Hear me out. First, I'm a recovering alcoholic, so many facets and details of Ben's story rang true to me and were painful to kind of relive, which is why I haven't revisited this movie or others like When A Man Loves A Woman until recently (4yrs sober now). So, don't get me wrong. Nic Cage's performance as Ben was incredible and powerful.
But, I'm also a woman who has, because of past trauma, sought out and been most comfotable in the worst possible relationships, including seeking out damaged ppl I could care for as it made me feel less damaged. I also identified strongly with Shue's Sera, as she has become this enabler of toxic men.
Neither Cage's or Shue's background or upbringing is explored, but we as the audience must infer some pretty fucked up backstory leads Ben to commit suicide rather than check himself into a rehab to repair his life. This is evident in the scene where his boss fires him, his eyes full of sympathy for Ben, and he asks Ben "what will you do now?" Ben, full of regret and sorrow, responds right away "Move to Las Vegas." Even knowing what happens, I'd hoped for half a second he would say "Get healthy".
So the audience believes the movie they are watching is about Ben's downward trajectory. He meets this prostitute with a good heart who enables his death wish, and in fact falls in love with him.
But you see Sera telling her story to someone in retrospect, and I assume it's a therapist. I'd like to think that after her relationship ends with her pimp, and her rape, and Ben dies, she's finally realized she needs help to overcome her tendencies to love and enable damaged men. That it's dangerous to her physically and mentally and she won't survive forever in this state of despair and chaos. Her love for Ben, and his ultimate death, are the catalysts for her to try to finally find healing and peace. And so, in that way, Ben's last days with her saved her life, when he just thought he was worthless.
The key to me feeling like this was more Sera's story really clicked in that scene where he gives her the earrings and he tells her that she will feel them as she's fucking her next client. A thousand emotions play on her face in that moment, and I know Cage gets all the accolades for this film but Shue really nails her role and I just feel like she didn't get enough acknowledgement for this very difficult role.