Cannabis and pop culture have a close relationship. From musicians to live streamers, many communities have thriving subsets of friendly cannabis enjoyers. Furthermore, entertainers’ love for the green stuff often bleeds into their art. For some, their art is literally about cannabis. One of the most popular cannabis art forms is movies, known colloquially as stoner comedies. These movies usually center around pot smokers getting high and wacky hijinks ensue. An exquisite example of these fun-loving stoner comedies is Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
An endearing film about two cannabis lovers with the munchies, it is a rite of passage for any stoner to watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. Centered around the titular friends searching for their next high and some fast food, the 2004 film endures not only in the minds of pot smokers but for comedy lovers everywhere. What makes this film so special, and why do people constantly return to rewatch a 20-year-old comedy? To find out, we must take a critical lens to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.
The movie focuses on two protagonists, the overworked investment banker Harold and his lazy, med-school-bound friend Kumar. Both characters are fresh out of college and are dissatisfied with their lives. However, they can always relax with some cannabis, which they constantly do throughout the film. After a Friday night smoking session, they get the munchies but do not know where to eat, dissatisfied with their typical food, much like their own lives. Then, they see a commercial for White Castle sliders and decide to visit the fast food restaurant on the other side of town.
The majority of the movie follows the two characters as they attempt to reach their destination. They make stops at a White Castle location that no longer exists, a college campus, a backwoods home, a prison, and even ride a stoned cheetah. At certain points, any stoner can relate to their search for elusive cannabis and the buzzkills that get in their way. Other times, the movie delves into the surreal, such as their escapades with Neil Patrick Harris. All around, the movie provides plenty of laughs and some thoughtful moments.
Plot Synopsis Continued
Near the end of their journey, Harold and Kumar are running from the cops. They steal a car and drive offroad, almost plunging off a cliff, but they see the White Castle in the distance. As the sun rises, they jump off the cliff in a hang glider, reaching their destination. Once inside, they attempt to order an obscene amount of sliders but realize they lost all their money. Thankfully, Neil Patrick Harris returns and pays for their meal (and returns their car). They chow down on “the best meal of our lives,” which invigorates them. Harold finally stands up to his overbearing bosses, Kumar decides to finally give med school a real shot, and Harold even hooks up with the girl of his dreams. As the movie finishes, they plan their next trip, an expedition to the cannabis-loving city of Amsterdam.
A Critical Look at Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
So what has made this light-hearted stoner comedy turn into a cult classic? The easy answer is that it’s hilarious. Every joke lands, especially from some standout performances from famous actors like Neil Patrick Harris, Bobby Lee, Ryan Reynolds, and Anthony Anderson. For a low-budget movie, they got a ton of acting talent that would go on to great careers. Along with the perfect fits of Kal Penn and John Cho as the titular characters, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg’s casting choices helped elevate the well-written script.
However, there are some problematic elements in the film, not uncommon for movies from the past. Without a doubt, this movie relentlessly objectifies women. Every female character serves the goal of a sexual conquest waiting to happen. One of Harold’s primary goals in the film is to get with his neighbor Maria, whose role is little else than a pretty face. Additionally, there is a considerable amount of homophobia in the film, with “gay” being the punchline to many jokes. With past movies, especially comedies, it is essential to look at these moments critically and understand that they were a product of their time. There is nothing wrong with enjoying this movie today. Still, it is essential to realize that Harold and Kumar should not be idolized as cannabis role models.
On the other hand, this movie makes a lot of strides not seen in other comedies at the time. For example, few movies in the early 2000s starred two actors of Asian descent. Furthermore, parts of the movie address racial issues, with a notably poignant take on police brutality. Overall, the movie is a comedy and is not out to make grand statements about society; rather, it serves to entertain.
Why Does Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle Endure Today?
If you ask any cannabis film aficionado about their favorites, almost everyone will put Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle near the top of their list. It is easy to say this movie is still so popular today because it is funny. It is undoubtable that the movie is hilarious, but there is a bit more to it.
Harold and Kumar not only go on a wacky journey, but the movie also revolves around their coming-of-age. Harold goes from a quiet office worker who avoids confrontation to someone willing to stand up for themselves. Kumar finally decides to move on with his life, deciding to avoid his responsibilities no longer. For a light-hearted comedy, there is a lot of character development.
Also, anyone who enjoyed pot in high school, college, and early adulthood will relate to the main characters. We sympathize with Harold and Kumar as they search for pot and deal with the world around them. Any cannabis user will find a moment they relate to perfectly: overbearing parents, run-ins with the cops, or just trying to satisfy their munchies. Relating to the characters and watching them grow makes this film truly special. For younger cannabis users, they can readily relate to the issues of the protagonists, whereas older people can remember the trials and tribulations of young adulthood. Whomever you are, we can all agree that Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is best enjoyed with a lot of cannabis and food that hits just the right spot, and those experiences will never go away.