Contrary to many reviews (Variety’s is here), Cake is not a movie about addiction. It’s a movie about managing real and severe pain. While the main protagonist, Claire Simmons, does abuse her Percosets and Oxys, from a treatment perspective, that abuse is merely symptomatic of her deeper issues.
To me, Cake should be used as part of a Psychology of Substance Abuse course because it illustrates the way opiates can become abused, yet not be the core problem within an Addiction. Claire does spend a great deal of time acquiring her drugs; she even has her loyal housekeeper drive her to Tijuana to get some illicit drugs that she then smuggles across the border inside of a Jesus statue. Most might see this behavior and call Claire a “junkie,” but really, understanding that she is both in physical and emotional pain reveals her inability to manage either. She does withdraw, indicated through scenes where Jennifer Aniston does a fantastic job of portraying the symptoms of a withdrawal, and those withdrawals indicate physical dependency. Really, from a clinical perspective, Claire is addicted. However, while opiates are indicated to treat intense physical pain, they are also great for numbing emotional pain, as well.
The movie doesn’t hit the viewer over the head with Claire’s real issues. Rather, they become apparent only after various layers of her psychology are peeled away. The main arc focuses on a member of Claire’s chronic pain support group, named Nina, who committed suicide a month or so before the movie opens. Claire becomes fixated on Nina’s suicide and even begins to have hallucinatory conversations with her. Claire befriends Nna’s grieving husband and even begins to find some solace in his company. But as we learn that Claire was involved in a car accident that killed her son (he appeared to be around four years old in pictures), her pain seems insurmountable and Claire decides to commit suicide by laying on a train track and await the next train.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I can say with certainty that Cake is a must-see for anyone who deals with substance abuse and addiction. It portrays the need to uncover the “real issue” that underlies most addictions. I learned, long ago, that uncovering the real story behind an addiction is often the only way to learn to manage it. In Claire’s case, her pain was just too much to bear without the mask of opiates and I highly recommend this movie to understand Claire’s struggle. In doing so, I really think people can find compassion for those who struggle with PTSD and intense physical pain.
image courtesy of Variety magazine, online edition