‘Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle’ 10 Years Later: Still High After All This Time

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In the summer of 2004 I was seventeen and living a life that could best be described as straight edge. It’s not that I lived in a world thriving with drugs and alcohol that I fought daily to avoid. On the contrary, I came up in a modest, middle class household in a tiny rural town with a population well below 5,000 people. I didn’t do drugs, but I also had no idea where to find them if I had any desire to try them in the first place. Everything I knew about weed and the effects it had on the human body were taught to me by MTV and whatever films I had watched up to that point. I knew so-called ‘stoner films’ were often funny, but I never thought they were anything more than a series of stupid jokes tied together by the fact the main characters liked to get high. That summer, however, everything changed when a little film by the name of Harold And Kumar Go To White Castle arrived in theaters nationwide.

If someone were to tell you the plot of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle without explaining any of the wonderful details of the characters and universe in which they inhabit I don’t think anyone could blame you for writing it off as another brainless stoner film. I would also want to kick the ass of whoever decided to explain this film in such a simplistic manner, but that is for another editorial I will probably never write altogether. The truth is that Harold and Kumar is, at its heart, a tale of friendship and the way the passing of time can challenge even the strongest of bonds. It’s also about getting high and eating cheap burgers, of course, but as with every great film it’s what lies under the surface of the initial premise that supplies the majority of the story’s entertainment.

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Harold Lee is living a life that is far from the one he imagined for himself. Spending his days in a cubicle being the whipping boy of an arrogant boss, he’s lost not only his faith in humanity, but faith in himself as well. He can’t even find the courage in himself to speak to his neighbor, Sophia, even though it’s what he wants more than anything else in life.

Kumar Patel was raised under the careful guidance of an overbearing father who only wanted the best for his son. The only problem is, he never really bothered to ask his son what he wanted for his own life. Instead, he’s forced Kumar on a path towards a career in medicine and it’s created distance between them.

Both Harold and Kumar have yet to realize their full potential, but they already believe one another are the greatest people on Earth. In short, they are true best friends, and they are willing to go to great lengths to ensure one another’s happiness. On the night we meet them, this includes driving across New Jersey in search of White Castle, crashing a party they never wanted to attend in search of drugs, searching for a car stolen by Neil Patrick Harris, and doing everything possible to not have another run-in with some douchebag bros that cannot stop obsessing over things they believe to be ‘extreme.’ If you have never had one of those nights yourself then you, my friend, have yet to live. I cannot say I’ve done them all at once, or even all in the exact same way, but I have had some nights with my closest friends where we probably should have died or been arrested, if not both, and we’re still standing today. Those nights have since become our greatest stories, which is exactly what audiences witness when they see this film: the greatest adventure two best friends have ever embarked upon.

When I learned recently that Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle was turning ten years old, there was a part of me that could not believe the words I was being told. Ten years? Ten freaking years! In a moment I became aware of just how much time had passed since that afternoon I spent laughing out loud while seated alone in a cineplex, and I was curious as to whether or not my feelings about the film would be the same if witnessed through my more experienced eyes. The answer, I’m happy to report, was a deafening ‘hell yes!’

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From the moment we first fade in on the universe Harold and Kumar inhabit, it’s clear that we’re supposed to believe these two could be anyone we know who feels somehow stuck in life. Their bond is as strong as one would ever think possible, even though there are several character traits each possesses that the other would like to see go, and they have cleared their current schedule so they can ‘party’ together after work. This type of partying entails getting high on their sofa with absolutely no one else around, but it’s all they need to feel good and let the cares of the day slip away, or so they think. After a few hits, however, a new problem begins to emerge: the munchies. Thankfully, the television cuts to a commercial not long after and a White Castle ad reveals the destiny our heroes never knew they were meant to discover. The chase is on from this point, as some might say, and the film wastes no time kicking both the laughs and pacing into high gear.

