6 Movies That Are Shockingly Different When You're Not High
Ever since Jon Stewart shook the world of journalism to its core by suggesting that Scent of a Woman is far better while stoned, it seems like our entire culture has centered around answering that age-old question: Does the modern man appreciate cinema better while high, or are they just more impressed by the stupid thoughts their brains were already having?
I will discover the answer to this question, even if it kills me. And in the interest of full disclosure, there is a point in this experiment where I smear cream cheese all over a bran muffin because I thought it was vanilla frosting and a chocolate cupcake, respectively. It took me an embarrassing length of time to realize my error.
My point is, strap the fuck in.
Up in Smoke
Up in Smoke, a seminal entry in the "stoner film" genre, chronicles the adventures of "Man" (Tommy Chong) and Pedro (Richard "The Cheech" Marin) as they drive a car made of hardened marijuana across the Mexican border. Other things also happen.
Up in Smoke is important because it establishes some very strict "stoner movie" patterns that every movie on this list will follow closely: We have two lead male characters on a journey with a loose (if defined) goal, who encounter multiple bit characters and an antagonist that is only tangentially (if at all) related to the main plot. Remember this part, because it'll get important later.
The movie opens with the clearly 40-year-old Tommy Chong being told by his parents that he needs to get a job or he's going to military school, so let me just say that I had trouble suspending my disbelief and was not immediately hooked. But, I gotta say, the movie eventually won me over through the freaking expert-level delivery and physical comedy: Cheech and Chong's characters have become archetypes, and you can see them establishing real motifs here. Most modern imitators: Eat your frickin' heart out, because these guys are just, like, fucking hilarious, man. Stand-out scene is when a motorcycle cop pulls over their weed car. The exhaust is infused with THC, so the cop becomes instantly high, and when he approaches the window he looks Chong nervously in the eye and stammers, "... What do you guys want?"
I want to point out that when I say this is a "seminal stoner movie" I'm not just being pretentious and using the word "seminal" to replace "first" like people do -- I mean it's actually seminal, as in "like semen," as in it created an archetype: We have two friends, who enjoy weed and go on a journey while interacting with a series of bit characters. There's a loose plot -- an end goal that the characters hurtle toward -- but most of the individual scenes don't seem immediately relevant, and if they do end up colliding in the climax, it will only be tangentially related.
Also, hahaha, that fucking cop, it cracks me up so much.
I think the way weed has changed over the years has also changed the way stoner movies are portrayed, right? See, Cheech and Chong keep screwing up -- the whole movie, in fact, they never really know what's going on -- but things work out for them anyway. When they outwit the border patrol, for example, it's purely by accident: Cheech accidentally throws his joint into a car full of nuns, and the ensuing smoke distracts the border agents as they drive away. Similarly, when that motorcycle cop pulls them over, they accidentally get him stoned.
My favorite part of this movie is that the Wikipedia page explains what Cheech's "MUF DVR" vanity plate means, and links to the page for cunnilingus.
Never change, Wikipedia.
I guess my point is, I had trouble paying attention to this movie the second time, but the parts I remember were pretty funny.
Sober Score: I only spaced out and checked Twitter three times!
Stoned Score: C'mon man, don't make me put a number on it.
WINNER: Stoned. By like a mile.
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is the story of two drug dealers who get mad that a movie is being made about them and take a trip across the country to stop it. It's basically Kevin Smith's love letter to everyone who saw all his View Askewniverse movies, as evidence by the fact that Jason Lee plays both Brodie Bruce (his character from Mallrats) and Banky Edwards (his character from Chasing Amy). Smith is just so happy that Clerks was a success, guys.
Like I said before, this movie follows the Up in Smoke model religiously, so much so that I almost wonder if I could watch them at the same time and see them sync up. The big difference is the nature of the characters: Cheech and Chong are these friendly, affable stoners that things happen to work out for because the cops chasing them are too high-strung and incompetent to do their jobs, and the universe is on their side. Jay and Silent Bob, on the other hand, are being actively exploited everywhere they go: Not only are characters based on them appearing in a movie that they didn't approve of, they become the fall guys in a jewelry heist perpetrated by the sexy character from Heroes. You know the one.
