What movies are doing to dope

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This Is the End
  • This Is the End
From a sociological perspective, one of the more interesting things about the comedies of Judd Apatow and his usual collaborators—This Is the End being the latest—is their casual attitude towards marijuana. Even the outright stoners in these movies aren't dropouts or members of a selective counterculture, a la Cheech and Chong. If they aren't gainfully employed, then at least they're conversant with the mainstream—in fact they tend to be the films' most relatable characters. It likely isn't the filmmakers' intentions, but the movies have the effect of normalizing marijuana consumption to the point of seeming banal. Perhaps future generations will see them as emblematic of a larger shift in U.S. culture.

Of course, American movies have long acknowledged the experience of getting high. In his essay "What Dope Does to Movies," Jonathan Rosenbaum considered the relationship between pot culture and formally innovative films of the 60s and 70s such as 2001, Woodstock, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Movies in this period "were becoming environments to wonder about and wallow in," he wrote, "not merely compulsive plots that you had to follow, and sustaining certain contradictions—two-tiered forms of thinking where the mind could drift off in opposite directions at once—was part of the fun they were offering." This kind of filmmaking is still going strong; Terrence Malick's To the Wonder (arguably more of a traditional stoner movie than This Is the End) is a notable recent example.

This Is the End feels like something else, despite the prominence of its drug humor. Like Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's previous screenplay, Pineapple Express, it's a "compulsive plot" movie by its own admission, openly taking narrative mechanics from popular genre movie—end-of-the-world films in End, buddy/action flicks in Pineapple. The underlying joke of Rogen and Goldberg's scripts, I think, is that certain Hollywood formulas are so durable that they still work with nonplussed stoners in the central roles. It's similar to the joke Charlie Kaufman constructed in his screenplay for Adaptation (which This Is the End recalls in its conceit of celebrities playing fictional versions of themselves), where an ambitious screenwriter, struggling to devise a serious script, found himself living in a bad action movie.

But where Adaptation expressed contempt for formulaic screenwriting, Pineapple and End seem to celebrate it. The films parody their models, yet they're also genuinely suspenseful at times. (The audience with whom I saw This Is the End jumped on cue at the scary parts.) They speak to the experience of getting high with friends and laughing at a generic Hollywood spectacle on TV. The films' popularity reflects just how familiar this experience is.

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