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Cocaine Bear: Most Bizarre Scenes From The Movie Explained

2023 is poised to be a truly campy year for the world of film but in the best possible way. Setting the tone is "Cocaine Bear," a truly ridiculous film, but one where it becomes clear from the first scene that it is completely by design. This is not a film predicated on any form of subtlety, as every scene just ratchets up the drug-addled insanity and bloodshed.

The story begins with a shipment of potent cocaine airdropped from a plane, which ends up scattered across a small Georgia town and eventually ends up in the belly of a bear. Cocaine Bear — as it's eventually referred to — goes on a Jason Voorhees-style rampage, slaughtering hikers and anyone else it encounters. Caught in the mix are a pair of hapless drug dealers, plus two children and a worried mother as well. 

From beginning to end, "Cocaine Bear" delivers everything that its eye-catching title and premise had promised, resulting in many moments that need an explanation. Buckle up as we dive into the most bizarre scenes in "Cocaine Bear." Spoilers lie ahead. 

Kicking cocaine out of a plane

In most cases, the first scene should properly set the tone for the rest of the film. And as you might expect, "Cocaine Bear" does it with some gusto. We open in an appropriately whacked-out fashion with a drug smuggler named Andrew C. Thornton (Matthew Rhys) kicking cocaine-filled duffel bags out of a plane. Not only is he super-kicking coke-duffels like Shawn Michaels, but he's also dancing while he does it. This lets the audience know that this is not a film that needs to be taken seriously by immediately establishing its madcap tone.

The scene concludes when Thornton — attempting to exit the plane as well — clonks his head on the door and falls to his doom. Bizarrely enough, this part of the film is somewhat factual to real-life events, sans the coke-fueled dancing ... we think. The real Andrew Carter Thornton II was a real-life narcotics officer turned drug smuggler operating out of Kentucky. The film even shows archival news footage of the actual events right before we go into the fictional narrative. Much like the duffel bags of cocaine, this scene effectively dropkicks you into the bear bedlam to come.

Cocaine Bear's first attack

"Cocaine Bear" kicks off with a scene straight out of a "Friday the 13th" movie: two tourist hikers enjoying the splendor of the great outdoors while an unseen threat lurks nearby. We meet Olaf (Kristofer Hivju) and his wife Elsa (Hannah Hoekstra) enjoying their nature walk while discussing their upcoming wedding. It's here we get a humorous bit of dialogue where Elsa bluntly tells Olaf she doesn't want his brother's band playing at the wedding. Following this squabble, the couple spots the titular bear emerging from the trees — much to their immediate intrigue. Olaf begins taking pictures, before both of them realize that the bear isn't acting right — writhing around and head-butting trees.

Before Olaf and Elsa can even blink, the bear begins approaching them with apparent malice in its eyes. They are then attacked by the bear who proceeds to drag Elsa away to her death right in front of a horrified Olaf. The bear then mauls Elsa, ripping her limb from limb and letting out a roar before the film's title card drops on the screen. The title disappears, and the bear is immediately distracted by a pretty butterfly, which he chases offscreen. It's a glorious first kill that cements the film's dark sense of humor, while also establishing the momentum and tone for the rest of the film.

Montage of old drug PSAs

Following Cocaine Bear's first gruesome murder, we are treated to a decade-appropriate montage of drug public service announcements. Among these PSAs are two particularly noteworthy ones: the famous "This is your brain on drugs" commercial and an anti-cocaine PSA starring Pee Wee Herman. These over-the-top PSAs help to immerse the audience in the anti-drug sentiments that were rampant in the '80s. During the decade, politicians adopted intense anti-drug platforms, introducing things like the D.A.R.E campaign and slogans like "Just say no!"

The "This is your brain on drugs" commercial features a frying pan with some hot grease meant to represent brain-altering substances. We then see an egg introduced to the pan as a not-so-subtle metaphor for the dangers of using drugs. It's definitely silly, but nothing will ever hold a candle to Paul Reubens — in character as Pee Wee — talking about the dangers of crack cocaine. While definitely a noble goal, Pee Wee might not have been the best fictional character to trot out for that particular message. It's a bizarre yet hilarious little addition and a nice dose of nostalgia for anyone who grew up during the anti-drug messaging of the '80s.