I don't know what this means, though.
OK, here's what it means: The stoner character is a reflection of the artist's laziest base impulse, right? So Cheech and Chong really, at the end of the day, wanted to just fuck around. But Kevin Smith, right, is a comic book nerd from Jersey who built his success out of raw stick-to-itiveness, and now he's worried about losing it all. Check out his interviews and talks and see how wary and critical he is of the Hollywood system. He's worried about being taken advantage of. He's worried about being exploited. That's a real fear in Hollywood, and though he's probably sublimated that fear pretty well at this point, it still exists in the darkest recesses of his heart of hearts. You can never get rid of those old fears.
Wow, this movie even ends with a performance by The Time, just like how Up in Smoke ends with a performance of "Earache My Eye," which we're going to watch right now.
Sober Score: I checked Twitter like 30 times.
Stoned Score: I still don't really like this movie.
WINNER: Stoned, I guess. Fucking whatever.
The Big Lebowski
Statistically speaking, The Big Lebowski is your favorite movie where you can't really remember the plot. Something about bowling, and a rug, and it's secretly about a fear of castration.
Now that we understand the stoner film structure, let's talk about the characters. The Dude (and any "stoner bro") is essentially a modern-day jester: They ignore basic society rules, living a life free of consequence and full of snarky humor. They are superheroes of circumstance and wit. Think about how unimpressed The Dude is with petty material wealth.
Think about how the universe rewards him: He doesn't work, but he gets to hang out bowling all day and smoking weed in his bathtub. He gets laid -- and even reproduces -- just because Julianne Moore wants to. That right there is the ultimate modern masculine fantasy: to have sex and actually make a child without having to face any of the consequences. The Dude lives with the authority, privilege, and comfort of masculinity, but none of the responsibilities.
The Dude is set apart from the "jesters" in the other story in that his goals are selfless. No, really: The only time we see him upset is when someone else's welfare is threatened (Bunny's toe, Walter screwing up Donny's service). Truly, The Dude is a heroic spiritual guide for the modern man.
All the characters in this movie are written to be like people you meet when you're high. Not how they actually are, obviously, but how they appear to you.
Just look at how impenetrable and confusing Julianne Moore is, or David Thewlis' weird, laughing background character, or just everything Philip Seymour Hoffman does. This is what people seem like when you're high. The movie is a simulation of having to deal with people while stoned.
Do you think Sam Elliot is as charming in real life as he is in this movie? Do you think he'd give me a hug if I asked nicely? I bet he gives good hug.
Sober Score: I didn't check Twitter at all!
Stoned Score: This is the greatest movie I've ever seen.
WINNER: Stoned! But it really doesn't matter; it's The Big Lebowski, man.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Based on Hunter S. Thompson's novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is about a journalist and his lawyer who cover a motorcycle race while doing, gosh, just so many drugs. It's rarely mentioned as a stoner movie because it's more or less terrifying, and I think I might be making some huge mistakes here.
Seriously, it's hard to enjoy this movie because I know how badly I'm going to freak out during the stoned viewing. The lizard puppets are freaking me out right now, and I'm sober as a fox.
These characters are deeply misanthropic, setting them apart from our earlier stoner protagonists in a big way. Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo are actively fucking with the people, an attitude that culminates in the moment Gonzo threatens to cut the shit out of an innocent waitress. In that moment, we mark the end of the first "era" of stoner comedy, the era of carefree innocence and moral freedom. The world is a darker, harsher place than any of us ever feared, and the reason is us.
OK. Deep breath.
Strange memories on a nervous night in the forums. The Internet in the mid-2000s was a very special time and place to be a part of. It meant something, maybe. Maybe not. In the long run, no mumble of punchlines or setups can communicate the deeper truth of knowing you were there and alive in that corner of time. We babbled in a cruel infancy, feeding on a gif of a dancing baby and a jpeg of a man holding his own butthole open. There was a sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum. We were the ones who knew the rules, because we'd written them down. We were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.
