Discovering ‘The High Cost of Living’
Ashley Jo Will
I follow my favorite actor Zach Braff on various social media sites and I discovered he was starring in a movie titled “The High Cost of Living” premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 15, 2010. I recently found this film on Netflix after forgetting about it and I just had to watch this film I had missed starring Zach Braff. “The High Cost of Living” is a somber film with minimal comedic moments. This role is quite different from Zach Braff’s role as J.D. in the television series “Scrubs” that is often more funny than serious. The cost of living is explored when an accident between two strangers tragically changes their lives forever. Watch “The High Cost of Living” and see what happens when one person tries to make amends for the past which cannot be erased.
Henry, played by Zach Braff, is a drug dealer who specializes in prescription medication such as Percocet, Vicodin and Xanax. Nathalie is a pregnant woman who is approaching her due date. The film begins by allowing the viewer to see into both of their worlds as the perspective switches back and forth from Henry to Nathalie. Henry is seen taking calls and delivering supplies to various clients. He stops at a bar where he is seen drinking whiskey and dancing. Nathalie appears to be at a baby shower for her. She is opening gifts while surrounded by women who are giving her advice about her future child. Nathalie’s husband, Michel, arrives late to the party and tells his wife that he had to stay at work for a meeting. That night, Michel leaves again because he says he must return to the aforementioned meeting although it is quite late. While Nathalie is alone, she begins having contractions. Nathalie is worried because the baby would arrive early and she calls a friend who says they are probably false contractions. Nonetheless, Nathalie wants to get checked out by a medical professional for reassurance. Nathalie tries calling Michel but she is unable to reach her husband. Filled with anxiety, Nathalie calls a taxi and watches for it in the street in front of her house.
Henry stops dancing at the bar and he leaves in his car to do more work. In the car, he fumbles with his phone and his vision seems fuzzy. Henry’s state of mind is most likely due to him drinking shortly before taking off with his car. He is soon traveling the wrong way down a particular street. This street is in front of Nathalie’s home where she is waiting for the taxi to take her to the hospital to check her out. Nathalie doesn’t see the oncoming vehicle because she is looking the other way for approaching traffic since it does not cross her mind that a car would be coming from the wrong direction. The resulting accident is a surprise for both parties. This event changes the lives of both Henry and Nathalie forever.
The viewer sees Nathalie in a hospital room. Nathalie suffered a concussion but will be able to go home soon unlike her unborn child who was killed in the impact. Instead of doctors rushing to extract the stillborn, they want to wait until Nathalie fully recovers from her concussion. Now not only has Nathalie been the victim of a hit-and-run that killed her child, she also has to live with the appearance of being pregnant for a little while longer. Instead of being comforting, Michel is callous and wishes his wife would get over the child’s death as soon as possible. Although Michel says he is sad about his child’s death, his words and actions do not convey this as he says they can just try for another child. Nathalie and Michel blame each other for the accident. Michel says Nathalie overreacted with her false contractions and Nathalie says Michel should have answered his phone. These words are hurtful and Nathalie begins to wonder why she is in a relationship with this man.
Meanwhile Henry checks the birth and death notices in the newspaper hoping for a sign of what happened to the woman he hit on the road. Henry had called an ambulance from a public phone but he couldn’t bring himself to stay near the woman until help arrived. Since Henry’s car looks like an illegal drugstore, he would be arrested as soon as the police came. Henry doesn’t want to be arrested and sees no other alternative than to leave the scene. Yet Henry still wants to know what happened to the woman and tells a friend named Johnny to go to the street the accident occurred and to be on the lookout for a pregnant woman. Johnny finds the woman Henry describes and jots down her address. Henry discreetly waits near Nathalie’s home and follows her. Nathalie enters a bar and drinks multiple glasses of wine as Henry watches her. Other people in the establishment give Nathalie grief for drinking because they think she is pregnant. Henry leaves the bar as Nathalie does and offers her solace. He walks with her and buys her a snack. Henry also gives Nathalie his scarf to wear although she is already wearing one. He playfully says that she has two necks to keep warm. Henry believes everything is as well as could be for Nathalie and her baby.
Nathalie then tells the truth to Henry and says that she was involved in a hit-and-run accident which caused the death of her unborn child but she has not been able to have a stillbirth delivery yet. Henry is obviously in shock at this news because he had believed Nathalie was OK like he had hoped for. Guilt begins to overwhelm Henry and he wants to bring comfort to Nathalie despite the irony that he is the reason for her discomfort. Nathalie is in the waiting room for her procedure and leaves quietly after seeing a family rejoice with the news of a newborn. With no place in mind, Nathalie just knows she doesn’t want to go home and face Michel. Henry is being offered a chance to party when his cellphone rings with Nathalie on the other end. Nathalie is at a bus station but doesn’t know where to go. Everyone she knows has children and she doesn’t want to be around them at the moment. Henry offers his apartment as a place to stay.
Henry is like an angel to Nathalie. He makes her breakfast in bed, brings her dinner, makes her laugh by wearing a funny hat as well as buying her one, and he is never judgmental. Nathalie has a difficult time taking off her shirt because the remnants of her pregnant body are underneath. Unlike Michel, Henry doesn’t give her a hard time. Henry is seemingly the perfect guy in Nathalie’s eyes. Everything he does is so kind and Nathalie is even able to smile. If she only knew what the audience knows, Henry’s place in her mind would change significantly. Henry begins taking care of Nathalie as a way to make amends and ease his conscience but as time progresses, he genuinely begins to care about the troubled woman. In the meantime, a detective is trying to find the culprit of the hit-and-run accident. Without knowing the truth, the detective may convict an innocent person identified by Nathalie as someone slightly recognizable.
Nathalie tells Henry that she doesn’t know what she would have done without him. The entire scenario of the film is awkward since the audience knows the truth about the accident. You may think it would be easy to despise Henry for his actions but I couldn’t hate him because it was clear that Henry was sorry for what he had done and longed to change the past. Emotions run high for both the “bad guy” and Nathalie. When Henry’s friend becomes wrongly accused of driving the vehicle that hit Nathalie, Henry feels forced to choose between running away from his problems or turning himself in to the police. The high cost of living involves taking responsibility for actions no matter how painful they are to face. The viewer finds reality catching up to Henry in the moving tragic film “The High Cost of Living” when he soon learns that ignoring the past will not erase it and allow him and Nathalie to live happily ever after.