The stark honesty and deeply personal nature of these celebrity stories of being under the influence of psychedelics provide a big part of the film’s appeal. “They’re sober when they’re telling their stories, so it’s real reflection,” said Cary. “They’re very intimate, because this is a taboo subject, but they’re also doubly intimate because they’re revealing what their brain reveals on this powerful substance. It’s like their subconscious is being revealed.”
Full disclosure: Like Stiller, I have dropped acid exactly once, as research for a chapter in my 2014 book, Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self. (I am hardly the first writer to do so, nor am I the last. Michael Pollan wrote an entire book, How to Change Your Mind, about his exploration of psychedelics and the ongoing research renaissance into their properties.) I experienced many of the same things related by the subjects in Cary’s film.
Boulders seemed to breathe. When I laid down on an Oriental rug, the patterns laced up my arms like a fluid tattoo. Closing my eyes and listening to music produced an explosion of vibrant colors and patterns. At one point my spouse morphed into a giant purple dinosaur. I tried to take notes, but my hand kept melting into the paper, and what little I did manage to scrawl was embarrassingly inane, because things only seem to be more profound when you’re tripping. The real insight comes later.
And as we discovered when my spouse tried to capture part of the trip on video, it’s incredibly boring to watch someone on acid, because you can’t see what they are experiencing. I literally spent 10 minutes staring fixedly at a wooden slat in a deck chair, before sagely pronouncing to the camera, “You have to go into the wood, down to the molecules.”
That was also a challenge for Cary. Since he didn’t want to just have a bunch of talking heads in his film, Cary opted for an eclectic mix of reenactments and animated sequences to illustrate the various stories. “I wanted to bring each story to life in different ways, giving each person their own little short film with their own style and tone,” he explained. “I also wanted to play with the transition between this reality, and the reality that your brain reveals on psychedelics. Animation was a really good way to morph between those.”
Nick Offerman appears, clad in a white lab coat, to offer occasional science-y tidbits. There’s also a recurring skit featuring a deadpan Adam Scott playing devil’s advocate as the host of a 1980s-style antidrug after-school special, in which strait-laced teens accidentally ingest psychedelics at a party, freak out, and repeatedly jump through windows. (Spoiler alert: They get kicked out of the party after breaking one too many.) It’s an amusing send-up of a classic antidrug film, Desperate Lives (1982). “That was my impression as a kid growing up: If you take psychedelics, it’s 50-50 you’re going to jump out a window,” Cary said.
It might sound like Have a Good Trip is just a random collection of celebrity psychedelic stories, but Cary is too skilled a professional for that. He sifted through more than 70 interviews, looking for recurring themes and potential through lines to connect the various segments and set up new ideas, whittling it all down to just 10 or 15 interviews. “The good side of having 11 years is that we could try different things, see if they worked, what was entertaining, what kept you interested,” he added.