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Movie Review: All the Beauty and Bloodshed - a Laura Poitras Film at the 79th Venice Film Festival

Reporter: Taylor Lynn | All the Beauty and Bloodshed by Laura Poitras |Image: La Biennale

The award-winning film "All the Beauty and Bloodshed" by Laura Poitras chronicles the lives of one artist named Nan Goldin and how her proceedings as the protagonist in the film bring the Sackler family to board. The Sackler is regarded in the film as a pharmaceutical empire being blamed for causing the unprecedented death toll brought on by the opioid crisis. The film's protagonist narrates that in the 1980s, she first gathered her photographs and those of her friends to act as evidence, and they were rejected. Presumably, the photographs entailed casually contravened pictures of an investigative group aligned with the protagonist as her allies and those they frequently dealt with the issues caused by the Sackler family. Typically, the film shows the protagonist's investigative steps in solving a societal health issue caused by the named family. The film emerged as the most outstanding and well-performed in the last "Venice International Film Festival," which happened recently. The current essay analyzes the various circumstances expressed in this movie, the general storyline, and the implications.

Brief Summary

The movie interweaves tales about how the protagonist shaped her life and career to investigate and eventually bring down the family in question over the wrongdoings they have undertaken. In the film, it is evident that the family had reached a consensus with the authorities that it would pay to address the filed claims. This claim emerges because the family engages in a deceptive marketing practice where the painkillers offered by the facility steer the opioid crisis facing US citizens. Goldin, the protagonist in the film, happens to have been a victim and addict of opioids, and this prompts and supports her move to seize the family for such fraudulent acts. The approach by the photographer was based on the fact that the family had played a non-deniable role in substantiating and worsening the repercussions of the US pandemic. Also, it is essential to note that the better part of the film entails a narration of the protagonist’s predicament and her nature of upbringing. The photographer tells her narrative, detailing aspects such as her strict suburban upbringing, the death of her adolescent sister, and the 1980s AIDS epidemic in her neighborhood. All in all, the film has been praised by many for its prowess in airing and solving the challenges usually experienced in any given society. It is an exemplary representation of a form of illustrative activism.

Commentary: Analysis

The film, which is the latest documentary by Laura Poitras, is technically about the opioid crisis and ongoing efforts to hold the repulsive Sackler family accountable, but it is framed through the deeply personal lens of artist and activist Goldin's life. The issues involved are myriad and vary from politics, personal aspects and micro to macro processes. A portion of it is an investigation of one person's depiction of trauma, joy, and artistic accomplishment that all contributed to how Goldin became one of the many opiate addicts and a survivor. However, it is also a portrait of activism because she used her unique platform to demand a level of accountability that the criminal justice system could not provide. Also, the film can be described as most heartfelt and poetic productions in a career that was founded on the goal of showcasing contentious issues and figures. Despite the inherent despair of an illness that continues to wreak havoc, Goldin proves to be as fascinating a subject as her photography, and despite the apathy that is tugging at our collective heels, there is resiliency and tenacity which remains ahead of it.

The film director, Laura Poitras, started to chronicle the arduous process in 2019 to illustrate Goldin's fight against the Sackler family, which was launched in 2017. Poitras starts with Goldin's present and then cuts back and forth between personal narratives of her upbringing and eventual coming-of-age as a person and artist as the years go by, initially with limited success. This approach makes the events in the film more perceivable and believable because the protagonist is used as a lens to the situation at hand. Goldin's past reflects the scarring inflicted upon her parents' generation, showing how the heteropatriarchy demanded automatons of the populace only to create a continually deepening vulnerability in people's social normalization that allowed for any toxic elements to ravage, whether it was the AIDS crisis or the death of her older sister, Barbara, who committed suicide. Her childhood memories include a dysfunctional household defined by an unstable mother and an older sister named Barbara, who committed suicide. Poitras makes an effort to include footage of Goldin's parents, who, in later years, their surviving daughter interviewed about Barbara, their mother sobbing over a quote from Joseph Conrad discovered in her pocket after her remains were collected from a train track.

The Sackler family continues to be free from criminal prosecution due to the agreement established with the bankruptcy judgment of Purdue, so while their triumphs are significant—if ultimately limited—the depth of Goldin's life experiences was worth a documentary much beyond her survival. Goldin has a wealth of experiences to share, both remarkable and terrible, about navigating 1970s New York and Provincetown, mixing with a lively gang of boundary pushers, including the exquisite Cookie Mueller, and other dark days of addiction and battery at the hands of an enraged boyfriend. Goldin is undoubtedly a heroin and activist who plays a pivotal role in reshaping the judicial system through the apprehension of the Sackler family.


Addiction issues were immensely addressed due to the protagonist's efforts, Goldin. Whatever the case, the film is a poignant depiction of our fundamental yearning for love, acceptance, and respect for one another. As such, the award-winning film has expressed various past experiences the protagonist underwent in trying to impact changes in various sectors discussed. From a personal view, watching the film should be made a priority by anyone who has not watched it before. The lessons in the film and the activities evident in the film impact the understanding of certain societal aspects and perspectives.


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