Film, OldVenue

Used and Abused: Drugs in Film

Throughout history, films have galvanised from creative inspirations such as a past event or movement, an individual or a group of individuals, emotions and personal experiences. Every so often drugs are used to spark the imagination into making films, and these pieces are usually very reflective of the filmmaker’s hallucinogenic experience. However, at other times drugs are used as a cinematic theme itself, depicting positive or negative messages about substance use. To a certain extent, drugs have enhanced the creative energy of films whether through groundbreaking visuals, clever and zany dialogue, and unique, intriguing characters or plot developments. Despite this, it cannot be denied that drugs have also ruined actors and filmmakers whether in terms of their careers or personal lives or in the art of their films.

Drugs are known for distorting the mind from reality into a world of fantasy and illusion. Often when under the influence of hallucinogenics, one sees abstract images whether joyful, humorous or even threatening. This determines whether the person has had a good or bad trip. These visuals are often expressed in films such as the abstract and psychedelic animation in pictures such as Yellow Submarine or hippie exploitation films such as The Trip and The Love-ins. The counterculture movement and its association with marijuana and LSD use greatly influenced these pieces. Surrealist films such as these are considered to be highly influential works of art. This poses the question of whether drugs are a useful ingredient in making memorable and radiant films.

Taseen Rahman
Taseen Rahman

Drugs are also used in film as a theme in their own right. When it comes to making a story ‘edgy’, drugs are usually the instruments of choice in popular cinema, whether used to create humour or slapstick in comedy films such as Pineapple Express drama and violence such as Trainspotting or emotive and stylistic films such as Requiem for a Dream. In fact, drugs have inspired their own sub-genre of film know as ‘stoner comedies’, highlighting their innovative impact.

However, is it right to assert that drugs are the total gateway for such artists to achieve creative excellence? It is evident that film actors and makers do not require substance use to demonstrate their artistic talents and many are allegedly sober or seek other forms of stimulating their creativity. Nevertheless, it is notable of people in the industry to succumb to drugs as a relief from the pressure of their demanding jobs or to indulge in the hedonistic elements that their professions are associated with. Instances of actors such as Robert Downey Jr. and Charlie Sheen have demonstrated that drugs can hinder one’s professional career and private life through losing jobs and loved ones. Despite both actors having made professional comebacks, it is clear that drugs are capable of damaging the integrity and sparkle of actors and filmmakers.

Moreover, films influenced by drugs do not always attain an enthusiastic reaction from critics and audiences. Surrealist elements fuelled by hallucinogenic or hard drugs are often seen as confusing and sometimes pretentious and over-ambitious. Perhaps it could be the ignorance of certain individuals in failing to understand the filmmaker’s art and message. Even so, this shows that drug-induced films are not always warmly embraced or understood and can sometimes hinder the intended essence of the film being fully communicated. Overall, drugs have certainly helped to inspire films and other forms of creativity. However, they are not necessary to produce innovative cinema. There are other and possibly more healthier forms that can just be as effective in producing noteworthy and brilliant pieces.


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September 2021
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