Some personal thoughts on
"The Self-Destruction of Gia"

Robert Lund, May 8 2003

Clip from the film

I attended the premiere NYC screening of "The Self-Destruction of Gia" having read a review in Variety (of a July 2002 L.A. screening) which highlighted Zoë's interview footage within the film. Referring to Zoë as another "talking corpse" among the many talking heads in the film, it described her as commanding the screen "with an almost supernatural presence" as she told of her relationship with heroin. I anticipated another moving episode in which I'd be confronted with my former mate revealing her most intimate thoughts on this subject so precious to her.

I was surprised to find myself more emotionally struck by most of the other participants' comments about the tragedy of Gia's life, many of which might have been describing the beautiful Zoë I knew while she was living the heroin life. A precious young beauty takes refuge in the easy escape to the "perfection" provided by the heroin nod, and things inevitably fall apart as the grip on external reality is lost. The tragedy of Gia's life is conveyed very poignantly in this documentary.

I realized that the footage of Zoë in this film was shot once she had moved away to Paris, where her daily heroin habit had been replaced by a generous methadone maintenance program and regular intravenous cocaine use. She gave this interview during one of her regular visits to NYC, on which she bought cocaine to smuggle back to Paris with [in] her, purportedly to sell. I hadn't realized, when I met with her on those visits, that she had started using it regularly. The woman I saw on screen in the film appeared brittle, harsh, a subtle snarl pervading her tone of voice, in sharp contrast to the dreamy air that had pervaded her every movement when she was living "on the nod," to which I've recently grown accustomed to seeing on screen in footage from those heroin years (as well as from living with her for eleven years).

The Zoë I saw in this film revived the memory of what it was like dealing with her during the two years she was living in Paris, with the boyfriend with whom she had suddenly fled in 1997. Despite some progress at remaining friends, things were more than a little bit tense between us during most of those visits, so much so that I hadn't noticed signs which might have aroused my suspicions about her cocaine use. I was reminded by this interview footage of the changes that had come over her after her sudden move to Paris, where she tried to live out a romantic dream with a man who told friends that "she no longer needs to write - when she was with Robert, she was unhappy and needed to write, but now we just have a good time" (i.e., remain coked up most of the time). When Zoë left NYC abruptly in 1997, she abandoned an entire support system of friends and family, and aborted most of her valuable business relationships. This was the woman who related her heroin experiences in the film - describing the sensations as precisely and lovingly as I had remembered her doing often, and graphically describing the pains of withdrawal, but from a distance. To Zoë, the agonies of heroin withdrawal, which are enough to keep many people far away from it, were considered simply a price to be paid for the relationship one forms with the drug. Zoë told me often of the first time she'd become acquainted with the drug. Entering an apartment during her teenage years, she saw a person writhing on the floor in the throes of kicking. When informed that he was kicking heroin, her first thought had been "Anything whose absence causes such suffering in someone must be truly wonderful." And she took it from there.

I had never tried heroin before meeting Zoë, but embarked almost immediately on eleven years of daily use with her. I freed myself of the addiction shortly after she left, and have no interest in ever going into that shrouded consciousness again. And whereas Zoë seems to have put heroin to some good use at times, often coming out of a nod with fresh material to add to a screenplay, there's no doubt that living in that insulated state of sedation deprives one of a great deal of the sensation of life itself. One pays a tremendous price for the dreams that might come from that place. But I feel compelled to point out (as no doubt Zoë would) that neither Gia nor Zoë died as a result of the drugs they took, but more from the effects of the associated lifestyle brought on by marginalization of the part of society which uses drugs. If they had lived in the 19th century, they each might have been part of the large group of ladies who bought their opiates from the corner pharmacy, and retired to their rooms with their vice of choice - spared such unhealthy factors as the sharing of dirty needles and exile to a criminal class of society.