Positive Representations of Illegal Substances in Film.
I’m far from the typical drug liberal and is of the strong conviction that intoxicating substances of all kinds should be regulated with an iron hand. Not banned or made illegal in anyway, but regulated. I’m raised in a family of alcoholics and I’ve seen in which direction that can go. But I would never want to stop anyone to drink alcohol. It’s their problem if they want to poison themselves with a substance that kills approximate 3,3 million humans per year. And yes, if you want to be one of those seven (7!) million who every year dies from tobacco use, please go ahead. I even pay tax gladly so you can get the help you need if you lose control over your addiction.
So let's talk about less dangerous (and sometimes even not at all) drugs and how they’re they’re treated in films. First of all, how many times haven’t we seen romantic scenes of wine drinking, or the smart super agent sipping on a drink before going out on a successful mission, or whisky being the symbol of the thinking man (often men yes, women who drinks alcohol often is shown as problematic personalities for some reason) while sitting planning a cool jewel heist or whatever. It’s a lot of positive use of alcohol in films, this drug that kills so many people and is so easily addicted to.
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one jumping of joy when other drugs are being shown in positive lights on the screen, which is quite rare and often seen in less commercial available films. But there’s a few instances here and there where the good old psychoactive drug is shown as something good, something healing or just perfectly normal - far away from the often badly constructed warnings out there, warnings about gateway drugs and other illusions of our society.
We need to take back the rights to our bodies and minds, and realize what we can do and want to use and how to use it in positive ways, and the more scenes of positive use of psychoactive drugs in cinema the more accepted it will be. Not that it’s a rare thing nowadays, I’m sure more than many lights up a joint now and then, or maybe drops some acid or chews shrooms during the weekend - and comes back like healthy, happy human beings the monday after.
So what is positive representations of drugs in film? What is positive? In my eyes, the eyes of someone very individualistic, it’s scenes where drugs either brings something good to the character without removing it later in the film (as some kind of moral clause) or if drugs is treated like something fun and wacky - but still might bring some exciting danger, without nothing too bad happening at the end. I’m also avoiding pure drug films like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream - because they focus more or less solely on drugs and its pro and cons, and I’m specifically interested in films where it’s either just a part of the story without becoming the story (but I have a few specific exceptions there, more on that later in the text).
Marijuana is so wildly popular and quite accepted nowadays, and the films where it’s used in good ways are countless. I have two favorites though, the first one being Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. It’s the scene where Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise light up a fat one after the Ziegler christmas party. It’s a magnificent scene, and even if Cruise accuses Kidman of being aggressive because of pot smoking it’s clearly also that it’s not about that. Instead the marijuana helps them to clear up some issues, stuff that challenges their relationship in both good and bad ways, but mostly good (read my essay on EWS here). Another fine husband and wife smoking pot-scene is in Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist (I know Tobe Hooper is credited, but it’s very obviously a Spielberg production and nothing else) where Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as Steve and Diane very relaxed smokes a joint in their bedroom without any drama at all. To be fair, it’s not even important for the story, but the fact that it’s there and shown as something completely normal, like having a cup of coffee, makes it a remarkably important scene even if it’s low key and rarely talked about.
When it comes to LSD/acid there’s a couple of fine examples, but maybe not that many in total - probably because it’s complicated and expensive to shoot acid trips - not to forget how to make them realistic enough for us psychonauts to accept. Hot Rod might not be the typical example, but when Bill Hader drops acid and accidentally impales his forehead with some kind of metal rod (or if it’s an instrument of some kind) is such a good, and twisted, example of how acid can work: one moment you have no idea what’s happening and kinda sees nothing unnatural in the most absurd experiences, but suddenly one can be wise and incredibly emotionally intelligent. And that’s what happens in this brilliant and charming comedy by The Lonely Island. The most impressive one I’ve seen is in the French-Belgian 2015 comedy Moonwalkers where Ron Perlman, as a stiff American CIA agent drops LSD for the first time and finds himself. The trip itself is wonderfully shot with some very interesting concepts, not far from what you can experience for real while on an LSD trip. The thing that it also ends on a positive note, no impossible overdoses or psychological traumas - just happiness, makes it one of the finer trips in the history of film.
My personal choice of drugs has always been shrooms, this magical critter of fields. But it’s rarely used in films, and don’t be fooled by the title Shrooms, a teen horror from a couple of years back, who both manages to be extremely boring and even more extremely inaccurate in its interpretation of psilocybin effects. A more charming use of shrooms is in the british horror/thriller Severance where Danny Dyer stuffs himself with way too many mushrooms and experiences some odd things around the mysterious and rundown country house where he and his colleagues will spend a weekend. Not necessarily realistic, but made with a sense of humor that most shroom fans would appreciate. It’s more about the atmosphere than the actual effects, which is fine by me. As long as humor and intelligence is involved.
Films like Blueberry, Embrace of the Serpent and Enter the Void takes us further down the road, with their mesmerising, self-reflecting and hallucionary dramas where finding yourself is more important than pure melodrama and action. Enter the Void also starts with a beautiful and - I would say almost it’s in real time - DMT trip before letting it’s main character out on the neon drenched streets of Shinjuku. The film itself is a trip, from death - maybe with the help of the mysterious Dimethyltryptamine - to one of the most powerful rebirth themed endings I have ever seen. DMT is also used in the first season of the Wachowski sisters Sense8, where one character tries it and through that opens the special connection she has to some other people around the world. The trip sequence itself isn’t particularly realistic, but the idea is interesting and it’s nothing negative with the outcome. Sense8 is also, in general, a very positive show regarding the use of psychoactive drugs, even minors ones as marijuana.
Similar ideas is also used in The Matrix trilogy, also by the Wachowski’s, where a pill opens the door to the real reality - not that far from the ideas that have come out from the use of DMT, but very simplified. But maybe, in the reality of the simulated world shows in the film, that pill is the ultimate high? My favorite fictional drug is used frequently in Don Coscarelli’s fine piece of absurdist cinema, John Dies at the End, where the so-called Soy Sauce practically sets yourself in the middle of time and space, with very few rules and lots of insanity. If you ask me, I would try it directly - imagine the freedom after learning how to use it and live with it. Such amazing opportunities. Which brings me to the Hollywood mainstream blockbuster Limitless, where another fictional drugs comes in handy; NZT-48, which makes your brain capable of basically everything. I can see where they got the inspiration, and in my imasgination a pill like this might be able to produce - maybe not with as the same stunning results, but there’s something in it and I love the idea. And I see nothing wrong with it.
Which makes me think of Ecstasy. Molly, or Adam or Eve, it has many times and is still very, very provocative when mentioned among those who haven’t tried it. It’s not even close to being dangerous compared to alcohol, to mentioned a very common drug most people love in some way, but also keeps you smarter, funnier, happier and still being able to control yourself without ending up dead drunk in a ditch somewhere. This is of course if you use it correctly and with respect. Imagine if it was possible to mix Psilocybin and MDMA, removing the dehydration side effects and visual distortions - wow, just wow. It’s an amazing thought.
My favorite use of Ecstasy is in Magic Mike XXL, yes the male stripper dramedy sequel starring Channing Tatum. Even if the scene ends with a car accident, it also shows beautifully how it brings those who take it together, strengthens friendships and encourage creativity. I would go so far to say it’s a pretty realistic scene, made with a lot of love and passion by people who obviously used it in the same way themselves once or twice in their life.
Remember, you own your body. Don’t let the drugs control you, you should control and use them the way they’re meant to be used: not too much, not so it endangers yourself and people around you and with a helluva lot of love and laughter.
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