a surprise birthday for her boyfriend, Jack, at her house. She drives throughout Los Angeles while also trying to protect Seth’s 2-year-old daughter, who comes along on their quest, from the trauma she may be experiencing.

“6 Ballons,” labeled a drama, has just that, but many see the battles both Katie and Seth face as lackluster. Critics claim the feature lacks exciting drama while being boring at some times, but for people who have walked exactly where the characters have, the dramatics are overwhelming.

Katie takes on the responsibility of Seth after she realizes he relapsed when she arrived at his apartment to pick him up for the party. She drives him to a detox facility he had been admitted in previously, but when they arrive, they’re told the center no longer accepted his insurance.

After this scene, it’s necessary to determine the differences between a detox and rehab center for those who find this topic foreign. A detox center is a place for addicts of all sorts to, safely and under the supervision of nurses, rid the body of all drugs and alcohol, sometimes with the help of addiction curbing drugs, like Suboxone. Patients stay anywhere from three to five days and then have the choice of return to the street or continue seeking help through a rehab center.

Rehab centers come in many different forms, such as outpatient, inpatient, private or public, but the facility that comes to mind, usually, are the Malibu resort-looking options. Centers like this are privately owned and, more often than not, inpatient, which limits the occupy to however many beds can fit in the building.

Downfalls of this option hide under the images of yoga and green juices, but the reality of it doesn’t hit as hard as it hits the wallet. The price for treatment at a private luxury rehab center can coast an upward of $25,000.

Insurances accepted varies between places, so the chances of finding a center that not only accepts a specific insurance with an available bed turns out being half the battle for addicts in need.

“6 Balloons,” starring Dave Franco, shows the struggling realities of families when trying to help their drug addicted love ones. (Image via MOVDB)

A misconception about going to rehab and completing your time becomes debunked when seeing the difficult nature of finding help. The film’s primary focus relies on this but also many other challenges.

A recurring scene of Katie shows her listening to a motivational speaker on a phone app telling her she’s in control of her own boat and how she’s the only one who knows how to drive the boat. The boat, of course, represents her life.

Seeking help for the people who the addict is affecting is an unseen aspect of the process for one’s on the outside. Katie proves that a constant need for support, reassurance and advice gives the strength needed to make difficult decisions and push through such hard times.

The last scene of “6 Balloons” shows Katie finding Seth in her car outside the party using again. She joins him in the car when their bodies then become surrounded by water as the car starts to fill rapidly.

It paints her as almost drowning as a form of symbolism for the fact she can’t seem to escape the crippling effect her brother’s addiction has on her. Katie finally tells Seth if he decides to get help, he must take himself, thus ending their codependent relationship. She opens the door to leave him when a wave of water pours out of the car symbolizing her relief.

The title of “6 Balloons” references the six balloons of heroin that Katie buys for Seth to elevate his withdrawal pain as they continue their search for a detox. Inner conflict fights within Katie every second as she weighs the options in front of her. Would she rather see her brother writhe in pain or enable him by buying more drugs?

Decisions like this push mothers hesitant to give their son the money to get high one more time before getting help. They know they aren’t helping, but what do they do? This scene puts the viewer in Katie’s shoes to decide what they would do in that moment which, in the end, is beneficial for understanding.

“6 Balloons” gives an accurate representation of the life many are currently living. Action proves more beneficial than reaction in solving the opioid crisis, and the progress starts with awareness. Put a face, even a fiction character, to the problem and make the “not my life; not my problem” attitude fade away.

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