The kids try cocaine

Early on in the film, we're introduced to Dee Dee (Brooklynn Prince), a young artist who wants to paint the rocks near a waterfall. Unbeknownst to her mother, Dee Dee and her friend Henry (Christian Convery) have skipped school and ventured off into the woods. On their wholesome little hike, the kids discover a lone brick of cocaine in the bushes and decide to pick it up. Henry — like a typical child — begins lying that he does cocaine with his other friend all the time, leading Dee Dee to call his bluff.

What ensues is a scene where these two unaccompanied children "do coke" by eating it off a pocket knife. This, of course, does not work and both kids immediately spit out the cocaine before continuing their hike to the falls. They then discover another brick of cocaine, but this time it appears as though someone — or something — had already gotten into it. This is revealed to be the bear who then makes its presence known, terrifying both Dee Dee and Henry. As the saying goes, "don't do drugs, kids" and these particular kids learn this lesson in the most hilarious and frightening way. It's another effectively absurd scene that adds to the film's balance of horror and intentionally crude humor.

The bathroom knife fight

One of the strangest things about "Cocaine Bear" is that the bear itself doesn't commit every act of violence in the movie. Yes, in this world, we're shown that human beings can be just as violent and destructive as drug-addled bears. Early on in the film, two drug dealers named Daveed (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) arrive at the park in search of their boss' lost cocaine. Upon arriving, Daveed goes to use the bathroom where he is confronted by a trio of punk teens. It's mentioned just before this scene that these teens have been causing trouble around the park — much to the chagrin of Liz the park ranger (Margo Martindale).

These teens, very foolishly, try to shake Daveed down for his money and are subsequently boot stomped for it. Daveed continues whooping the teens from pillar to post, leaving them all knocked out on the bathroom floor. We're then treated to an extra painful moment when Daveed has to yank a sharp knife out of his shoulder, lamenting that his favorite jersey is ruined. This scene is brutal and hilarious, and a perfect example that completely bear-free anarchy and violence also exist in this movie. Crucially, it also establishes that these dealers are a formidable force — setting up the inevitable showdown between them and the bear.

Cocaine Bear climbs a tree

Partway through the film, Dee Dee's mother Sari (Keri Russell) ventures to the park in search of her daughter and Henry. She tags along with Liz and an eccentric park inspector named Peter (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) in order to locate them. After venturing deeper into the woods, the trio eventually finds Henry scared out of his mind and halfway up a tree.

It's not too long before the bear remerges, horrifically wounding Liz before turning its attention to a hysterical Peter. While fleeing from the bear, Peter crawls for his life through some bushes before landing face-first in another pile of lost cocaine. He then takes a cue from Henry and proceeds to climb another tree while Sari hides behind one. This leads to a very tense moment when Sari just barely avoids the bear's detection and its coke-fueled wrath. While Steve believes they will be safe above the ground, this turns out to be a tremendous mistake because — as they learn the hard way — bears can climb trees. Enticed by the scent of the cocaine all over Peter, the bear rushes up the other tree and begins violently eating him. This madness is punctuated when the bear proceeds to snort another line of cocaine off of Peter's dismembered leg.

Cocaine Bear's surprising stealth

After bailing on Sari, Henry, and Peter, Liz returns to the park's main building, where she encounters the remaining young teens who had encountered Daveed previously. Both of them — equally battered and bruised — have no idea about each other's situations, with Liz assuming the teens were also attacked by the bear. Liz calls for some paramedics before they notice a noise at the door which is revealed to be the bear. In a moment of panic, Liz discharges her gun and accidentally shoots one of the teens through the head. This leaves one remaining teen who notices along with Liz that the bear is gone, but there are now noises coming from the roof.

While the film wears its absurdity proudly, it should be credited for this scene and the following one as they showcase a decent amount of suspense before belting you upside the head with a bear attack. This tension is then broken when the bear — displaying the stealth of a Yakuza assassin — crashes through the door's mini-window and begins clawing the teen. The horrific scene left behind sets up the moment a little later on when the medics arrive to investigate the carnage.

