Inherent Vice (2014)

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Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, sorting out some shit.

It is hard to begin a review of any Paul Thomas Anderson film. Each of his films are made with such care and such clarity that it feels as though my clumsy words and ill-constructed phrases can only taint their memory. Having said that, here we go. Sorry Paul.  Inherent Vice is based on the 2009 novel of the same name, written by Thomas Pynchon. ‘Psychedelic-neo-noir’ is a phrase that is being thrown around a lot and I’m not one to dispute it. The film follows Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a private investigator working in Los Angeles. Doc is a doper who falls down a very deep rabbit hole, becoming embroiled in case(s) that all lead back to the mysterious organisation(s) that constitute the Golden Fang. Unfortunately, the more you learn, the further you are from the truth. But then, I guess, the truth doesn’t really matter.

A rare candid shot of Thomas Pynchon. (Sorry. I had to.)

Before seeing Inherent Vice, I was totally ignorant towards Pynchon’s legacy and existence in general. For those not in the know, Pynchon writes novels that are very atmospheric and have their own aura (for lack of a better word). Basically – he isn’t known for his clear plotlines. Another thing that is interesting is that Pynchon leads a strictly private life. So much so, that the only truly accessible photographs of him are from his college days (nigh 60 odd years ago). The most recent image of him would be from his parts on The Simpsons, or some fuzzy screenshots from Inherent Vice with desperate arrows pointing to some insignificant background extra, trying to capture Pynchon’s rumoured cameo. Out of the few people who have met Pynchon have described him as ‘ extremely Pynchon-esque’. It seems he is a man of his word.

I don’t want to try and pick apart a PTA film, let alone one that is based on a Pynchon novel. It would simply be counterproductive to watching the movie. Inherent Vice is a fully immersive, hallucinatory experience. (It would be remiss of me to not praise the cinematography that so perfectly captures the light and dark of LA, that is responsible for a hefty chunk of the audience’s enjoyment of the film.) PTA recently appeared in WTF with Marc Maron (a compelling podcast, for those interested). They discuss the transitional cultural changes that occurred between the 60s and the 70s, post-Manson murders, in great depth. I’m not going to touch that because I was born in the 90s and barely consider myself a #90skid. On a more approachable level, what caught my attention from the film was its dealing with truth. Trying to ascertain details from a permanently hazy world – drug induced, of course. Being confused but not necessarily bothered. Surrendering to the ambiguity of all that encompasses the Golden Fang.

One should avoid comparing films at all costs. In light of this, I would like to suggest that Inherent Vice and The Big Lebowski make nice companion films. After Inherent Vice, I felt like watching The Big Lebowski, and I’m sure in the future, it will be vice versa. Inherent Vice has a humour to it, as does Lebowski – sometimes wry, sometimes in-your-face slapstick. Lebowski and Doc both have that stoner-ambling-about-town-in-sandals quality. However, where Lebowski becomes less and less Lebowski-like throughout the film, Doc maintains his Doc-ness. He is weed, distilled.

In contrast to this we have Big Foot (Josh Brolin). Big Foot is Doc’s nemesis. Well, as much as one can be to a guy who is permanently stoned. Brolin plays a hotshot homicide detective who has a penchant for deepthroating chocolate coated bananas and stomping hippies. But at the end of the day, Doc and Big Foot get each other. They don’t necessarily match – they go together. I can’t say how, or why, they just do. Anyway. They both probe and probe The Golden Fang, but both reach the same conclusion. Something that was harder for Big Foot to accept, than Doc. Maybe for Big Foot it was a defeat, but for Doc, that’s just life. High or sober, Inherent Vice is a film that should be experienced. Don’t try and hold onto each thread of story. Don’t overthink it. Abstain from the urge to analyse. Just sit back and bask in the last of the smoky, 60s light.

“What goes around may come around, but it never ends up exactly the same place, you ever notice? Like a record on a turntable, all it takes is one groove’s difference and the universe can be on into a whole ‘nother song.” (Inherent Vice, Pynchon)

Inherent Vice (2014): 9/10

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