Now there's madness in any direction, the prickly madness of habit. If not on your RSS feed, then up on Twitter, or down the Tumblr hashtags. You can strike sparks on your Facebook page, sparks that burn for hours but never catch any fire.
So now, only a decade later, you can go to the front page of Reddit and look back, and with the right kind of eyes almost see the high-water mark. The place where the wave finally broke, and the crashing surf settled into a stinking black pond.
Sober Score: I signed out of Twitter and purposely forgot my password.
Stoned Score: Why are you all looking at me like that? Have I been talking?
WINNER: You kinda need to do both.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle isn't just the most blatant piece of product placement in history and a career re-kick-starter for Neil Patrick Harris -- it might just be the most important stoner movie of our time. Let me explain.
By now we have a pretty thoroughly established Stoner Film Model. Two friends going on a wacky journey who encounter multiple weird characters. There is a central antagonist that is only tangentially related to what our heroes actually want to accomplish. But H&K Go to WC subverts this mold in a very important way: Harold and Kumar are the most stable, reliable characters in the movie.
First we meet Harold, who has a great job that he clearly works his ass off to keep -- his only flaw is that he works too hard and gets pushed around a bit by his slacker co-workers (who are introduced first and actually seem more like stereotypical stoner movie protagonists). Kumar might seem like a slacker, but he's a genius college student who eventually decides to go to medical school -- he's only a slacker in that he hasn't decided to find himself yet. Meanwhile, every character they meet is some sort of horrible piece of shit: The cops are racist, the drug dealer has no short-term memory whatsoever, and Neil Patrick Harris is just the biggest jerk, guys. He buys them breakfast, though, which is cool.
That's why Harold & Kumar is the first postmodern stoner film. It gracefully -- elegantly, even -- evolved with the times. Stoners are no longer outsiders, or suckers, or misanthropes. They're hardworking doctors, and ambitious kids, and people whose jobs involve "reports" or whatever it is Harold is working on the whole time. Stoners are part of our community.
I also think it's no coincidence that most stoner movie protagonists are people of color. Bear with me, guys. We got Cheech and Chong, right -- a Latino and an Asian American. Outsiders. We got Harold -- a Korean. Then Kumar -- a Middle Eastern ... um. Guy. A Middle Eastern guy. You see where I'm going with this? Outsiders. The oppressed. Hell, one of the running jokes in H&K is that cops love to beat up innocent black people. That's subversive comedy. Stoner movies are the jeering sidelines of the Civil Rights Movement. I'm telling you, man. Fuck the police.
Sober Score: Tweeted once or twice, but it was usually about the movie.
Stoned Score: We're fighting the military industrial complex, but, like, we are the military industrial complex, you know?
WINNER: Sober viewing, mainly because you'll irritate your friends less.
2001: A Space Odyssey
Let's be clear here: Stanley Kubrick isn't just a filmmaker, he's a revolutionary. He redefined what it meant to tell stories with images and sound, and every single one of his films is something approaching a masterpiece. Each medium has but one true master, and Kubrick is the master of film. At this point I should admit that I have started drinking.
I'm not just including this movie because it's trippy as hell, I'm including it because it is in fact a remix of the stoner formula. We get the two protagonists, but they never share the screen. We get a series of bit characters, but they're separated by thousands and thousands of years. And we even get an antagonist only tangentially related to the goal of the hero: HAL 9000 has nothing to do with the monolith.
My God is this movie exhausting. I'm not going to watch it twice, guys. Dave fighting HAL is taking forever, so I'm just going to smoke some pot right now.
I CAN SEE YOU THROUGH MY MONITOR.
For more from Sarge, check out 5 Weirdly Satisfying Scientific Explanations for Superpowers and 6 Ways to Impress the Idiots You Went to High School With.
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