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The 30 Greatest Drug Scenes of All Time

The 30 Greatest Drug Scenes of All Time (photo)

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5. Real Junk
“Trash” (1970)
Directed by Paul Morrissey

Joe Dallesandro may not have been shooting heroin in Paul Morrissey’s and Andy Warhol’s “Trash,” but he was shooting something. Extensive and graphic closeups remove any bit of ambiguity: this guy is getting high. As Joe, actor and character, injects himself, Morrissey’s camera doesn’t looks away, it looks more intensely; the tightest and longest close-ups of the film are of Joe’s arm and that dodgy looking syringe resting between his fingertips or dangling from his vein. Every filmmaking decision Morrissey made on “Trash” was in the interest of verisimilitude: real locations, real nudity, actors playing characters with their real names. Except (maybe) the use of real drugs, since Dallesandro has insisted he didn’t take heroin on set. The fact that I find that hard to believe is a testament to the authenticity of his performance and the power of the film. —MS

4. Turnstiles
“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (1998)
Directed by Terry Gilliam

The grand poobah of modern drug cinema, Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is itself one long, bad trip down the acid hole. And one of its centerpieces of illicit-substance insanity finds Johnny Depp’s gonzo journalist arriving in Sin City and heading out into the night to discover a mutated hellscape of smearing faces, looming elongated figures, swirling carpets and strangers morphed into giant lizard-people. Depp’s barking-mad reactions — mumbles, grimaces, and freakish body language — lace the material with humor, though as he and his lawyer (Benicio Del Toro) wend their way through the darkly lit hotel bar, the tone becomes less comical and more deranged. A panorama of grotesqueries, it’s a vision of nightmarish under-the-influence bewilderment and terror that connects like a punch in the gut, capturing the psychotic dread and paranoia that hallucinatory drugs can produce, and delivers — in its portrait of Vegas denizens as misshapen and monstrous — a canny critique of its particular time and place. Like the film, the scene’s power is that it makes one simultaneously want to do drugs, and never get within ten miles of them. —NS

3. Sara’s Diet Pills
“Requiem for a Dream” (2000)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

In Darren Aronofsky’s film, as in Hubert Selby’s book, we are all addicts, even if some of us haven’t yet found our drug of choice. The story of three young, good-looking users who chase their highs off the edge of a cliff is hardly a cinematic watershed, but it’s offset and enhanced by the incipient junkiedom of Sara Goldfarb (Ellen Burstyn), a frizzy haired Coney Island hausfrau whose diet pills turn out to be amphetamines. Aronofsky’s split-screen montage emphasizes addiction’s appealing routine, as she counts out her color-coded daily doses, complete with a handful of downers to let her sleep. As she congas around her kitchen, noshing on a bialy and thumbing her nose at her refrigerator, she has no idea what’s about to hit her. —SA

2. Mi Casa, Su Casa
“Pulp Fiction” (1994)
Directed by Quentin Taratino

If you were ever to make a case for the movies glamorizing drug use (and it’d be a tough one, as many of the picks on this list attest — characters are almost inevitably punished for substance abuse), Vincent Vega (John Travolta) shooting up heroin in “Pulp Fiction” would form the cornerstone of your argument. Intravenous drug use has never looked so good. As the Centurions’ “Bullwinkle Pt. II” kicks in on the soundtrack, the film narrows in on the tools of Vega’s ritual, lit against a dark background — the leather case in which he keeps his works, the hypodermic, the flame, the bubbling spoon, the blood clouding back into the syringe before the injection. For a moment, his dealer Lance’s (Eric Stoltz) bright California house drops away, and both Vega’s and our attention is intent on the smallest details of shooting up. Cut between these steps is Vega, high accomplished, floating heavy lidded along the road through the Los Angeles night. Nothing can touch him. —AW

1. The Graveyard Acid Trip
“Easy Rider” (1969)
Directed by Dennis Hopper

As a final test before their production company gave them the green light to make “Easy Rider,” director, co-writer, co-star Dennis Hopper and producer, co-writer, and co-star Peter Fonda were given $40,000 to go to Mardi Gras and film some preliminary footage. If they brought back good material, they were in business. According to Peter Biskind’s “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” Hopper, a first-time director, went to New Orleans with virtually no plan beyond the fact that he “wanted to shoot an acid trip.” But if there was one thing Hopper was an authority on, it was acid trips. By this point, he’d already collaborated with Fonda on Roger Corman’s LSD movie “The Trip,” and had indulged in his own experiences with the drug (purely for research purposes, I’m sure).

The “Easy Rider” acid trip, easily one of those most famous, influential, beautiful, and terrifying scenes in all of drug cinema, runs almost five minutes of swirling lysergic imagery and self-reflexive flourishes. Point of view shots warp our perceptions of reality, as the camera stares into the setting sun and zooms into and out of the buzzing, blurry neon of Bourbon Street. Actresses Karen Black and Toni Basil, grope, stroke, and kiss their male co-stars, undress in mausoleums, and lie naked amongst the graves of St. Louis Cemetery #1 while Fonda hugs a statue and cries out for the ghost of his dead mother. The scene not only bears all the hallmarks of a real bad trip, it perfectly encapsulates the emotions of Fonda and Hopper’s Wyatt and Billy after their long journey across America. According to Biskind, the scene only took Hopper a day and a half to shoot while on a mixture of “speed, wine, and weed.” What, no acid? —MS

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Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

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Cancel it!

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Forgotten America

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Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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