Accessibility Page Navigation
Style sheets must be enabled to view this page as it was intended.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Trapped in a Purple Haze

Trapped in a Purple Haze

For the third blog in my series about drug addiction, I would like to recommend Trapped in a Purple Haze, an American film made for TV, directed by Eric Laneuville, which was first shown in 2000. It was subsequently released on DVD in the UK in 2004.  This film provides a good portrait of the process in which a middle class teenager becomes addicted to heroin. There are excellent performances by Jonathan Jackson as teenager Max Hanson and Carly Pope as his girlfriend Molly White.

The Film

Trapped in a Purple Haze begins at a high school ice hockey match where we first meet Max Hanson, the star player on the team, and see him scoring a goal that wins the match. Evidently happy with his success as a sportsman, Max enjoys the acclaim he receives from his peers but it soon becomes apparent that his mother’s hopes for him are very different. She wants him to develop his talent as an artist, something she had wanted to do but had abandoned when she had a family. Max tries to tell his mother that he is not so sure about pursuing a career in art but she is reluctant to listen. Max finds himself attracted to a girl at school called Molly who seems impressed with his sporting prowess and invites him to a party. The relationship with Molly develops quickly into a powerful and intoxicating means of escaping from the intrusive scrutiny of his mother. It is Molly who introduces Max to drugs and a whole new world associated with them. The film follows Max on a painful downward spiral as his successful school career slips away from him and he loses his place on the hockey team. He becomes estranged from his close friends as he is drawn ever deeper into the world of drug addiction and associated criminal activity. Max begins to suffer from some physical health problems as a result of using heroin, which others start to notice. However, with his family’s concerns dismissed and their influence diminished, Max disregards their concerns and leaves home for a precarious existence on the edges of society. It takes the persistence of his father, who searches for Max after a serious incident occurs involving the police, to find him just in time although he is by then suffering from extremely serious health problems. It is only then, and after discovering the tragic death of Molly from a heroin overdose, that Max agrees to seek help with the support of his family.

Relevance to the field of Mental Health

Trapped in a Purple Haze explores some of the underlying reasons that young people may come to find themselves addicted to illegal drugs, in particular the peer pressure from other teenagers, especially when this involves a romantic attachment. The film provides a context for Max’s initial rebellious behaviour by sensitively portraying the difficult relationship that he struggles to manage with his mother, whose high expectations of him feel intolerable. At the same time his mother’s failings in her relationship with Max are portrayed with depth and understanding, showing the complexity that always exists when a parent ‘tries to do the best for their child’. As a viewer, one can gain empathic experience of Max’s need to escape from a suffocating home environment in which his hopes and wishes cannot be heard. This might help someone to understand why a young person, such as Max, could seek relief through substance abuse from such pressures when the drugs are provided by a very desirable other who appears to offer appreciation and understanding. Trapped in a Purple Haze goes on to portray the physical addiction that develops with the use of heroin and how the supply of that substance becomes the main focus of desire and daily necessity for Max.


As an educational resource, the film offers the opportunity to consider and discuss the variety of underlying causes that may result in a previously well functioning, successful young person developing an addiction with all of the serious associated health and social consequences that Max suffers. It openly invites commentary on the way in which Max is parented by his mother and father and allows the viewer to gain understanding of why treatment must often involve some form of psychotherapeutic intervention with the whole family.

An openly available article published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, in 2000, entitled Substance misuse in adolescents by Harith Swadi (Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2000) 6: 201-210) offers a good introduction to this subject area and would be useful to read alongside a viewing of the film for teaching purposes. A more recent article in the same journal called Adolescent substance misuse: an update on behaviours and treatments by Paul McArdle and Bisharda Angom (APT July 2012 18:299-307 abstract) brings the discussion up to date.

* More information about Trapped in a Purple Haze can be found at IMDB. 

* Trapped in a Purple Haze can be purchased from

* Minds on Film is written by Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Joyce Almeida



Subscribe to this post's comments using RSS


Add a Comment
  • Security Verification:
    Type the numbers you see in the picture below.
    Type the numbers you see in this picture.
Login - Members Area

If you don't have an account please Click here to Register

Make a Donation


About this blog

Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida

Dr Almeida is a Consultant Psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK. 

  You can now follow Minds on Film on Twitter @psychfilm