Big Screen :: Inherent Vice

March 11th 2015


When The Master came out, I was about as pre-sold as anyone could be on a movie. If you ask me, Paul Thomas Anderson‘s escalation from Hard Eight to There Will Be Blood – by way of Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love – is a steep upward trajectory that culminated in a complete masterpiece. So when about two thirds through The Master I realised that I was bored, it was a shock. I had to go back and watch it again just to be sure. It’s not a bad movie, it’s just difficult and dense, and ultimately, in my opinion, unrewarding.

Still, the best part was Joaquin Phoenix‘s incredibly intense performance, so when the news broke that he was reuniting with Anderson for Inherent Vice, the first ever cinematic adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, I was pre-sold all over again. It looked incredible.

Leaving the theatre, though, there was that same familiar feeling. I was disappointed again.

I have read the book and seen the movie and I still can’t tell you what happens in Inherent Vice.

I’m almost certain that you’re not supposed to figure it out, because believe me, I tried. It’s a movie with great scenes, characters and dialogue, but it is wilfully uninterested in its own plot.

The movie acts like it is making sense, though: one scene feeds into another; it moves quickly and logically. But when you try to retrace your steps and figure out how you got from a frightened girl worried that her boyfriend’s wife is going to try and get him committed to a looney bin and steal his money, to some sort of dentist conglomerate/South East Asian drug ring, the whole thing falls to bits.


Phoenix plays Doc Sportello, a private eye and massive stoner who lives by the beach in LA. We see the case as he does, and he is wasted and confused the whole time. If he never really figures out what the hell was going on, then why should we? … At least, I think that was the idea.

It’s two and a half hours, which is a big investment in a movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. Within those two and a half hours are some wonderful moments. There’s a sequence of Josh Brolin just eating a chocolate-coated frozen banana like it’s the greatest thing ever, that is so funny it almost alone makes the movie worth watching… almost.

It looks and feels like nothing released right now. Like it was actually made in 1970 and just lost. That’s pretty amazing.

Look, I’m going to give this another shot. It deserves a second chance. I really want to love it, but I just don’t yet. And that’s really annoying.

Here is my advice: when you go and see it, just give yourself over to the movie. Don’t spend any time trying to piece it together, because the movie doesn’t want you to follow it. Just enjoy the scenes and the dialogue and go along for the ride. That’s what I’m going to try to do.

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