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11/22/2005 Archived Entry: "Cannabis portrayed sanely in a very good movie"

I JUST SAW SOMETHING YOU NEVER SEE IN AN AMERICAN MOVIE. I saw characters buying, selling, and using recreational drugs who were not gangbangers, hookers, drug-addled street-people, or the maladjusted children of respectable rich people.

I saw characters using -- and dealing -- drugs who were depicted as perfectly nice, normal, decent, fun, thoughtful, successful human beings.

The movie, "The Taste of Others," is a beautiful film in its own right. Uh ... not if you're hoping for car chases. But if you like delving into human relationships, getting to know characters, and enjoying intricate dialog and thoughtful plot development, this is a great one. I watched it two nights in a row. The first night I was so wrapped up in it I didn't even realize how unusual that treatment of drugs seemed.

But tonight it really hit me. I'm waiting for this drug-dealing coctail waitress to do something awful or have something horrible happen to her because she's got that can of hash and cannabis in her kitchen ... and instead she and all the people she's selling to are just decent, somewhat bohemian sorts living ordinary lives.

The movie is not "about drugs." Only one subsidiary plot thread features conflict over drugs -- and it's clear that the two people involved are headed for conflict over something. The drugs are largely a symbol of their differences, never some Inherent Evil (you know, like a gun that automatically makes "gun violence" or a drug that automatically turns casual users into "junkies").

Drugs are simply depicted as one of many things humans do for pleasure or to earn a living.

There's even one brief scene in this French film in which the drug-selling character makes a strong case for why it's perfectly moral and sensible for her to be selling hash and cannabis. (The film draws the line there; selling "powders" remains beyond the pale.)

Why are mainstream American movies never this way -- when life often is? Tens of millions of people have smoked cannabis with no ill effect and many pleasurable effects. No doubt thousands of men and women in Hollywood are among the happy little dopers. Yet every time any recreational drug comes up on screen in the U.S., some crime or abuse or other catastrophe follows as inevitably as the DEA follows chemo patients, as inevitably as a politician follows money. What's going on here?

Take "Traffic," for instance. People glorified and touted "Traffic" as the first clear-eyed look at the drug war. Yet it was filled with melodramatic nonsense about drugs. I mean, really. Here's a premise that makes "Reefer Madness" sound unbiased and scholarly: The federal drug czar's lily-white, National Merit scholar daughter becomes a crack whore in a black ghetto after one little taste of Evil Narcotics."

Oh, gimme a break! "Traffic" was a beautifully made film. But it was embarrassing.

I really can't think of a mainstream American movie where smoking cannabis is treated simply as a normal activity of life. I doubt I'll ever be able to think of one where dealing it was treated simply as a more pleasant and lucrative way to make a living than flipping burgers at Mickey D's.

If you want to see an excellent film about love and longing and understanding and friendship and learning -- which just also happens to have a sane portrayal of cannabis use -- and if you can put up with subtitles and do without car chases -- I enthusiastically recommend "The Taste of Others."

Posted by Claire @ 11:24 PM CST

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