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This Is Your Director on Drugs

By Rodger Pille · June 5th, 2013 · Movies
101940_galPictured: Cocaine! - Warner Bros. Pictures

Something didn’t feel right. After taking in a recent screening of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, I walked out of the theater feeling … off. I was simultaneously anxious, depressed, energized and a little jittery. 

Unsure if I was coming down with something and impatient for answers, I turned to WebMD for a broad but instantaneous diagnosis. I was startled at the Internet’s conclusion. Based on my physiological input, it guessed that I was having a mild cocaine overdose.

Interesting. Especially since the only substances I had abused that weekend were Christian Moerlein and oatmeal cream pies.

Then it hit me. It was the Luhrmann effect! I had had the exact same reaction after Moulin Rouge. And I was so amped up after seeing his manic adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, I couldn’t sleep for a week. And then I cried. A lot. 

Was it possible? Could a director’s style reach through the screen and physically affect me as if I’d just consumed an illicit narcotic?

The more I pondered, the more clearly the answer was an unequivocal yes. And it wasn’t just Luhrmann. He was just the latest example. After a quick visit to drugs.com I found several more drug-induced side effects rooted in my favorite filmmakers’ signature styles:


Effects: Euphoric rush, cloudy brain function, highly addictive, dangerous

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Clinical data: With QT, you know it’s always going to be a cool ride into danger. Unfortunately, getting there usually involves a prick to the vein.


Effects: Acute increase in energy, sense of camaraderie, sexual desire

Director: Guy Ritchie

Clinical data: Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and the new Sherlock Holmes reboots are nothing if not high energy romps with a heavy dose of camaraderie. And casting Brad Pitt, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law might have some hand in the sexual desire department.


Effects: Psychoactive agent causes distorted perception and increased heart rate, anxiety

Director: David Fincher

Clinical data: Pretty much since Se7en, Fincher has increased my anxiety level.

Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button continue to distort perception. But it’s cool, man.

Alcohol (ethanol)

Effects: Improves mood, sociability in small quantities with progressive lethargy and confusion over time/amounts

Director: Martin Scorsese

Clinical data: A Scorsese movie always provides a smooth, fluid ride. But after a few hours, it usually ends badly.


Effects: Inhibits panic, depression and anxiety

Director: Ron Howard

Clinical data: Even when he tries to go dark, there’s an underlying happiness to Howard’s films. They’re the perfect escape. Prolonged exposure can lead to impotence, however.


Effects: Used to treat moderate to severe pain by creating a dreamy, blurry euphoria; often used as extended release form to manage long-term relief

Director: Terrence Malick

Clinical data: Tree of Life was the textbook definition of an extended, dreamy blur.

Rohypnol (roofies)

Effects: Sedation, muscle relaxation, reduction in anxiety followed by strong amnesia

Director: Todd Phillips

Clinical data: Old School and the first Hangover film were good for relaxation, but we keep trying to forget everything since then.


Effects: Increases blood flow to particular areas of the body

Director: Clint Eastwood

Clinical data: Oh sure, Eastwood’s facade and equipment might be old, but he can still deliver when it counts. With help.


Effects: Described as a “trip” because it is a long (four-six hours) and powerful experience, which takes users beyond normal perception and then back again

Director: Peter Jackson

Clinical data: Lord of the Rings. Enough said. 


Effects: Relieves minor aches and pains and reduces fever

Director: Steven Spielberg

Clinical data: Spielberg films can take the edge off and that’s about it. They’re safe enough for daily use, and you can usually give them to kids.

Anabolic steroids

Effects: Increase protein within cells, especially in muscles

Director: Michael Bay

Clinical data: It’s not enough to blow something up for Bay. You’ve got to slow it down, add women in bikinis and throw in some machine guns. In other words, enhance the performance. I’ve read that long-term exposure to his films can lead to testicular atrophy.


Effects: Immediately produces an intensely pleasurable sensation known as a “flash”

Director: J.J. Abrams

Clinical data: This would explain the fascination with lens flares in Star Trek.

CONTACT RODGER PILLE: letters@citybeat.com



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