The Controversy Behind The Trip

Not long before LSD was illegalized in the United States, Roger Corman produced a film that allowed viewers to come to their own conclusions about the drug.  The Trip tells the story of Paul, a straight-edged commercial director who decides to try out the drug after his wife leaves him.  The beginning of the film allows the audience to get adjusted to the LSD culture as colorful sets and hippie characters are introduced, together presenting a strong sense of the free spirit lifestyle.  However, the film quickly takes a psychedelic turn after Paul swallows the LSD.  Special camera lenses create kaleidoscopic imagery and vivid colors paint through the film, creating a magical visual experience.  In the end, reality is mixed with hallucinations as Paul embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

See the trailer here:

The diverse settings and imagery that comprise of Paul’s trip are quite memorable.   The first part of Paul’s trip is contained and monitored by his friend John.  Much of his hallucinations are set in medieval times and show him running away from hooded Death along the coast.  These sequences are intermixed with vibrant hallucinations of intimacy between Paul and his ex-wife, Sally.  Special lights flash over their bodies creating the effect on screen that their intertwined bodies are consumed in this free spirit culture.  However, Paul eventually escapes from John’s watch and ends up walking along the lit up Strip.  However, while it is clear that Paul feels great during his trip, Corman did not believe that he should create a pro-LSD film.  As a result, Corman pulled the horror imagery from his Edgar Allan Poe series to represent the come down of LSD.  A dark, isolated mansion strikes through Paul’s hallucinations and the terror of this image leaves a strong counter message.

Yet, the original intent of the film was to leave the message regarding LSD open-ended.  However the film that was released begins with a long warning about the negative consequences of LSD and ends with a shattered image of Paul.  These edits, added on after Corman handed over the film to AIP, suggest that the drug has destroyed Paul’s life.  In fact the original ending of the film was supposed to follow Paul as he walks from the bed to the deck and from there show him looking out on to the Santa Monica Bay.  This had all been taken in one very intricate shot and was meant to leave the impression that Paul had been reborn.  Whether his trip was a positive or negative experience was not answered.  Ultimately AIP edited the ending in a conservative manner without Corman’s knowledge…an act most likely due to the widespread controversy surrounding the drug at the time.

However, putting LSD aside, this film is made up of a groovy cast of characters that deserves mention.  The screenplay was written by the well-known Corman film school graduate, Jack Nicholson, who first started his career with Corman when he starred in Cry Baby Killer in 1958.  Additionally, Peter Fonda was cast to play Paul, the lead of the film.  Serving as the guide through Paul’s trip is his best friend John, played by Bruce Dern.  The supplier of the LSD, Max, is none other than the late Dennis Hopper.  And finally, Susan Strasberg played the heartbreaker, Sally, who divorces Paul, leading him to take this trip.  With such a talented cast and production crew working on this film, it is no surprise that this movie is still enjoyed by so many.