Take a trip through decades of cinematic history with these five recommendations for a psychedelic viewing experience.
The world is full of fantastical films. Some of them ring undeniably “psychedelic.” If, as the credits roll, you’ve ever been left with little to say beyond, “That was trippy,” then you’ve likely encountered one of them. I recently wrote about how the 1980 work of psychedelic horror Altered States left an indelible mark on my creative spirit. Here are five more psychedelic movies that we feel embody that certain cinematic something which merits the psychedelic label.
This award-winning 1973 animated feature film from director René Laloux has it all. The acid rock soundtrack, meditating aliens, self-dribbling energy orbs, humongous fungi, and the braintrust of pioneering animators needed to bring it all into a lasting focus. As beautiful as it is often eerie, the hero’s journey must be undertaken to restore harmony to an ecosystem threatening to destabilize. Perhaps a fantastic planet you’ve visited in trips past bears some resemblance to Ygam, and you yourself can remember running naked through Suessian brambles, desperate to evade capture?
Staying in ‘73, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s masterpiece sits cross-legged atop most “most psychedelic movies” lists, and we wouldn’t dare exclude it from this shorty. Referred to as a work of “surrealist fantasy,” it’s nothing short of a heroic dose of the avant-garde from first to last. Experiencing the film, one can subconsciously draw connections to the mutant rainbow of archetypal imagery in order to form personal narrative interpretations of one scene to the next. It’s a choose your own adventure of perception and each viewer will have a different takeaway. Many psychedelic practitioners with Judeo-Christian lineage encounter what they describe as Christ or Christ Consciousness through plant medicine, and there’s no shortage of familiar iconography throughout The Holy Mountain.
Another animated feature, Spirited Away from 2001 was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, and animated by Studio Ghibli. Here we take pause to just appreciate all that gifted craftspeople can accomplish when they set their minds to it, and how fortunate we all are to gobble up their labors’ fruit. That said, Spirited Away can at times feel more like a bad trip than the internationally lauded sensation that appeals to millions of children it’s known to be. If you’re the type of person that enjoys feeling lost, trapped, and barraged by the disorienting grotesque and incomprehensible, then you may find the most tumultuous elements of Spirited Away irresistible. Surely the universally relatable narrative arc is there, but amidst all the bulbous pulsing, leaking and gushing in this film, it may not be readily decipherable. An epic work of discombobulating animated grandiosity.
Death, or the end of consciousness as we understand it while consciously trying to understand it, may be the most enigmatic concept shared by all of humanity. More often than not, the word evokes loss, sadness and grief. Sometimes in psychedelic circles, people will use the term “ego death,” as an experience to be regarded with reverence as a powerful and integral teaching moment, the cessation of the familiar and entrenched sense of self; an opportunity for transcendence. And while death is considered to some extent in most scripted cinema, few films have tried to inhabit the concept as wholly as Gaspar Noé’s mind-bender from 2009.
Anyone already familiar with the aforementioned Enter The Void will likely remember the DMT sequence, its progression through an ever evolving series of fractal images and color. Let then, Gumby The Movie be our access point to the earlier work of pioneering stop-motion, clay animation artist Arthur “Art” Clokey, and his short experimental film Mandala. Over three decades prior to Noe’s film, Clokey hand-molded and shot one from at a time, a similar trip, buoyed by an immersive soundscape and ecstatic color palette in clay. The psychedelic root of Clokey’s creative vision substantiated, flash ahead to 1995 to yet another piece of trippy artwork intended for children starring Clokey’s beloved creation Gumby, but undeniably more far out than Fred Rogers or the most manic of muppets. In fact it’s easy to conceive of a short list of trippy cinema that’s entirely made up of work created with children in mind. Perhaps that’s due in part to the nature of the psychedelic experience itself, peeling back the onion layers of ego laid on through the hardening of one’s spirit throughout life’s trials. Gumby the Movie is quietly a product of a very psychedelic mind, and lasting through a full screening as a grown-up will undoubtedly have you uttering, ”That was trippy.”