I’m Dangerous with Love
Dir: Michel Negroponte
First Run Features
I’m Dangerous with Love is filled to the brim with intriguing details and exploratory potential. Unfortunately, director Michel Negroponte opts to ignore a significant portion of that potential – the part that involves scientific and medical research, expert interviews and ethical accountability, for instance – in favor of a puppyish and myopic focus on his admittedly charismatic subject, former Leisure Class front man and drug addict-turned-renegade healer Dimitri Mugianis. The result is a documentary about Mugianis more than anything else; and while this is fine and good and plenty compelling in its own right, it leaves myriad questions about Mugianis’ determination to illegally treat heroin addicts with a hallucinogenic substance called Ibogaine, some of which are posed by the self-declared healer himself, hanging uncomfortably unanswered by the film’s end.
Ibogaine is derived from the West African iboga plant and is traditionally used as an agent in shamanic Bwiti religious rituals. According to Mugianis, however, this naturally occurring psychedelic has also earned a reputation among underground drug users as a highly touted “miracle” treatment for opiate addiction – one which Mugianis claims saved his life. Convinced of Ibogaine’s revolutionary potential to heal addicts and repair broken lives, Mugianis now operates as an illegal Ibogaine purveyor and administers what he sees as an effective rebirth to addicts across the United States and Canada. In I’m Dangerous with Love, Negroponte follows Mugianis on his dubious shamanic odyssey, delving into the shady operation of these Ibogaine treatments, interviewing the “patients” about their drug use and experience with the hallucinogen, and tagging along when a near-fatal incident inspires Mugianis to connect more completely with the spiritual side of Ibogaine by traveling to Gabon and becoming a true Bwiti Iboga initiate.
Negroponte turns an intimate, empathetic lens on the victims of heroin addiction, and at times succeeds beautifully in allowing the eloquence of their experience to speak for itself. He clearly hopes, as does Mugianis and his patients, that Ibogaine will succeed where countless rounds of therapy, medication and determination have failed; and his earnestness here does him credit. But he also seems blinded throughout the film’s progress by a mounting fascination with and faith in Mugianis, a dynamic figure brimming with fervor for his chosen path despite occasional (and may I say entirely justifiable) doubts about providing a potentially life-threatening, illegal substance to already endangered addicts. Negroponte’s exploration loses sight of the obvious issues at hand, such as the scientific and medical explanation of Ibogaine’s effectiveness as an “addiction interrupter” and classification as an illegal drug in the United States, and slowly gets lost in a haze of admiration and superficial analysis, peppered with sophomorically-rendered Ibogaine trips (keep an eye out for the floating fetuses!).
That being said, Negroponte certainly piques our curiosity about Ibogaine. He draws us in with details from his own experimental trip, explaining how he suddenly tasted simple foods like yogurt and grapes “as if for the first time…with a new set of taste buds, ” and later reveals how the Bwiti use iboga as a physical and spiritual cleanser, a means by which to wake renewed, fresh and untainted by experience. The idea is compelling, of course; and if such a cure could also purge addicts of their dependence on drugs and reawaken the senses without the pain of withdrawal (a handy effect of Ibogaine’s hallucinogenic properties), it would be an incredible thing. But to merely dangle this possibility before the masses, illustrated by the experience of a very few individuals and devoid of any medical or expert commentary whatsoever, is incredibly irresponsible. In the end, Negroponte would have served his subject’s credibility better had he taken the trouble to fully examine Ibogaine beyond the engulfing aura of Mugianis’ passionate determination.
by Lauren Westerfield