‘How High’: the perfect cannabis movie for finals

%28Graphic+illustration+by+Sophia+Sirokman+%7C+The+Collegian%29

Collegian | Sophia Sirokman

(Graphic illustration by Sophia Sirokman | The Collegian)

Hayden Hawley, Cannabis Director

“How High,” released in 2001, falls into the genre of “stoner comedies”: movies in which the protagonists’ problems stem from their love of cannabis.

Ahead of finals, we thought it would be funny to review this movie, as it features weed and college as its main plot elements. We had no idea what we were getting into here.

Ad

In “How High,” a talented cannabis cultivator, Silas P. Silas, played by Method Man, sells his friend some weed that is so powerful, he falls asleep with the blunt in his mouth and combusts. In a tribute to his late friend, Silas mixes his ashes with the soil of a new strain and smokes it before his college entrance exam, the THC (Test for Higher Credentials).

As it turns out, smoking human remains causes that person’s ghost to appear to the smoker, so the ghost of his friend, who in the afterlife has conferred with “the old dude who made up this test,” helps him get all of the answers right, and he’s able to get into Harvard University — at least, a version of Harvard where it’s always sunny out and looks a lot like the University of California, Los Angeles.

This movie shares several elements with “Legally Blonde,” released in the same year. Both involve characters who don’t match the hoity-toity Ivy League aesthetic of Harvard, and both feature exterior scenes on the Harvard campus that were actually shot at UCLA.

A crucial plot difference: While Elle Woods adapts to Harvard Law and uses her knowledge of cosmetology and fashion to win her first criminal case, the protagonists of “How High” instead exhaust everyone else in the movie with their hijinks. I’m not trying to suggest that “How High” ripped off or even necessarily borrowed from “Legally Blonde” — it’s more of a take on “Animal House” — but seriously, what the hell was the cultural fascination with Harvard in 2001?

I want to be clear: “How High” is a pretty bad movie. Most of the jokes aren’t actually funny or have aged terribly, with an emphasis on the objectification of women and an Asian-stereotype character. It shares the main structural issue of a lot of bad comedy movies in that it’s not so much a film as it is a bunch of hit-or-miss sketches cobbled together into a 90-minute package.

“Holy shit, I thought. ‘How High’ is about institutional racism.”

Still, it’s so absurd that I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the ridiculously immature scenes they came up with for this thing.

For instance, the stuck-up dean who they butt heads with is called Dean Cain. This joke somehow never gets old. There’s a scene where they attend a Black history class taught by a white professor, who obnoxiously encourages them to walk out of the lecture hall in protest. “Lynch me,” he says. The professor, by the way, is played by Spalding Gray in one of his final film roles before he died by suicide. 

So the movie isn’t terribly interested in its own plot, but it makes an attempt at a third act: Their haunted bud is stolen from them, so they seek out other human remains to smoke in order to confer with more dead geniuses.

They rob the grave of John Quincy Adams — whose corpse is mostly intact despite being dead and buried for over 150 years — bring it back to their apartment, slice it up and smoke his fingers and toes. They don’t mash up the remains and mix them with weed — they just smoke his digits as if they were joints, and then the scene ends. Adams does not appear, and they don’t acknowledge that this didn’t work. They just move on. It’s honestly one of the most fucked up and disgusting things I’ve seen in any movie, yet I am grinning ear-to-ear as I type these words.

Just at the moment when I was most sure it was a totally pointless movie, during the grand finale when they get everybody, including the vice president of the United States, high at some kind of fancy Harvard event, Method Man’s character says, “Amazing what a couple brothers from the P.J. can do with just a little bit of opportunity!”

Holy shit, I thought. “How High” is about institutional racism.

“How High” essentially argues that systemic prejudice prevents truly talented people from getting the opportunities they deserve, and if everyone just chilled out and blazed one, academia could be more inclusive and merit-based.

When we hold dear the ideas of dead white men, we misinterpret their true meaning, and we miss out on the unconventional brilliance that lies inside of everybody. Exhume the corpse of Adams, and smoke his fingers. Hold nothing sacred.

Smoke this: Fuck Bush.

Reach Hayden Hawley at cannabis@collegian.com or on Twitter @hateonhawley.