Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the movie Max Payne. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.
Drugs and religion are a devastating combination
Those who have seen the trailers for Max Payne may suspect the movie to be a supernatural thriller -- something of a Constantine without Keanu Reeves.
However, Max Payne is actually quite different than the uninitiated -- those who haven't played the video game -- may otherwise suspect. The fire and brimstone images in the film turn out to be not the result of supernatural forces, but rather the hallucinations caused by a powerful drug.
Max Payne (Mark Wahlberg) is, by day, an emotionally shattered widower working the cold cases desk at the police department and, by night, a brooding hunter, seeking to uncover the identity of his wife and child's last escaped murderer.
In the course of a fateful evening he's drawn into the cumulative intrigue of drug culture, religious zealotry and corporate misdeeds that leads him to the very heart of his family's murder.
With the help of Mona Sax (Mila Kunis), an assassin whose sister's murder Payne is suspected of, Payne uncovers the trail of Jack Lupino.
Amaury Nolasco plays Lupino, a War on Terror veteran -- the theatre of conflict in which he serves is unspecified -- on whom Aesir tests their drug. As it turns out, Valkyr has, at best a 1% success rate. The rest of the test subjects go insane amid hallucinations of angels and demons.
Valkyr is also tremendously addictive -- more addictive in fact, than anything pharmaceutical executive Jason Colvin (Chris O'Donnel) has ever encountered. In time, even Lupino succumbs to its neurosis-inducing effects, and builds a Norse-themed religion around the drug. His most fervent followers join the gang assembled by BB Hensley -- Beau Bridges, playing the former partner of Payne's father, himself a cop -- and Aesir to peddle Valkyr for profit as a designer drug.
Lupino and his gang take on the identity of the Norse berserker -- believing they must die violently in order to ascend to heaven. In time, even the casual users of Valkyr are drawn into Lupino's twisted faith. They're identified by their wing tattoos, symbolic of the Valkyries they believe watch over them in order to choose the worthy dead -- those who draw first blood -- to Valhalla.
Hensley has used the addiction afflicted upon Lupino and his followers in order to control them and use them to his own ends. One of those ends was the murder of Michelle Payne, who had uncovered Valkyr as an employee of Aesir pharmaceuticals.
The utmost sinister edge of Valkyr's use as a religious sacrament is that it empowers ordinary, infallible humans with the spiritual status and authority of a god.
"Max Payne is looking for something that god wants to stay hidden," the underused Lincoln DeNeuf (Jamie Hector) intones during the film. The remark is very telling indeed.
If Jesus Christ himself is considered symbolically to be the source of the wine and bread used in Roman Catholic sacrament, then surely the creator of Valkyr -- Aesir pharmaceuticals -- would have to be Lupino's god.
Yet Hensey is a very corrupt man. He ordered the murder of Michelle Payne just to ensure Valkyr remains covered up, then began to sell this extremely volatile and dangerous drug for profit.
As alarming as the combination of drugs and religion in Max Payne is, the real-life implications of mixing drugs and religion can be just as alarming, especially when if effects the young and impressionable.
In particular, raves are known as a place where impressionable youths are exposed to drugs and drug culture. Once upon a time, this revolved around recreational drugs that were (mostly) harmless. But as rave culture has gone more and more mainstream, the prospect of easy drug-related profits has attracted harder and more dangerous drugs to the rave scene. In particular, crystal meth has become more and more prominent in BC's rave scene.
Most often the drug is mixed with ecstasy. In such cases, many of the ravers using the drug don't even know what they're taking.
Like crystal meth, ecstasy is a hallucinogen. It normally heightens the brain's sensitivity to textile stimuli. Continued use of ecstasy can result in permanent changes to the brain's chemical balance, sometimes resulting in disturbed sleep patterns.
Crystal meth, meanwhile, is highly addictive. A single dose can result in confusion and violent behaviour. Delusional psychosis can set in over time.
When such delusions begin to take on religious overtones, the effects can be disastrous for a great many people.
Intriguingly -- and disturbingly -- such religious overtones can be found in the typical rave environment.
Drugs such as ecstasy and GHB are used at raves in order to help invoke what many ravers refer to as a spiritual experience.
The dangers of drug addiction -- more and more often to drugs such as meth and GHB -- make the raver's spiritual journey a perilous one. And while it shouldn't be said that there's anything illegitimate about pursuing spirituality through a rave -- spirituality is best followed on an individual basis, as the seeker sees fit -- those following this path need to be aware of the dangers that linger there.
Also of interest is Santo Daime, a religion followed mostly in the Amazon region of South America, but is slowly spreading to places such as Britain.
Santo Daime mixes Christianity with African animism and South American shamanism. Its holy sacrament is dimethyltryptamine, also known as DMT.
DMT, normally a hallucinogen, is used in Santo Daime to incur psychedelic experiences.
The use of DMT in Santo Daime, however, has sinister potential. When used in moderation, DMT is not addictive and has few negative effects. However, DMT binds itself to neuroreceptors normally sensitive to Serotonin. Overuse of DMT could result in a chemical imbalance, as the brain starts underproducing Serotonin in response to the presence of a convenient substitute.
This actually provides the leadership of a Santo Daime Church with a shocking amount of power. Withdrawing their sacrament would also withdraw the Serotonin substitute that the brain has begun to depend on. The resulting Serotonin deficiency has been linked to conditions such as bulimia, anorexia, migraines, obsessive compulsive disorders, social phobias, schizophrenia and depression.
This should be considered far from unsurprising. DMT has been promoted by some doctors as a potential treatment for many of these conditions. Introducing excessive amounts of DMT into a chemically normal brain, however, can have potentially disturbing effects. Withdrawing the DMT thereafter can make these effects devastating.
The results of incurring a depression speak for themselves. Statistics hold that 15% of individuals hospitalized for depression will either commit or attempt suicide.
A scene in Max Payne could be considered a parable for such depression: one in which a man, about to be brutally killed by Lupino, desires a vial of Valkyr more strongly than he fears death. He desperately laps the contents of a vial off of a floor while Lupino proceeds to mercilessly behead the man.
In all fairness, it must be mentioned that few credible examples of DMT being used to hold leverage over a Santo Daime worshipper have been documented. The potential for unscrupulous individuals seeking leadership within the Church to take advantage of their followers, however, clearly does exist.
Drugs and religion tend to make a dangerous combination. And while Max Payne is clearly a hyperbolic depiction of such possibilities, it's difficult to ignore the potential that already exists.