The structure of Greek tragedy is characterized by a set of conventions. The tragedy usually begins with a prologue, in which one or more characters introduce the drama and explain the background of the ensuing story. The prologue is followed by the parodos, the entry of the characters, after which the story unfolds through vignettes. The tragedy ends with the exodus, concluding the story.
After a self-imposed exile, artist, Val Shepard, returns to New York City with the intention of picking up the life he left behind. Nowhere to go, he arrives on the doorstep of his ex-landlord, and father figure, Jimmy Alfano. Here we learn about Val and the life he left behind. Val soon learns that life on the Lower East Side has moved on without him. Looking for work and to reconnect with the scene he abounded Val visit a house of Ill-reputed. The Madam, Elsa Burgundy greets Val enthusiastically but finds it absurd that he could ever be of any protective service to her. Elsa treats Val to several services as a homecoming extravagance, amongst which a young prostitute Amiee who warns Val, living your life vicariously will prevent you from ever discovering yourself. While on his way out Val comes upon a customer abusing a young Ukrainian girl, the customer tells Val to mind his own business and move on.
Val begin to look for his girlfriend Jenna Bardi. After getting mislead by LES hustler Tommy Machine, Val has a chance meeting with Jenna at a Pharmacy. After he left her without warning, Jenna now wants nothing to do with him. Val tries explaining why he went, but Jenna tells him that it’s too late, she’s moved on with her life. Thinking he can win her back, Val asks to see her one last time under the guise of obtaining closure. Jenna agrees to one final meeting. Upon arrival at her apartment that evening, Jenna introduces Val to her new friend Lara, and to Ian, Jenna’s new husband. (Ian looks suspiciously familiar to the abusing the Ukrainian girl). Val is taken aback by the news of Jenna’s marriage. Further to add insult to injury, Val learns Ian is a successful painter and holding a show in a few months at the prestigious Turner-Prince Gallery. The same gallery where Val would have shown had he not sabotaged his career. Realizing he has lost Jenna, Val capitulates and leaves.
Out on the street Val encounters Lara. The two go to a bar and through their conversation we learn how Jenna met Ian after Val abounded her and his life some nine months earlier. Val walks Lara home and the two begin to kiss but Val excuses himself as he feels he is not able to perform this evening. Val takes a taxi back to the LES and has a philosophical conversation with the cab driver. Arriving home, Val walks into his building and here’s Jimmy Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic echoing through the stairwell. On his way to the top floor Val passes two young girls entwined in a passionate embrace and several other people in various states if altered consciousness. Upon reaching the top floor Val finds the source of the music is coming from his old studio. Val enters to find a Warholesque party raging at full throttle. Val joins in and asks several people, including Amiee, whose party is this. He’s told, no other than Jackson King, but when Val tries to find him, but Jackson King is nowhere to be found.
The next morning Val wakes up hangover and confused. While getting sick in his sink, a good-looking young man wanders into his room asking him if he could give him a hand opening up a bottle of Laphroaig Scotch. The man introduced Himself as Jackson King. Val tells him that he crashed his party last night. Jackson tells him that, that’s fine and he should have introduced himself. While Val tries explaining that he couldn’t find him, Jackson cuts him off to correct Val, telling him, it wasn’t a party, it was just some friends getting together and that even Val could recognize that. Val agrees… obviously. Val takes an immediate liking to Jackson and the two go over to Jackson’s studio where they drink and talk. Val peruses Jackson’s collection of knick-knacks finding a piece of a Chagall mosaic, Jackson gives it to Val. Val’s phone rings and he excuses himself.
Val is surprised by the call and asks Jenna how she got his new number. Jenna tells him, from Lara obviously and invites Val to lunch to apologize for putting him in such an awkward position. Over lunch Val begins to explain /why/ he did what he did. Jenna tells him it doesn’t matter, all dreams begin like they end. Val tries to convince Jenna to leave Ian, it is less than a year and he is already cheating on her. Jenna tells Val, there are only twelve covers of American Artist a year, only twelve… my husband is on the cover of September. Val takes out the Chagall Glass he was about to give to Jenna and then he stops. Jenna asks what he has. Val tells her it is nothing, just a piece of glass. After lunch Val throws the Chagall glass in the East River.
The next morning Val visits Jackson in his studio. Jackson is a wreck, he has spilled his last dose of Heroin and is begging to go into withdrawal. Jackson asks Val for a favor, he tells him he is an addict and ask him to help him score. Val enthusiastic agrees. Val and Jackson go out to Alphabet City and track down a teenage dealer. Short of cash, Val and Jackson short change the dealer. As they are about to get away the dealer chases after them. He catches Jackson and begins roughing him up. Taken aback, at first Val stands and watches until Jackson yells out to him to help. Val hits him in the head knocking him off balance and freeing Jackson. But instead of fleeing, Val stays and beats the boy, taking out his frustrations. Val and Jackson return home and after they clean up and Jackson shots, Jenna arrives to return Val’s wallet which he left at the Pink Pony during their lunch. Jenna lectures Val, he’s not a kid anymore and he has to begin to take his life seriously. As Jenna leaves she meets Jackson and is immediately smitten by him.
