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Contemplations: On the Psychadelic Experience

average rating is 2 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Dec 4, 2023

Film Reviews
Contemplations: On the Psychadelic Experience
Directed by:
Julian Palmer
Written by:
Julian Palmer
Rak Razam

Contemplations: On the Psychedelic Experience is a near 2-hour documentary on the science and theories of psychedelic substances and experiences that feels like a trip in itself thanks to vivid supporting imagery. The film is unquestionably for those who use or have strong interest in psychedelic drugs and are immersed in the culture surrounding them, but a wide variety of contributions mean there is enough here to sustain the film as an engaging overview and perspective – even if it does grow repetitive and fail to really interrogate its concept.


Featuring over 50 interviews from advocates, scientists, users and others immersed in discussion and debate from its native Australia, the documentary presents a broad overview of the psychedelic experience and the debates around safe use of drugs in society, including how benefits are being withheld and covered up by organisations with influence. Accompanied by mesmerising hallucinogenic stock footage, the film recreates spiritual experiences and ponders exactly what happens to people when they take a trip.


Contemplations… veers between a genuinely engaging and challenging examination of psychedelic use at its best, and a droning cacophony of space hippies reliving their wildest trip (maaan) at it’s worst. The film makes no apologies for setting its stall firmly in the ‘pro’ camp with regards to the use of psychedelics – and nor should it. Director Julian Palmer and its vast array of contributors make convincing and coherent arguments for their embrace of substances that allow them to access another plane of consciousness. The film’s aim is to dispel some of the myths around drug use, raise awareness of the reality of psychedelic use and give users a voice in the debate around substances that have changed their lives. The supportive view of the filmmaker and their position as someone who can relate to the subjects makes the methods of visualising their experience more authentic and convincing.


That said, a great amount of the film’s runtime does revolve around the individual contributors’ own personal stories. Some of these are genuinely interesting, such a scientist who experienced her own dissolution into the Earth or one man’s hallucination of terrible abuse that allowed him to come to terms with his own struggles. But many come across as the type of stories that guys with dreadlocks tell around festival campfires to try and impress first-year students. Given the amount of time the film devotes to these uninterrupted tangents, they get old pretty quick. Very little time is devoted to sceptics either – not in of itself a problem but given that the film does raise the point that opposition exists in Australia (as well as some pretty scary stories of trips gone wrong), it would have benefitted the film to spend more time explaining the counter-argument – even if just to challenge more of its points.


The interviews are almost entirely accompanied by kaleidoscopic footage bursting and reverberating with colour and shapes that seek to recreate the experience of the trips being relived. These make for a fitting garnishing for the mind-altering tales of the interviewees, though given the feature-length runtime these become tiring and lose their impact as the film goes on.


When it explores the science behind psychedelics and considers their potential place in society, Contemplations is a genuinely insightful documentary. However it spends too much time detailing the odd stories of its subject interviewees – and given that its audience is likely to be people who have experience with psychedelics themselves, it feels unnecessary to give so much focus in this regard. It certainly has worth as an informative piece, but is ultimately overlong and oversaturated.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Documentary
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