Taking a detour

Darren Aronofsky does meth

Darren Aronofsky is a man who endeavours to create art that will leave an indelible mark on your film psyche.

Most recently, he made your skin crawl when Natalie Portman sprouted feathers from her back in Black Swan, so it’s a natural progression that he would lend a hand in making violently accurate anti-meth ads for the Meth Project.

Widely known for his intensely psychedelic and uncomfortable films, the Meth Project ads are not the first time the writer/director has grappled with this particular subject matter.

His 2000 film Requiem for a Dream, adapted from the Hubert Selby, Jr. novel of the same name, depicted a cast of characters devoured by their own rapid descent into heroin and amphetamine addictions.

Aronofsky has an unmistakable talent to draw out the rawest performances from the actors he works with, and in combination with his unconventional cinematic vision and skill, he cooks up films that challenge the basic conceptions of film-going for mainstream audiences.

This is apparent even in his work with young actors in the Meth Project ads; watching a teenage girl struggle with her mother as she tries to tourniquet her slit wrists will ripple goosebumps up your arms.

The set of four anti-meth ads directed by Aronofsky are quite possibly the sharpest needles of the bunch in the set of advertisements deterring teens from the dangers of methamphetamine use.

His deliberate depiction of his all-American characters embroiled in the depths of psychosis, despair, self-harm and suicide send a sickening rush through your veins. With only 30 seconds to make you gasp, he assaults your senses with a series of images that can only be described as nightmarish.

A dark-haired girl with bruised eyes stares desperately at you as her gentle voiceover asks, “Can you really lose it on meth?” before she screams like a feral animal and violently struggles against nurses holding her down on a gurney in the ER.

Another ad has a boy stripping in a seedy motel room asking the viewer if meth can really change who you are. The boy’s question echoes in your own head after watching, like some haunting hallucination - can these commercials really change who you could become?

According to research in the state of Montana where the Meth Project was originally launched, the answer is yes.

The incidence of teen meth use has declined an astounding 63 percent in Montana alone since the graphic campaign was unveiled in 2005.

The project was subsequently expanded to other states and those states have also benefited substantially from the exposure to the terrifying public service announcements.

The Meth Project was the brainchild of businessman Thomas M. Siebel, conceived in response to the growing methamphetamine use and addiction epidemic in the United States.

While there has been a significant response to the campaign since its outset, Darren Aronofsky’s fame and skill have brought an influx of renewed interest and importance to a project that doesn’t get nearly as much critical acclaim as AMC’s Breaking Bad.

Thankfully in the real world, critical acclaim is less important than statistical significance.

Erika Miller is a student at the University of Manitoba. Nov. 30 is National Meth Awareness Day in the United States.

Published in Volume 66, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 23, 2011)

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