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Film / Heaven Knows What

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Heaven Knows What is a 2014 drama film by The Safdie Brothers. Starring Arielle Holmes and Caleb Landry Jones, the film is based on the real life experiences of Holmes living as a teenage drug addict on the streets of New York City with her boyfriend Ilya.


  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: A central theme. Ilya is a cruel asshole, but Harley spends the whole film loving him. When Mike confronts her about what a creep he is, she admits that she realizes that he does bad things, but can't help loving him.
  • Anti-Hero: Harley is a drug addict who spends the whole film making poor choices.
  • Autobiographical Role: Arielle Holmes plays a version of herself going through scenes that are based on her own experiences.
  • Bedlam House: As the camera passes through the halls of the psych ward, we see a number of patients flipping out. Harley is almost immediately accosted by a bully and physically attacked.
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  • Big Applesauce: The film takes place on the streets of New York City.
  • Blatant Lies: Street hustler Mike tells an anecdote in which he argues with a man over money and tells the man that the sum is insignificant to him because he makes $900,000 a day.
  • Blunt "Yes": When Harley asks if killing herself will make Ilya forgive her, he replies with a cold, "Yes."
  • Brooklyn Rage: Mike and Ilya are both very pugnacious. A lot of the film's dialogue is shouted arguments between characters.
  • The Bully: The psych ward has a bully in the common area who taunts and then attacks Harley. She's credited as "Psych Ward Bully." Because there is no dialogue during the scene, we don't find out what she's saying.
  • Creator Provincialism: The Safies are New Yorkers, and this is a very New York film.
  • Dedication: The film is dedicated to the memory of Ilya Leontyev, who died of a drug overdose in Central Park in 2015, a year after the film was completed.
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  • Dogged Nice Guy: While Harley is avoiding Ilya, the comparatively wholesome Skully doggedly follows Harley around trying to get into her good graces, but Harley spurns him for Mike, a drug dealer. Mike, in turn, also tries to pull Harley away from Ilya's cruel behavior, but she ultimately spurns him as well.
  • Dramatic Irony: We know that Ilya has died and Harley will be heartbroken when she finds out, but we last see her ignorantly sitting in a fast food joint listening to Mike tell a story.
  • Driven to Suicide: At the beginning of the film, Harley slashes her wrist in an attempt to atone for some wrong to Ilya, but he calls for an ambulance to save her.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Skully is a thief and a street denizen, but he criticizes Mike as being a drug dealing scumbag.
    • When Ilya goads Harley into slashing her wrist, his flunky friend is visibly uncomfortable and makes a weak effort to calm Ilya down.
    • Mike just can't understand why Harley would tolerate Ilya's needless cruelty.
  • Fight Clubbing: Harley attends a night time, drugged-out revelry with some street friends. One of the activities in the montage seems to be a friendly brawl.
  • Goodbye, Cruel World!: After declaring that she'll commit suicide to atone for some unspoken transgression to Ilya, she hands him a suicide note, which he tears up in front of her. Defiantly, she sits down and starts writing a second one, and he tears that up as well.
  • Kick the Dog: When Harley asks if killing herself would make Ilya forgive her, he gives a Blunt "Yes".
  • Man on Fire: Ilya falls into a drugged stupor next to some candles, which set his bedding alight. He awakens and runs around on fire for a few moments before collapsing.
  • The Münchausen: Mike is fond of telling animated anecdotes about himself that sound heavily embellished.
  • No Ending: In the final scenes, Ilya accidentally burns himself to death. Before finding out about it, Harley wanders into a fast food joint where Mike is telling an anecdote, and the film ends.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: The marketing for the film emphasized the non-professional actress Arielle Holmes portraying her own experiences.
  • Random Events Plot: Harley spends the film simply wandering about New York, linking up with and breaking away from various people.
  • Red Herring: Mike gets a throwing star stuck in his hand and refuses medical attention despite Harley's repeated urging. Nothing ever comes of this. The last we see Mike, his hand no longer needs a bandage and he's as healthy as he ever was.
  • Riddle for the Ages: What was Ilya so mad about in the beginning of the film? We never find out.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: For no rational reason, Ilya decides to ditch Harley on a cross-country bus trip while she's asleep.
  • Stock Ninja Weaponry: Ilya glued together a bunch of X-acto blades into the shape of a throwing star, which he tosses at Mike and hits him in the hand. The 7" soundtrack is shaped like a pink throwing star.
  • Undiscriminating Addict: Harley and company will gulp liquor, sip on Dayquil, do benzos, shoot heroin, and pretty much anything else they can get their hands on.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Skully and Mike are both very confused about why Harley hangs out with such creeps. Skully includes Mike in that list of creeps.