“Murder Mountain” Is An Idealistic, Outlaw Surfer’s Cautionary Tale
There is no easy way out.
Murder Mountain, now streaming on Netflix, is ostensibly the story of Garret Rodriguez, a surfer from San Diego, California
Rodriguez went missing in early 2013, while working an illegal Marijuana grow operation up in Northern California. Over the course of six episodes, the filmmakers speak with his family, friends, private investigators, and local residents in an effort to determine exactly what happened to him.
In addition to the Rodriguez case, the documentary touches on the difficulties experienced by former outlaw growers in the face of legalization and government oversight, the historical roots of marijuana agriculture in the area, and the myriad dangers of operating in a market which ranged from gray to black.
But, really, Murder Mountain is a morality tale about the naivety and danger inherent in looking for an easy way out.
The San Diego surfer’s foray into the hillbilly libertarian nightmare that is Humboldt County began as an attempt to earn enough to money to build his dream surf retreat on a property in Mexico. By all reports the income flowed in fast and heavy, to the point that friends cautioned him to exercise discretion when he would return to Southern California. Tens of thousands of dollars in illicit income begs to be spent. When it seems the flow will never cease, one tends to piss it away.
Manufacturing and selling drugs, even one as benign as marijuana, is a dangerous game. The lack of legal recourse in the event of robbery, or other violence, necessitates a survivor’s mentality. You have to watch your back, protect your shit. Decide whether you’re willing to resort to violence or are willing to be seen as a push-over. It’s not fun, it’s not easy and, in the long term, almost everyone is destined to lose.
Those who cut and run early, get in and out, make a bit then split while the gettin’s good, can pull together a small nest egg in a short period of time. Use it to travel, to move, to purchase some small amount of comfort. But money quickly earned is rarely appreciated and the temptation to go all-in, to stake your future on the chance of a better one, is too great for most. They get sucked in, keep chasing that last big score, until they flame out and everything crumbles around them.
Even those looking to keep it mellow, provide temporary labor on the fringes of the industry, face the risk of victimization and violence. Simple-minded sorts flock to the area in droves looking for work as trimmers—mindless labor that promises to pay well, avoid taxes, and possibly fund whatever leg in life lies next.
But, as the documentary series illustrates, the reality of working twelve hour days for as little as $150, while sleeping rough and contending with the possibility your employer may refuse to let you leave, or simply decline to pay, is hardly superior to a life inside society’s norms.
While many growers are decent sorts, there’s no shortage of scam artists, scumbags, and outright maniacs. The residents of Murder Mountain live outside the law, and so do not hesitate to make their own. There are no peaceful hippy types growing weed and just, like, chilling. Those types are long gone. Either fled over past decades, or metamorphisized into the same cash-hungry capitalists they once sought to leave behind.
At nearly four and a half hours Murder Mountain runs long, but covers a lot of ground. In addition to the tale of Rodriguez, a story which takes an unsurprising and exceedingly violent twist, the documentary covers the struggles faced by former outlaw operations as they figure out how to deal with legality. The decline of the black market means permits and taxes and ever shrinking profit margins.
Murder Mountain also follows the actions of those who continue to refuse to operate with the margins. People who understand that a loss of danger leads to a decline in profit. However, these are the same growers who allowed a film crew to document their criminal activities, which might lead the average viewer to come to the conclusion that the aforementioned growers are idiots. Which is a fair opinion, because you shouldn’t ever let someone film you committing a crime. And anyone with any sense will understand that a bandanna over your face does absolutely nothing to your identity.
The moral of Murder Mountain is a simple one: there is no easy way out. Everyone grinds to get what they need; those who operate without the protection of the law run the constant risk of becoming victims. In the best case scenario it may cost you some money. In the worst it will cost you your life.
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