Like fake boobs, cocaine is no longer the exclusive territory of Beverly Hills and other A-list addresses. But movies will always have a special place in their heart for a sexy and outlandish cocaine hypothesis. Heroine, along with cocaine’s intensely neurotic half-sister crack, have the facial scabs and broken homes side of drugs-in-film covered. But cocaine is showbiz, sex and disco balls. It’s Jimi Hendrix soundtracks and hitting the “big time” while girls frolic in your pool. As recently as The Departed, Jack Nicholson, replete in smoking jacket, tossed a fistful into the air for his harem on an opera house balcony.
Harems? Opera houses? Smoking jackets? This is far from the reality of plumbers and liberal arts students in Brussels toilets, hoovering ammonia-spiked chalk dust off grimy ceramic cisterns. It’s not quite the endless promise of party we get when we see lip-glossed Anne Hathaway and her sexy BFFs squashed into a Manhattan cubicle. But the fantasy is hard to dislodge. Ray Liotta had us considering ditching our day jobs after watching his dream-like rise in Goodfellas. We watched True Romance through our fingers when that guy exploded a ginormous bag of coke in front of a cop (flash car, prostitute – check). Jared Leto looked slightly less than unflappable and a good deal short of glamorous (but certainly outlandish) as he mapped Ukraine in Lords of War with a huge pile of coke.
Cocaine’s partner in crime is oodles of money, often accumulated in a sort-of inspirational rags to riches story (a favourite in the coke fantasy tableau), or wasted by posh New Yorkers sneezing away ten grand’s worth a la Annie Hall. Those who regularly decamp to the toilet and come back spouting rubbish may see themselves in the sexy, bare-foot Uma Thurman accidentally snorting heroine (I said God Damn!) in Pulp Fiction, or in the edgy spectacle of the Boogie Nights boys getting into a bag through a glass coffee table. Mark Walhberg, dishwasher turned porn star (rags, riches) plots life a mile a minute, a life that is certainly not without risk, but better than a boring old normal one.
Bernardo Camisao, a Brussels based film maker, believes coke is often just a prop. “Like the use of cigarettes in film noir – there is a mythology around cocaine. It helps to emphasise the fashionability of a story. Whereas heroin is a drug with consequences, coke is recreational, associated with the philosophy of the perfect image, beauty, wealth, and the stress of a high powered job, like the yuppies in American Psycho,” (“Can you keep it down, I’m trying to do drugs!”) or 99 francs (whose protagonist, a commercial ad man, gives some to hamsters). Before all that, the 1930s had Charlie Chaplin sprinkling coke on his food, giving him a ravenous appetite (obviously no room for cocaine in 1930s production budgets).
Pandering to our illusion, most movies spend 90 minutes showing us how sexy cocaine is, and the final 10 minutes showing how sexy it isn’t (death, prison, shoot outs, sisters offering themselves to their brothers…) This cognitive dissonance is compounded when actors make cool movies about coke (yay!) and then get caught in grainy camera phone footage taking the real stuff at the after party (boo!). We all get a much-owed apology, and order is restored.