Focusing on the intergenerational traumas that grow out of drug addiction, Jessica Earnshaw’s profound new documentary “Jacinta” explores the relationships between three women in Maine, hamstrung by addiction and the cyclical process of relapse, rehab, and recovery. Earnshaw’s unfiltered approach, in which the camera lays bare the messy process of substance dependence, is often a harrowing watch, one that centralizes the toll of addiction on family life with stark clarity. Yet the humanity of the film’s subject, and the caring relationships that make up her family, humanize what could have quickly descended into a “Scared Straight” special. Earnshaw’s expansive approach, which includes following her protagonist in and out of jail, is a profound meditation on the troubling intersection between addiction and incarceration.
The documentary follows Jacinta, a 26-year-old woman who, at the beginning of the film, is incarcerated with her mother Rosemary, a fellow addict with a long criminal history. In fact, Jacinta’s entire family is socially stigmatized due to the addiction issues that plague them. As Jacinta is released back into the world before her mother, she attempts to make amends to her family and especially her 10-year-old daughter Caylynn, who lives with the young girls’ paternal grandparents. Earnshaw, however, doesn’t approach her subject through the lens of a single attempt at recovery. Instead, the expanding scope of the doc follows Jacinta for more than three years, as she contends with the heaps of trauma and her attempts to break the cycle for her own daughter’s sake.
Employing a verité approach, “Jacinta” never judges its protagonist, but never turns the camera away from her either. Unsurprisingly, the film’s first act, which traces Jacinta’s move into halfway house, ends as expected in gruesome detail, as Earnshaw shows the first of a few attempts at detoxing. Needless to say, it’s a difficult sight to see. Yet surrounding Jacinta is a relatively supportive family, in which her caring father is at a loss for how to protect Jacinta from herself, and her boyfriend helps her through her continued attempts at rehab.
No one knows more about her addictive nature as Jacinta herself, who continually tells the camera that she is essentially powerless when thinking about getting high. It’s an insightful, but not altogether surprising, revelation, as Rosemary, later in the film, admits the same thing. Of course, these addictive tendencies are rooted in familial and genetic histories, yet institutionally, Jacinta is essentially left to fend for herself. Her continued movement in and out of jail is emblematic of a systematic failure for treating addiction.
Earnshaw’s film subtextually draws all these connections, integrating the overlap between incarceration, addiction, and crime, but her film consistently remains grounded in Jacinta’s plight, never treating her as a metonym for larger societal problems. She may be at the mercy of an antiquated judicial and health care system that views addiction itself as criminal, but Jacinta also makes a series of choices that put her, and her family, at risk.
While all of this suggests that “Jacinta” is a depressing film, which it sometimes is, Earnshaw has chosen a tragically relatable person, one overflowing with humanity, who has to contend with her dueling impulses of getting high and being a mother to her daughter, which are obviously always at odds. Caylynn, who at a young age, is incredibly insightful about the traumatic effects of her mother’s addiction, grounds these multigenerational issues. As she contends with an absentee mother, you’re left with the hope that she’ll be able to escape the lingering issues of her family. “Jacinta” is never an easy watch, but it’s an important one. Earnshaw has made a deeply emotional and poignant film on the personal, familial horrors of addiction. [A]