TAKE YOUR PILLS
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Alison Klayman
Screenwriter: Alison Klayman
Cast: Dr. Anjan Catterjee, Dr. Carl Hart, Dr. Wendy Brown, Dr. Martha J. Farah, Nicolas Rasmussen, Stephen P. Hinshaw, Eben Britton, Michael “Blue” Williams
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/14/18
Opens: March 16, 2018
The principal theme: Adderall and Ritalin allow users to focus clearly without distractions for hours on end.
In Sonnet 103 Shakespeare warns, “Were it not sinful then, striving to mend, To mar the subject that before was well?” In other words, the perfect is the enemy of the good. If only people especially in America would honor the wisdom of the Bard and instead live the way Italians do with their five weeks’ vacation, ample time for parental leave, and leisurely lunches under the Duomo in Rome! Instead we rush through salad-bar offerings at our desks and remain always wary of the competition, of the people who appear to have more drive than we do and might be on the fast track to the Executive Board (or the graveyard). This striving for perfection and productivity may have catapulted the United States to its current prosperity, but at the same time the U.S. has been judged by a reputable poll to stand only eighteenth in happiness, well behind all the Scandinavian residents.
This striving to do quicker, better, best begins for some in pre-school where parents are already pushing their four-year-olds to prepare for Harvard, but now, in college—if you believe the young women interviewed by this documentary, “Everybody does it.” Does what? Hooking up? No. Nobody mentions that but we know that ambitious college students have no time for dates and romance, so quickies will do. Everyone takes pills, probably not heroin, maybe not cocaine, but the title drug, Adderall. The drug is amazing, and in fact though director Alison Klayman—known to cinephiles most recently for her “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” about the Chinese artist and activist who regularly clashes with his government—presents so much evidence for the positive effects of Adderall that despite warnings from doctors about its side effects, viewers will want to experiment.
Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) is prescribed for some, Ritalin (methylphenidate) for others, all with the purpose of treating ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). We probably know Ritalin because it’s being used by kids from grade school through high school because they have been reported by their teachers for fidgeting, restlessness, running around the room. Some of the parents speak to Julia Liu’s lenses with mixed feelings, worried that their youngsters would become addicted. But for academic circles, more time is given to college students, the ones who say “Everybody does it,” because there is pressure in college not to relax and have a good time but fiercely to compete with one another for the jobs in white shoe law firms, Silicon Valley, and the medical profession. Once again: Adderall and Ritalin allow users to have a clear focus with no distractions and to continue at a single task for hours on end.
We’re also aware that in professional sports, doping is de rigueur (see the Oscar-winning movie “Icarus” about Russians eliminated from competition because they’ve been stimulant positive). NFL player Eben Britton used Adderall to boost his game, and often went beyond the usual limits because of the high he received thereby sustaining multiple injuries.
If you’re a Marxist, you’re likely to blame capitalism for the special interest that New Zealand and the U.S. have in Big Pharma, as the only countries in the world to allow TV commercials for pharmaceuticals. When you’re tapping away at your computer in the office, you’re next to someone on your left and on your right who might be faster; more productive; willing and even eager to work a sixteen-hour day, so what’s a person to do to get ahead? Be like them. With sports, school, and business, with the emphasis on competing as a factor more important than relationships, with all the money we dole out for health insurance, real estate taxes, Beemers, two or three kids, who can relax? Take your pills.
Here’s one caveat: don’t think all the schoolboys and schoolgirls are killing themselves with study, soccer practice, big league sports, and the like. From my 32 years’ experience as a high-school teacher, I have found that only the academically brightest, those who get put in honors classes and who are likely to be tutored for the SAT and stay up nights studying, are pushing themselves. The others either don’t know what they’re in for when they “grow up” or do know and have simply given up.
The film is loaded with humorous animation including excerpts from “The Simpsons.”
The major problem with the doc is that it is far more likely to encourage non-users to play up to their doctors and request scripts for Adderall than to serve as a warning, as do the movies that get shown in high schools every year talking up the side effects. The harmful effects of Adderall and Ritalin are skipped over lightly: this kid gets headaches and can’t sleep; maybe somebody’s liver is attacked and destroyed as alcohol might do. But that’s it. Just a scant few minutes in this 86-hour presentation on what’s bad, and you’re likely to skip over that and go for the pills.
Unrated. 86 minutes. © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B