Saturday, July 11, 2009

Humboldt County: Grade C

Humboldt County (2008)
Jeremy Strong, Brad Dourif, Frances Conroy, Peter Bogdanovich; Co-writers and co-directors: Darrin Grodsky & Danny Jacobs.

Uptight medical student Peter (Strong) goes on a bender and wakes up in a hippie house in the redwood forests of Humboldt County, CA, the marijuana growing capitol of the nation. Some mildly humorous straight vs stoned scenes follow as we get to know the colorful characters of the community. Peter abjures the weed and vows to get back to town but somehow manages to miss the once-daily bus several times. Gradually he becomes sympathetic to the potoculturists and when he is finally “rescued” by his overbearing and arrogant father, a prominent physician who treats him like an idiot, Peter has to make a life choice. Guess what it is.

The acting is good and the characters are interesting, although shallow stereotypes only. They laugh and sing, eat and drink, forget things and tell wild stories, but only one of them, an ex-theoretical physicist, has any background of interest. We get just a tiny glimpse of that. Overall, it is a pro dope movie, and the growers are shown in a favorable light. They argue that they are simple farmers who live lightly on the earth, harming no one, and should be left alone. They don’t mention who their buyers are, and whether those buyers are also committed humanists or possibly armed members of international drugs cartels, and there is no hint that the growers are part of an illegal drugs supply system that brings untold grief to millions of people and their families when users end up imprisoned, or worse. So that argument is extremely one-sided and annoying for that.

Yet when Peter argues that as a medical student, he accomplishes more in one week than his cannabis obsessed counterpart has in his lifetime, that is something to think about. Is it true? What do medical students accomplish? What does anybody accomplish in life? Aren’t all our so-called accomplishments just exercises in self-aggrandizement? When you’re dead, what does all that accomplishment matter? Maybe you will get a bridge named after you. Whoopee. If “accomplishment” is an inauthentic value, why not just smoke dope, don’t worry, and be happy? Why worship the frontal lobes? It makes you think (if you don’t inhale).

Having Peter and his father be physicians gives more weight to their argument, because physicians alleviate human suffering, surely a worthwhile value and a legitimate rebuke to the dope growers. In the end, Peter chooses the life of the weed, so the film makes its point. Yet there is ambiguity. Was Peter’s choice a personal Oedipal reaction, or was it a symbolic rejection of mainstream society’s emphasis on achievement and accomplishment? While these issues are presented sophomorically, it’s still a good film for a discussion group.

1 comment:

  1. I saw this movie and I completely disagree with your assessment of the end. He did not choose a life of weed in the end. He didn't go back to Humboldt at all. He chose something new - not his old life and not the one he forged in Humboldt. It was a bold choice by the filmmaker and I am shocked that you missed the whole point of the end completely.