Updated: Apr 15
Review of Contemplations: On the Psychedelic Experience. 2023. Produced and Directed by Julian Palmer | Edited by Tim Parish.
This two-hour documentary does what it says on the tin: i.e. it “distills the wisdom of experienced psychedelic explorers in the Australian scene.” Through his adventures in the wild undergrowth and weird fairgrounds of Australia, Julian Palmer has gathered a score of Aussie storytellers who share their erudite insights on a spectrum of psychedelic compounds encountered in the local context. What’s more, through the compelling visual artistry of editor Tim Parish and a team of animators, the film — a series of five chapters (Initiations, Complications, Orientations, Visitations, Evolutions) — faithfully reproduces these discursive dioramas though a series of jaw-dropping visionary vignettes.
The team must be commended for this extraordinary visualisation of extremely difficult to capture episodes. From DMT spirit contact sequences inspired by Chris Banarby, to Darren Smith’s possessed acid-drenched odyssey through the hell-realm of suburban Ipswitch (animated by Levin Diatschenko), to Mike Rigby’s realization that “the Hindus are right,” and the multileveled integrative insights of Shipibo trained curandera Skye Cielita Flor, the film is a masterful statement in visionary art. From James I want what he’s having Hart’s realisation on a high dose of Amanita Muscaria mushroom that “everything realises that it’s in love with itself,” to Melissa Warner’s discussion of the “risks of not adopting psychedelics,” to a fabulous kaleidoscopic changa-portation, to the final scene where James Oroc kits up and launches himself into the afterlife, the series offers an authentic portrait of the breadth and depth of the psychedelic experience. Standing out for me is the astonishing execution of Dane Tomas’s DMT breakthrough event, in which Lev Viktorov seems to have achieved for animation what Luke Brown has accomplished on canvas.
That there are only a handful of women making the final cut is a disappointment, and the film might have given more attention to the joyous, ludic, and recreational realms. But these detract little from a highly watchable journey into the complex role of psychedelics as initiatory agents, mentors and divining tools; as treatments for addictions, trauma and the malaise of modern life; and as means to enable our collective evolution. Palmer, Parish and the team have crafted an epic testament to the plant medicines and molecular allies that daily make in-roads upon the planetary psyche. With Australia suddenly at the forefront of the global push to recognise psychedelics as medicines, Contemplations offers a poignant entry into the visionary world of psychedelics.