Ben Wheatley's A Field in England follows a man named Whitehead as he escapes a 17th century war in England on a mission to bring scrolls and artifacts back to his alchemist master. He teams up with a pair of deserters and they come across a man named O'Neill, who happens to be holding said artifacts, and whom Whitehead has been tasked to arrest for the theft. When the group of gentlemen partake in some questionable mushroom soup, the film devolves into something wildly dark and psychedelic, as Whitehead fights against the oppressive force of O'Neill in a tale of men struggling to maintain their identity and some semblance of control over their lives, and of the battle of good versus evil.
I had already seen A Field in England at Fantastic Fest last year, loved it, and reviewed it for ScreenCrush. Earlier this week, I was asked if I might be interested in ingesting some psychedelic mushrooms and revisiting the film to write about the experience here on BAD. I had never taken mushrooms, and since the film has such a weird and highly original vibe to it (along with a super trippy visual sequence during the climax), I quickly agreed. Because I am insane.
So I gathered advice from some friends who had taken mushrooms before and did a little research online, and I asked my very special friend Eric to accompany me on the journey. We split the bag in half, and although I'd read that they taste horrible and I should eat them on a peanut butter sandwich or with pizza or something, the mushrooms actually did not taste very bad at all. They smelled sort of like stale Italian seasoning and the stems were a bit bitter, but they were surprisingly okay. We waited about 30 minutes to start the film to ensure we would be high, and within about 15 to 20 minutes, I was already feeling sort of warm and happy, like something was creeping in just around the edges of my mind.
It's a good thing I had already seen A Field in England because the plot wasn't easy to follow while I was high. I knew the basic story, but I couldn't remember the names of the characters well, and while I understood what was happening on a simple level, my mind was going in several different directions. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the walls had begun breathing, but when I tried to look directly at them, they would stop. I focused on the film again, and that's when a prism was created all around us. It was a living organism that was calm and beautiful and ever-changing. While I wasn't seeing intense visuals, I could feel the images shift from flowers to geometric patterns and all sorts of shapes and figures that I had never seen before. There was a canopy above us, and all of this kept us in this cushion where we could watch the film and experience something truly unique.
I started seeing patterns in the film itself -- first as paisley and flowers, repeating over and over across the screen, so much that I had to wonder if this was a part of the film I had forgotten about. It all started when O'Neill took out his scrying mirror, which is when Whitehead seems to realize this man may be a sorcerer of some kind. It was as if my high escalated along with the more magical elements of the film. If more than one person was on screen, they started to fold in on each other like a kaleidoscope, and if the film switched back and forth between two people talking, the images from their faces would stamp over each other until one person's mouth was on another's eyes.
I was going to take notes if I had any crazy thoughts or some wild revelation, but I only managed to take one note on my phone: there's a moment after the men have ingested the mushrooms and they start to realize that they're high, and one of them says something like, "There's so many colors," and I wrote, "I was already in the colors when he said the colors." I was already in my beautiful, shifting prism of (subtle) color and light long before those guys ever saw the colors. Speaking of which, the film is totally in black and white, but I swear I saw purple and green at various times. Wide shots where people walk across the field became dizzying and awe-inspiring, with every man leaving a trace of himself behind as my mind repeated their images across the screen like a stamp.
As the film neared its climax, I was laughing intensely at everything. The absurdity of what I was experiencing was too much. And then the big visual sequence unfolded -- not the visuals I was imagining, but the insane visuals Wheatley created for the film with double-imaging and kaleidoscopic sequences and strobe lighting. The thing is, when you're on mushrooms, you're already seeing all of this on your own, so this sequence is meant to give the viewer a taste of that experience; if you're already high on mushrooms while watching it, the experience is amplified and mind-blowing.
Some time after that, Whitehead starts going into the bushes (I felt like he did this at least three or four times; he probably only did it twice), but the way my mind kept taking images and repeating them over each other, the bushes started to eat up the entire screen, and they seemed to be made of metal. There's also a sequence in which someone is dying, but I only saw his torso and his head, and there were some gun shots, which my mind recreated as a war sequence in the vein of Saving Private Ryan. I'm pretty sure some of this scene happens, but that I repurposed it and reimagined it as something much more intense. The next thing I knew, Whitehead was sticking a shovel in a grave as if to say, "this is finished," and it felt like a book closed in my head. The war scene I had just imagined vanished, and I thought, "These guys escaped a war just to wind up in another one that's much bigger than the reality they left behind." By then, some of their faces were melting.
It's at this point that Whitehead is fed up and marches out with a gun like a badass to put an end to O'Neill once and for all, sharply cutting through my visuals and abruptly putting an end to the insanity on screen.
While you're high on mushrooms, reality doesn't exist. Real reality doesn't exist. If you try to think of your life and your responsibilities like work and even just getting up and checking your e-mail, you can't. It all seems so far away and distant. None of it matters. Nothing matters and everything matters. The war those guys left behind doesn't really matter, and neither do those artifacts. They're just hindrances and objects by which these men allow themselves to be limited. What matters is something bigger and more collective and greater than we can imagine. This is why Whitehead doesn't become a badass until he finally caves in and eats the mushrooms -- he attains a certain enlightenment that enables him to defeat O'Neill.
I realized a lot of things in that place last night. I say "that place" because I wasn't here. I went somewhere, and that may sound really absurd and hippy-dippy or whatever, but we live our lives in this constant state of agitation and concern for objects and immediacy and that which is tangible, and we're always so unhappy because we're trying to force our way through everything. I guess maybe that's obvious if you can afford really good therapy. Take the visuals, for instance: if I tried to look right at them, they weren't quite there anymore. The more you focus too hard on something, the more you kill it. Like they say in the film, if you're afraid of Hell, you'll live in it.
I also want to let you guys know that I established a psychic connection with my television last night. When my friend was flipping around the music channels, I said, "I want music that sounds like a smiley face with sunglasses," and the TV started playing Snap's "Rhythm is a Dancer." My TV understood me. I have achieved total enlightenment.