On the road, Harold and Kumar settle into the roles every pair of friends find themselves in when presented with endless miles ahead of them. Harold, ever-obsessed with pleasing his asshole boss, wants to work and cannot help stressing over whether or not the decision to give in to his craving will mean his assigned tasks are never completed. Kumar, on the other hand, just wants to have a good time. He’s left every thought about being a responsible adult behind for the evening and has no intention of looking back. He’s hungry, more or less stoned, and ready to party as long partying means eating tiny burgers sold at unbelievable low prices. These opposing interests cause tension early on, which makes each comedic sequence that plays out funnier than it would have been if our characters saw eye to eye from the beginning. They not only have to fight the world for their burgers, but to an extent they must battle one another as well, and it’s in overcoming that struggle that the film really begins to soar.

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I cannot pinpoint the moment I first knew my love for Harold and Kumar was strong, but I know that when watching it a decade after its initial release, that thought began to cross my mind when Christopher Meloni appeared on screen as the disgusting and hilarious Freakshow. His character is one of the biggest MacGuffin’s in comedic film history, but it’s also one of the most memorable, thanks in no small part to Meloni’s delivery. With hair falling out, slurred words, and an unbelievable ‘crazy eyes’ gaze, Freakshow enters the film just long enough to break your comedy bones with five or six big laughs and disappears forever. Both he and his wife are entirely unnecessary within the context of the larger story, but you have so much fun with their characters that your brain never processes their uselessness until long after they’ve made their exit.

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There are many other supporting characters in Harold and Kumar, but they all serve a very specific purpose. Kumar’s Dad and brother exist to explain why he fears adulthood and shies away from chasing after the degree in medicine he’s clearly prepared to tackle. Likewise, the ‘extreme’ bros that continually interfere with the evening must continue to appear until Harold realizes that it’s okay to stand up for yourself and not let others give you shit for no reason at all. Even Neil Patrick Harris, in his own way, exists to teach Harold and Kumar a lesson about life and growing up. In their universe, NPH has never been able to let go of his former child star glory, and as such lives out every day as a shining example for why it’s sometimes acceptable to give in, grow up, and become a full-blown adult.

White Castle is not exactly a character per se, but the idea that reaching it will somehow bring ultimate satisfaction does represent yet another lesson being shared under the guise of a stereotypical stoner comedy. If Harold and Kumar had been able to leave their apartment and arrive at White Castle without enduring any of the challenges that came their way they would never realize their own untapped potential for greatness. Similarly, life without challenges offers little to no reward. We have to take risks in order to grow, and it’s only through growth that we feel like we are living up to our full potential. We have to learn to say no to our superiors when they step out of line, just like we sometimes need a reminder that we are good enough to talk to beautiful strangers we pass on the street (or in our apartment building, as per Harold’s case). We also need to realize that sometimes the skills which come easiest to us do so because it’s what we’re meant to do with our lives. Kumar has the talent and intelligence needed to be a doctor before we ever see him do work, but it’s not until he finds himself pulling bullets from the chest of a stranger on the verge of death–while attempting to steal medical marijuana using stolen identification cards–that he begins to realize his own true potential. Once that happens, nothing can stop him.

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Beyond its hilarious premise and execution, it’s hard to know exactly what I loved about Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle when it was first released, but I can guarantee you none of the reasons I would have given you at the time would resemble what we have discussed in the paragraphs above. It’s only now that I have revisited the film as an adult that am I able to notice and appreciate the numerous subtexts, themes, and messages being expressed through what many have written off as just another stoner film. I still believe Harold and Kumar to be one of the funniest films of the last twenty years, but I also think it’s one of the smartest comedies to ever reach wide audiences. Whether or not people realize that is another story altogether, but thanks to the age of streaming, many future generations will be able to enjoy the film and form their own opinions about the quality of its subjective content.

This weekend, take a break from the cinema and spend an evening indoors with two stoners who learn numerous lessons about growing up while having the night of their lives. Whether it’s your first screening or your hundredth, there is still plenty to discover and love about Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.

Written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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