Hyacinth is an ambiguous documentary. Along with its main character, the image sometimes feels upbeat or depressing or frustrating, as it follows the tumultuous life of its main subject. On time, Hyacinth the impression that it is happening in an alternate universe.
At the start of the film, Jacinta is 26 years old and is serving a sentence in a Maine state prison for drug use and possession. It turns out that her mother is in the same prison on similar charges. Jacinta has spent most of her life in prison since she was 16; her mother went there more times and longer than her daughter. They are exceptionally close emotionally, even though they have spent most of their lives locked up with each other, and what made them close were not necessarily ideal mother-daughter experiences.
Jacinta says her mother made her beat another girl when she was young. Jacinta’s story may make you wonder about these two, but as this remarkably intimate film shows, Jacinta and her mother are not to be despised or written off. They were both born into horrible lives.
Director Jessica Earnshaw follows Jacinta, her mother, family, and the daughter she rarely sees for several years. Jacinta is released from prison, the Maine Correctional Center. She will be living in a group home called Sober House. Her sobriety doesn’t last and she is filmed as she drives around on a drug search while chatting with filmmaker Earnshaw.
Lots of drama films show drug addicts needing a solution. But seeing this uncontrollable hunger in a woman who isn’t an actress takes your breath away. After this difficult time, the photo shows Jacinta shooting in many places around Lewiston, Maine. Intimacy with Jacinthe, her father, her boyfriend and especially her daughter shakes up everything that many non-addicts think they know about drug addiction. The boyfriend does not use drugs at first. Later he smokes something, and one of the sober parents comments that non-drug users think they can raise an addict, but usually the addict drags them down.
Most of what the movie Hyacinth shows is unexpected. Jacinta is white, so the documentary doesn’t tell the stereotypical tale of how drugs ravage black families in urban areas. Whites are also drawn into a terrible vortex that seems to begin with child sexual abuse, rape, early pregnancy – passed down from generation to generation.
The relationship between Jacinta and her parents is mind-boggling. When she’s in need, she always calls them mom and dad, like she’s trying to be a kid again. She and her mother adore each other, even though Jacinta has been prostituted by her mother to support the mother’s addiction, even though their life together is littered with betrayal and exploitation.
Jacinta’s daughter grows up during the film and appears to be the only person who can retain her common sense and unusual wisdom. It’s not that Jacinta and the others lack common sense and wisdom; it is that they have lost the capacity to act on what they know. You hope the girl can survive this life.
The prison where Jacinta spends so much time seems to be a safe haven for her. As the film shows, the prison is calm and restful. The inmates comb each other’s hair; they play volleyball and watch television. Jacinta has a bulletin board with family photos; she’s making an album. It thrives in this structure.
By the end of Jacinta, you might not know what to make of all of this.