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The Use of Drugs in American Cinema

Films are our way of escaping reality, going to a place where we don’t belong and never shall. They’re another way to get our creative juices flowing — a way for our imagination to get the best of ourselves. They’re an escape. But what happens when that escape is as horrible as our reality? Movies have a way of bringing out our innermost deep emotions, and these emotions can be altered at any given time. Directors of our generation and many more that came before them are all here for one sole purpose only: to create. Whether it be happiness, sadness, or anger; their one job is to create whatever it is they are feeling. So when writers and directors create such heart-wrenching stories about intoxication, drugs, sex, and desire — what exactly is it they are feeling?

The use of drugs in movies has been influencing pop culture since the 1940’s. The romanticization of them has taken a toll on media and the lives of millennials today. Looking back at the history of drug related movies, it can be known that films such as these have higher ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. Why is that?

Starting with the most favored drug related movie of all time — directed by the most phenomenal creators of our time, Darren Aronofsky, “Requiem for a Dream” introduced a world so horrid yet so desirable for the audience. It stars four drug addicts who long for something more — for happiness. The characters go about their day in the same routine, trying to do everything possible to achieve this happiness. By the end of the film, all characters are tragically doomed to their nightmares. Their drug addictions become parallel to their accustomed reality, therefore making them lose complete control. With drug withdrawal, an amputation, shock therapy, and prostitution taking place, it is revealed that all of the characters are victims of their own fate.

Another movie that is generally talked about is The Basketball Diaries directed by Scott Kalvert and stars Leonardo Dicaprio. Kalvert’s mind and along with Dicaprio’s acting skills did an excellent job showing Jim Carroll’s downward spiral into the world of drugs. Carroll was a high school basketball star, who gave into pressure and escalated into his own doom. With his diaries, he would communicate his feelings and how everything in his life was changing. Eventually, in the end, Carroll had turned his life around and started showing the world his poetry. The film is an adapted version of the autobiographical book of the same name.

Leonardo Dicaprio has proven himself to be one of the most astounding performers in Hollywood. His work with various directors only goes to show his remarkable acting skills. It is no secret that Dicaprio has taken up roles of drug abusers. As a Wall Street worker in The Wolf of Wall Street, he had many experiences with alcohol and drugs which led to his demise. Martin Scorsese, the director, wanted the explicit drug abuse scenes to be known and surprisingly, comical. For example, the scene in which Jordan Belfort drags his contorted body into his Lamborghini was made out to be comical, but no one paid attention to the fact that if your body was actually in that state, comical would be the last thing that comes to your mind.

The whole concept of drug related movies is unknown. Are they trying to be romanticized or is there a message hidden about the dangers of drug abuse? Possibly and more likely, both. Movies such as these and more are absolutely phenomenal and made in the fine sense of formality. Films do not and should not have barriers. Whether it’s a story about drug addicts finding their purpose or about becoming their wealthiest and the best version of themselves, Aronofsky, Kalvert, and Scorsese have created cinematic masterpieces that should not be ignored, but should not romanticized as well. Heart-wrenching, jaw-dropping films are what create true cinema. If you aren’t at the edge of your seat, crying or hysterically laughing, and recollecting about the film years later, then you have no right to call such movies “poetic cinema”.


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Mommina Tarar is an 18 year old aspiring journalist. She enjoys writing and high fashion. When she's not writing, she's listening to banks or watching Bollywood movies. Follow her on Twitter: @momeeeeeeeeeena & Instagram: @mommina_

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