The medics meet Cocaine Bear

A short while after the bear attacks the park's main building, two paramedics arrive to examine the crime scene. The paramedics — Beth (Kahyun Kim) and Tom (Scott Seiss) — venture inside where they find a complete bloodbath with Liz barely clinging to life. Many of you might recognize comedian Scott Seiss from his TikTok videos wherein he often relatably comments on the annoying pitfalls of retail work. Tom checks out a backroom that appears to have blood pooling out from under its door while Beth checks on Liz. Right on cue, the bear reveals itself to a horrified Tom, who attempts to close the door and quietly leave before the bear brings it down on top of him. Now trapped under the door, Tom attempts to escape as Beth loads an injured Liz into the waiting ambulance.

Tom is able to free himself and board the moving ambulance before the bear gives chase, easily able to keep up with the fleeing vehicle. What ensues is a ridiculous chase sequence where Liz attempts to shoot the bear as Tom attempts to shut the door to the ambulance. The scene reaches its crescendo when the bear jumps through the air and lands in the back of the ambulance, mauling Tom and sending Liz flying out. Beth then meets her gruesome end when she crashes the ambulance into a tree.

Cocaine Bear chows down again

While the bear is off dealing with Liz and the paramedics, Daveed, Eddie, and the remaining teen, Stache (Aaron Holliday), reach a gazebo in the woods. Stache had noted earlier that he and his friends had stashed the cocaine they'd found there after finding it in the woods. Upon reaching the gazebo, the trio is shocked to find that Detective Bob (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) has beaten them to it. Now the four men find themselves in a standoff where Daveed ends up losing two of his fingers. However, things go from bad to worse when the bear enters the scene once again in the midst of their standoff.

The bear then proceeds to take a nap right on top of Eddie, who is nearly smothered by its immense weight. Eventually, the bear regains consciousness and Bob opts to distract it by throwing another brick of cocaine at it. It proceeds to scarf down the entire brick, giving the bear — now revealed to be female — a new source of energy. Bob then makes it rain more cocaine on the bear before throwing another brick into the woods to distract it. The actors' various reactions to the bear consuming more cocaine mean that this scene is quite a sight to see, and the more drugs the creature consumes, the more insane things get.

Cocaine Cubs

As the film nears its final act, the two remaining storylines converge at the bear's cave, where Dee Dee is being held. Sari and Henry arrive, finding Dee Dee hiding in the cave after following a trail of paint she'd left behind for them to track. This coincides with Eddie and Daveed — joined by Eddie's dad Syd (Ray Liotta) — also traveling to the cave to reclaim more of the lost cocaine.

Both parties make the same shocking — if not slightly adorable — discovery: the bear has a set of cubs that are also hooked on cocaine. Much like their mother, the cubs are hopped up on a healthy blizzard of the white stuff, with their fur even being covered in it. Later on in the climax, Syd opts to placate the cubs by throwing them another sizable brick of cocaine. Definite credit to the film's marketing team who wisely chose to keep this additional twist out of the trailers as it makes for a nice surprise for audiences. It also ensures that the bear isn't just a one-dimensional, drug-fuelled villain and gives some extra stakes for the film's big finale. 

Cocaine Bear vs. Syd

"Cocaine Bear" reaches its epic conclusion where all truly great films should: on the edge of a cliff. Sari and the kids are now held at gunpoint by Syd, not keen on letting any witnesses get away. At the same time, Syd begins needlessly beating on the cubs for trying to nibble at his reclaimed cocaine. His comeuppance soon arrives in the form of the cub's mama making a grand entrance on the top of the waterfall before jumping down to the cliffside to protect her babies. At this time, Sari, the kids, Eddie, and Daveed all opt to jump off the cliff and into the waters below to escape.

Syd is able to temporarily fight off the bear before accidentally gifting her with one final dose of cocaine. As he attempts to reclaim a bag dangling from the falls in one final last ditch effort, Syd becomes tied up in the strap of the bag. Syd then begins choking as the bear slashes his guts out — which her cub then proceeds to eat. Considering this is Ray Liotta's final onscreen performance following his death in 2022, this was one hell of a way to go out. It also caps the insanity of this movie nicely, and "Cocaine Bear" remains bizarre and brilliant right to the very end.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).