Val lies in bed having nightmares with surrealistic visions of his life, images of the beaten boy. He wakes up and begins to cry while he washes his face. He listens at Jackson’s door then goes up to the roof for a cigarette. While he’s on the roof he discovers barefoot Jenna wearing an oversized white man’s shirt. Jenna is in ecstasy, she tells Val that he was right, she should leave Ian for someone who appreciates her. The news distresses Val, until he finds out that Jackson is a fraud and plagiarized his paintings. Believing if Jenna were to get involved with Jackson it may bring her fragile marriage to an end. Val begins to encourage Jenna to have an affair with Jackson, going as far to fascinate their first date.
Jackson asks Val to invite Jenna to a party he’s throwing at his studio the following evening. Val tells him that, that might not be the nest setting for Jenna. Jackson tells Val, it’s just going to be a few friends getting together. Val call Jenna and she arranges to come over the following night. That night a vicious thunderstorm unleashes over the LES and Jenna arrives drenched. Jenna stops off at Val’s to dry off and get herself together. While she assembles herself, Val runs over to Jackson’s studio to tell him they’re running late. Excepting a full-blown party Val is surprised to see the demur intimate setting. When Jenna arrives find it is only her, Val and Jackson. Feeling a third wheel as they sit and drink Champagne, Val wanders off to visit Amiee. Val asks her for a shot of heroin. She asks him why and he tells her of the situation with Jackson and his ex-girlfriend. Amiee refuses and tells him to come back for his first hit when he’s in a better frame of mind. As Val is about to leave, Amiee offer to sleep with him and Val spends the night with her. The next day Val return to Jackson’s studio. When Val arrives, the studio is empty. Val walks in and begins to examine Jackson’s work. Val discovers, and Jackson admits that he’s not a painter, he’s a fraud. Val is furious with him, “I’ve taken my soul to the brink of insanity for my artwork and you think you can pout your name in the lower-left and get away with it! Val leaves with the intention of never peaking to Jackson again.
Over the next month Val dives deep into despair. Val begins working on collages and writing love letters and poetry on the walls of his studio. He has become a social recluse, not shaving or washing for weeks. The few times he leaves his home he stops and waits outside of Jackson’s door. He begins to hallucinate strange sounds coming from behind the door. Sounds of antique radio broadcast and voice in foreign languages. Val kills a spider crawling across a collage he is working on. He hits it with such violence he fears he may have broken his hand. Val walks across the hall and ask Jackson to take him to the emergency room. Jackson agrees and takes him, on the way home he buys a bottle of Laphroaig. As the two men drink and take painkillers, Jackson shows him a photo of him as a young man with his uncle in Hong Kong. Jackson tells Val about his travels and how he became addicted, not looking for sympathy, but for comprehension. The two men spend the night talking while Jackson plays Spanish Guitar and Val sketches the view of the LES with his one good hand.
Suspecting his wife’s infidelity, Ian shows up at Jackson's studio with two gallery owner patrons. Ian invites Jackson out for drinks with them in hopes Jackson will implicate himself. While they are out Jackson gets sick from a dirty shot of heroin and must cut the evening short, narrowly escaping with Val’s assistance. Not wanting to be upstaged by Ian, Jackson throws a party a few days later to show off to Ian. During the party, Jackson tells Jenna he has fallen in love with her and ask’s her to leave Ian. Jenna leaves the party with Ian, and without giving Jackson a definite answer. Convinced now that his wife has been unfaithful, Ian arrives at Jackson’s studio with his lover Ruta to confront him and Jenna. Ian tells Jenna to choose between him and Jackson. She picks Ian. The decision devastates Jackson who walks out of his studio in despair.
Val sees Jenna home, and Ruta and Ian stay behind in Jackson's studio. Ian and Ruta have one final fling, during which, Ian unintentionally shoots Ruta with an overdose of heroin leaving Jackson and Val with the corpse. Believing they have no other option, Val and Jackson dump Ruta’s body near the East River. After they dump her body, Val takes Jackson home before paying a visit to Jenna and Ian. Jenna refuses to let Val see Ian and asks him if he has taken care of everything. Val asks her how she can be so callous when a young girl has just died. Jenna tells Val, she knows nothing about it. There was no involvement by her and Ian, and Val should just forget about it. Val asks her, how he could ever have been in love with a woman like her. Jenna tells him, he should have never have come back to New York and should have stayed gone.
On his way home Val realizes, although a plagiarist, Jackson is the sincerest man he has ever known and is looking forward to seeing him. When Val arrives at his home, he finds police cordoning off the building with crime scene tape. Upon learning of his wife’s death, Ruta‘s husband Peter tracked her down to Jackson's studio. Thinking he was responsible for the death of his wife, Peter threw Jackson off the roof. Val returns to Williamsburg and tracks down Ian and finds him on the street. The two men scuffle and Val demands to know how Peter found out where Jackson lived. Ian tells Val everyone is better off with Jackson dead. Jackson’s funeral is sparse. Apart from a few curiosity seekers the only attendees are Jimmy, Val, and Jackson’s uncle, Jedidiah. After the funeral, they return to Jimmy’s, and the three men raise a toast, to Jackson King. In the end Val ascends the stairs to the floor where he supposedly lived with Jackson. He tries the door to his a room but the room is padlocked as it were in the opening scene. Val turns around and sees the door his old apartment open and he walks in. All of the splendor of Jackson’s apparent is gone. The room is bare and dilapidated. Val sit’s at his counter, his face is aged. Val begins to cook a shot of heroin as the screen fades to black.