Christmas break is prime movie watching time. No classes, plenty of new releases, and hopefully some Christmas money to spend at the theatre, right? Over break, perhaps you saw a non-Covenant rendition of Into the Woods, the new, modern Annie, or The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Or maybe you hit one of the smaller theatres in your area to see a limited-release film called Inherent Vice. But I’m guessing that you probably didn’t, so instead of giving everything away, I’d like to whet your appetite for a wildly interesting, post-modern narrative that you might not have heard about underneath the hustle and bustle of winter blockbusters.
Inherent Vice is originally a novel by Thomas Pynchon published in 2009. Wikipedia categorizes it as a “detective novel,” and since I haven’t actually read the book, we’ll go with that. Paul Thomas Anderson (The Master, There Will Be Blood) directed the film and consulted with Pynchon to stick close to the novel’s narrative.
Set in the 1970s in Gordita Beach, CA, the story revolves around Larry “Doc” Sportello, who really likes to smoke illicit drugs. He also likes helping people, doing good, and being a detective, so he is set up in the local doctor’s office to meet clients. Enter the femme fatale: Shasta Fay Hepworth. She’s gorgeous. She used to date Doc. She needs help. Also enter the LAPD officer: Bigfoot Bjornsen. He wants Doc as an informant, and is kind of a doofus.
This is a weird movie. It was nominated for one Golden Globe (Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical) because Joaquin Phoenix is in it, and it didn’t win. There have been quite a few mixed reviews from critics, mainly for the increasingly confusing plot line. It has been called a “2 ½ hour endurance test…” and “dense, lots on its mind without any clear thoughts.” As these critics insinuate, this is not a film for anyone and everyone. If you’re wondering if it’s for you, a not-so-helpful reference point is somewhere between Reservoir Dogs and Monty Python. It’s very film noir, and it twists and turns with an absurd ease that doesn’t always pull you along with it. The story itself seems pretty straightforward at first, but it gets messy in the middle which requires close attention. There are scenes that are startlingly uncomfortable, and Doc is not the most verbose character, which is often hilarious but occasionally makes the story hard to follow. Ready to buy your ticket?
Probably not. But I'd like to encourage you after that blatant warning. Though this movie is a labyrinth of storyline, it's worth winding your way through. It has interesting questions to ask about humanity, justice, and the role of a female voice. It also displays the 70s in a way I haven't seen in film before. It uses silence to fill in gaps and create bigger ones for the viewer to fill in themselves, and yes, it doesn't have "clear thoughts", but it leaves you thinking. So, again, I invite you to watch this film, and when you’ve finished watching and thinking, ask some questions. Read the film reviews and question the conclusions, even this one. Come find me, and let’s talk about it. We can meander through the narrative together, and maybe you can help me think about this bizarre work in a new way.