Film Is a Drug


The title of this blog, “Film Is a Drug,” comes from a quote from a well-known person. The full statement is this:

Film is a powerful medium. Film is a drug. Film is a potential hallucinogen. It goes into your eye, it goes into your brain. It stimulates. And is a dangerous thing. It can be a very subversive thing.

Before I tell you who said this, I’d like you to guess:

Is it:

  1. Bishop T.D. Jakes
  2. Pastor Bill Hybels
  3. Sean Hannity
  4. Anne Graham Lotz
  5. Oliver Stone
  6. Dr. Phil
  7. Alex Kendrick

Okay, enough of the suspense. My hunch is that most of you guessed one of the Christian leaders or perhaps Dr. Phil or Hannity. I mean this seemingly negative depiction of movies sounds like something one might hear in a sermon or said by some conservative media host. So the answer may surprise you. It’s actually Oliver Stone, the A-list director of such movies as JFK, W., Nixon, World Trade Center and the upcoming fall release, Snowden. Check out this video of Stone saying it here:

Now, I’d like you to join me for an imagined meeting of Oliver Stone and myself. Let’s suppose we’re crossing paths at a dinner party. After brief introductions, it’s obvious that Mr. Stone knows nothing about me, so to break the ice I let him know that we have matching film-philosophies—that film can be a very “subversive thing,” a “dangerous thing.” I quickly tell him that I totally agree that film goes into our eyes, into our brains and stimulates.

I tell him that sometimes it stimulates in wonderful ways, but that, as he states, it can stimulate in very tragic ways as well. And up to this point in my make-believe dinner party discussion, Oliver and I are still smiling as I clutch my lemonade and he reaches for a tray of hors d’oeuvres.

But then I have to ask, “If movies are as potentially dangerous and subversive as you suggest, don’t you think that your own film, Natural Born Killers, is one of the most dangerous films ever?” His hand freezes in midair above the cucumber sandwiches.

Now, you may be wondering why my imaginings have Stone acting surprised and maybe even a bit annoyed. I mean, if he believes films are “dangerous,” isn’t it likely he knows his own movie has been linked to its own brand of danger? It was, after all, ranked by Entertainment Weekly as the eighth most controversial film of all time. Many have linked the movie with real-world killings. Stone has repeatedly denied responsibility, comparing the “scapegoating” of his movie to the infamous “Twinkie” defense used by Dan White, when he was on trial for shooting San Francisco politician Harvey Milk in 1978.

“And it worked!” Stone told The Guardian in 2002. “He got away with a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and served five years. But you can’t blame the Twinkies in the same way that you can’t scapegoat the movies. You can’t blame the igniter. People can be ignited by anything. And yet this is something we’re seeing more and more of in America today. It’s a culture of liability lawsuits. The whole concept of individual responsibility has been broken up and passed around.”

But isn’t there some responsibility that filmmakers need to take for their “subversive, dangerous” products?

Soon after Natural Born Killers came out (22 years ago now), Plugged In began tracking the related news stories. Some sources suggest that as many as 33 murders have been linked to the movie.

Obviously, to say that crimes have been linked to a movie is a long way from saying that a movie caused those crimes. But these instances bring up an interesting point: Here’s a movie that does indeed seem to be, to use Stone’s words, “dangerous” and “subversive.” I even have professional experience with this. I personally talked with Lynnville, Tenn., school shooter Jamie Rouse, and he told me that Natural Born Killers had been an influential factor for him when he murdered a teacher and fellow student in 1995.

Even though Oliver Stone may not be able to see the link between his own film and the “dangerous, subversive” things he believes can be linked to the power of a motion picture, I’m still, perhaps oddly, grateful that he can be a voice in this cultural discussion, at least in a general sense. And being so deeply entrenched in the entertainment industry, Stone has an inside seat. Which make his words all the more powerful. So I long for the day when Hollywood no longer gives us movies that are “dangerous” and “subversive,” and only give us movies that would inspire us to do greater things to better our world. Until that day comes, I’m glad for the personal reminder.

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Elisa Kim More than 1 year ago
I don't expect Hollywood will truly learn to give us inspirational movies.

I am hoping that the skills of storytelling via film will improve with time with Christ centred film makers that use more of God's Word and apply it to life.

It's funny, though how it's easy for people to fully blame shift or scapegoat into one person.

The reality is each person is responsible for their part in choosing what to view as well as the film makers.  Everyone is responsible.
SJamison More than 1 year ago
Mr. Stone is mistaken about the "Twinkie Defense."  It was not that Twinkies somehow contributed to the murderer's mental deterioration, but that his changed diet (from a strict healthy regimen to stuffing himself with junk, especially Twinkies) was a sign of his mental deterioration.  The equivalent with movies would  be if someone's viewing habits suddenly switched from classy dramas to nothing but slasher flicks or Adam Sandler comedies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

"...slasher flicks and Adam Sandler comedies."

seraph_unsung More than 1 year ago
I'm not surprised a film-industry insider said that.  I would have guessed Tarantino if he'd been an option or if no list of choices were provided, given his films' reputation for violence and his own unique style.

Also, I thought the article picture was very clever.

As for the article's main subject, it's a difficult one: thirty-three murders, tragic as they are, are probably a very small number compared to the number of people who watched Natural Born Killers; but at the same time, each of those lives is individually precious, and so something needs to be done to prevent future tragedy, but outside of preaching the Gospel, I know not what.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

Being, by definition, subversive is not automatically wrong. The great black comedy classic "Dr. Strangelove" rediculed, mercilessly, the whole idea of run-away nationalism and mutually-assured destruction, toward ends which I would argue were honorable.

Some things need to be subverted.