Many Americans of a certain age can remember an iconic anti-drug PSA in which an unseen narrator creates a foreboding metaphor. “This is your brain,” says the narrator ominously, holding up an egg while butter sizzles in a frying pan below. “This is your brain on drugs,” continues the narrator, cracking the egg and dumping its contents into the skillet. For children who watched unhealthy amounts of television, like myself, this commercial is burned into each of our brains. In those days, the so-called “War on Drugs” loomed large over American families, including the parents who had been conditioned to fear that their children would suddenly come home from grade school with a crack addiction. The paranoia was so insidious that most parents would probably breathe a heavy sigh of relief to learn that their son or daughter suffered from the sort of addiction that afflicts the protagonist in today’s Staff Pick Premiere.
Produced by NYC-based creative studio Dress Code, “Coke Habit” tells the true story of Mike, a 16-year-old who finds himself with a crippling addiction to Coke … as in Coca-Cola. This slickly designed animation is the culmination of two years of blood, sweat, tears, and probably a few cans of soda — although, frankly, I was too afraid to ask. For a production company that focuses primarily on commercial work, the opportunity to experiment with the most iconic branding in the world was too tempting to pass up. As you might expect, the resulting film is draped in the deep reds and bright whites that are so closely associated with Coke, however, Dress Code uses this palette to convey conflicting emotions. “Throughout the history of design, the color red has also been used in agitprop posters and protest art. This dichotomy between the two associations of the color seemed fitting, since our film is somewhere between a testimonial and a piece of propaganda,” explains Dress Code.
The style also evokes the surrealist landscapes of Dalí and Magritte while giving a more overt nod to the disorienting designs of MC Escher, all to great effect. The central visual motif, however, is more reminiscent of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Mike finds himself wandering alone through an enchanted, yet perilous forest. Dress Code has a more contemporary take on what the forest represents: “Forests remind us of suburban youth — where kids, from middle school to high school, go to hide from the watchful eyes of their parents and do things they aren’t supposed to do. It’s where they explore and get into trouble, where they find out what they like and don’t like, where they grow from children into men.” In the end, “Coke Habit” is a heartfelt and candid account of the challenges posed by substance dependency even when that substance is something as seemingly benign as a soft drink. Although one could be tempted to compare it to the ‘90s PSA with the egg and frying pan, “Coke Habit” is infused with a tenderness and compassion that is often sorely missing from conversations about addiction.
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