• James Rutherford

‘Permanent Midnight’: A Searing Depiction of Writer Jerry Stahl’s Unrelenting Addiction to Heroin


Movie poster for the film Permanent Midnight starring Ben Stiller and Elizabeth Hurley

“Permanent Midnight” (1998) is a searing depiction of the real-life exploits of writer Jerry Stahl (Ben Stiller), who gained fleeting success in the 1980’s as a Hollywood writer despite a fervent, often destructive addiction to heroin.


Nestled in the arms of a lover named Kitty (Maria Bello), Stahl relates his story of relocating from New York to Los Angeles in order to pursue fame and fortune, despite an already robust addiction to prescription painkillers. In flashback we follow along from his early camaraderie with fellow addict Nicky (Own Wilson) to his furtive marriage to British immigrant Sandra (Elizabeth Hurley) in a desperate attempt at a lucrative green card scam. Through Sandra he’s able to procure television writing work, first on the absurdist comedy “Mr. Chompers” (“Alf”) and later the serio-comic “No Such Luck” (“Moonlighting”), yet his overwhelming appetite for opioid-induced escapism leads him down a sordid path of self-abasement, treachery and near-ruin.


Highlighted by an absolutely brilliant performance by Stiller, “Permanent Midnight” is a ferocious yet often darkly comedic tale of self-destruction and at least some degree of personal reclamation. Stiller hits all of the right notes here, from quirky and wry to frenzied and distraught, amounting to one of the finest and most underrated performances of the entire decade. It’s a boldly candid and often outright outlandish tale of degradation, very much worth rediscovery all these years later.

 

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