Becoming Less ‘Taboo’
Marijuana use as portrayed on the silver screen has come a long way in the 70-plus years it’s been in movies. Marijuana as a character has gone from malicious bad guy to loveable good guy in its time. And while the list of movies is long, too long to mention in a single article, there are some milestones that are worth mentioning.
It’s impossible to mention the marriage of marijuana and movies without mentioning the 1936 film, Reefer Madness. The movie’s message, which is nothing short of malicious propaganda, shows how those under the influence of this dangerous drug become devoid of reason, morals, and any worthwhile sensibilities. As the name suggests, it depicts smokers as victims of madness and makes the characters capable of deplorable acts that they otherwise would be incapable. This movie is the first monumental step, albeit in the wrong direction, of marijuana and movies.
Jump forward to 1969, and the landmark counter-culture film, Easy Rider, attempts to undo the damage done by Reefer Madness. Written and directed by Dennis Hopper, the film shows two young men trying to break the conventions of the day as they set across the Land of the Free on their choppers in hopes of eventually making it to Florida to enjoy the rest of their days. Open to any experience, their journey finds them in the company of a drunken lawyer played by Jack Nicholson. When the two heroes of the film, Wyatt and Billy try to get their new friend to smoke, the drunken lawyer declines saying he doesn’t want it leading to “harder things.”
A jump into the modern age still shows a somewhat less lethal, but still skewed view of marijuana. From 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High to 93’s Dazed and Confused, the stoner is still portrayed as the lovable fool, free from worry and of little consequence.
Even in this modern age, we’re pressed to find a suitable spokesperson to the cause, but there is hope. In Wes Anderson’s movie, The Life Aquatic, the main character played by Bill Murray is shown toking, but Anderson refused to show Murray’s character affected smoking in any particular way. Which really is closer to the truth. Stoner’s rarely get stoned, they just get relaxed.