In Los Angeles, TV commercials director Paul Groves is introduced to LSD by a friend. He takes a trip, and spends a few hours hallucinating while exploring his own fractured mind.
Scripted by Jack Nicholson when he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to stick with acting and directed by Roger Corman when he wanted to move on from Vincent Price movies, The Trip is an unusually simple idea: it just shows one man taking an LSD trip.
Free of most of the melodramatic trappings of the many acid freak-out exploitation films, it cuts between subjective representations of Paul’s experiences and objective sequences showing how he appears to the straight world.
The former are moderately wild, with inevitable borrowings from Corman’s Poe pictures (how many acidheads imagined encounters with mediaeval dwarves?), but the latter – depending on subtle playing from Fonda, LSD guide Dern and bystanders like housewife Barboura Morris, a child played by Corbin Bernsen’s sister and waitress Luana Anders – are extremely credible and affecting.
An interesting, credible aspect of the movie is that it features square-dressing-and-talking drugs experimenters (Dennis Hopper, breaking the record for the use of the word ‘man’ in a speech, is an exception) rather than flamboyant hippie stereotypes. It also makes fine use of LA locations, borrowed hip homes (Dern has a swimming pool in his ‘living room’ – a phrase which makes Fonda fear the lounge has come to life) and authentic nightspot hang-outs from clubs to laundromats.
It may be that the secret of the film’s commercial success was that it served as a substitute for acid to audiences who weren’t willing to take the risk, but it probably stands as an honest account, though Corman protested the distributors’ imposition of a fractured freeze frame to suggest that the protagonist has been irreparably damaged by his drug experience.
Convincing depiction of one man's experience.