Movies have the magical ability to take audiences to the moon, any country in the world, or any time in history. They can also make you feel like you're high. Directors use techniques like distorted images, trippy music, bright colors, and complex, layered montage to achieve a stoned effect.
Some films that feel like a trip are straight-up stoner movies. No one is going to wax poetic after viewing Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke, but you may get contact high. Others, like Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, pose existential (AKA stoner talk) questions about the mysteries of life. There are movies like Enter the Void, which was inspired by mind-altering substances and uses specific imagery to make audiences feel like they're on DMT. Finally, there are a few befuddling films on this list that don’t involve substance use at all.
Terry Gilliam's 1998 adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's literary classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas takes spectators on a road trip to find the American dream. It's well-known Thompson indulged in large amounts of various substances while writing his acclaimed novel. Gilliam was able to successfully translate Thompson's words with distorted, often animated hallucination-filled imagery. Want to get a sense of what a trip is like? Let Gilliam show you the way.
Enter the Void is perhaps Argentine writer/director's Gaspar Noé's most well-known movie (his second film, Irreversible, may be as infamous as Enter the Void is famous). The first person narrative takes place in seedy Tokyo nightclubs, and the story is told from the point of view of Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), a dealer and user who is shot by the police. But that's not where his story ends; Oscar floats out of his body, spirit moving from place to place, dropping in on friends and family.
Enter the Void is a three-hour visual exploration of what it's like to take various substances. It's also way, way deep. To quote Noé on the origins of his ideas for the film:
One day, in my 20s, I... had done too many mushrooms. I turned on the TV as I was coming down, and it was showing Lady in the Lake, the Robert Montgomery film noir that’s filmed entirely through the character’s eyes. I wasn’t so much hallucinating at that point, but I thought it would be great to make a movie like this and add all the experiences I had... on mushrooms — telepathic perception, strange colors around people, the sense of floating.
If you have no idea what's going on in Donnie Darko, you're getting it just fine. In many ways, the weirdness is the point. What exactly is the purpose of sinister, man-sized bunny Frank, who befriends alienated Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal)? Then there's the time travel thing, and that plane engine. Richard Kelly's underground classic is a stoner's delight, and has produced dozens of websites that exist for the sole purpose of trying to figure out the film's many mysteries. If you think you have it figured it, think again.
Stanley Kubrick's epic 2001: A Space Odyssey moves at a slow pace, often with long stretches of no dialogue, giving viewers time to let the visuals and themes percolate. Kubrick needed the film to appear as futuristic as possible; so futuristic in fact, he wanted the technology portrayed to be ahead of what NASA was doing. One of the trippiest sequences in the sci-fi classic is the famous Stargate scene, with its colored lights and ground breaking visual effects, which won the film an Oscar for Best Effects.
You won't know exactly why the Stargate scene is there or what it means, but you'll enjoy the light show nonetheless, and it may even make you question the great mysteries of the universe.