Inherent Vice Review

18 Jan


Inherent Vice is built around sensation, around a drug-induced haze not created through clever visual tricks, but rather through a purposefully incomprehensible plot. That’s not to say that there isn’t a story to grasp, though; it simply means that we’re just as much in the dark as Doc Sportello is, that every scribble in his notepad or on his whiteboard is just one more addition to a never-ending process. It’s a process we may need to attempt to make sense of things, but in the end, the experience–the sensation–is what trumps all.

To create this experience, Paul Thomas Anderson and Robert Elswit capture the end of 1960s counterculture through a melancholic lens. There’s a very specific mood that rises out of the smoke lingering in the air, and each character is tied together through the shifting landscape of American culture. Although these people are vastly different on the surface, there’s a shared notion of loss among them, whether it be loss of a neighborhood or of a purpose or of a love. Time takes its toll on all of them, and in the face of time’s perpetual march forward, they look back and wonder what could’ve been. As the suit-wearing, formality-driven businessmen and police officers and lawyers clash with the aesthetic-driven hippies, there’s also a clash between the individual and the society.

Anderson doesn’t let these cultural themes overshadow the actual story, but there are certainly quite a few connections we can draw between characters and culture. Josh Brolin is fun to watch as the chocolate banana sucking “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, and he represents the conservatism of the 1950s that is clashing with Doc’s dying hippie culture. The movie sets up a really intriguing relationship between the two characters, initially setting them up on opposite sides of the room before it slowly reveals just how close they actually are. In addition, there is also an excellent dynamic between Doc and Coy (played by Owen Wilson) that is all about the symbolic meaning of reuniting a family in the face of cultural decay. And finally, Joaquin Phoenix and Katherine Waterston bring their A-games to the Doc-Shasta relationship, one heavy with nostalgia and laced with small moments of profound beauty.

One of those moments is a flashback, one that takes us back to an earlier time, a time when Doc Sportello and Shasta Fay Hepworth used a Ouija board to lead them to an office that turned out to be closed. Set to Neil Young’s “Journey Through the Past”, the scene sees them laughing and cuddling as rain pours down around them, sharing each other’s company and not worrying about any tensions or cases or losses. It is a better time, a happier time. But time marches on.




-Nearly half the people in my screening walked out within the first hour or so. In the words of Doc Sportello: “AHHHHHHHHH!”

-The movie is really, really funny, even with that melancholy tone.

Nightcrawler and Inherent Vice within a few months of each other=lots of Elswit pretty. Command+F “Elswit” in the Academy Awards nominations, however, brought 0 results.

-Jonny Greenwood’s score is wonderful.

-I barely mentioned the supporting cast above, but it’s a great one all around. Martin Short’s several scenes are hilarious, Benicio del Toro and Michael Kenneth Williams show up in small parts, Sam Jaeger and Timothy Simons are FBI agents, Reese Witherspoon is Deputy DA Penny Kimball, and Hong Chau is Jade.

-I really like the directorial choice of holding on a conversation for a bit, then slowly pushing in until we get back to a closeup.

– “Inherent Vice”=”the tendency in physical objects to deteriorate because of the fundamental instability of the components of which they are made, as opposed to deterioration caused by external forces”.

-Just as Anderson doesn’t really rely on cute visual manipulations in order to emulate a drug haze, Phoenix doesn’t need to rely on caricature in order to play a person under the influence. And as we all know, Joaquin Phoenix is one of the best–if not the best–actors working today.



-I vaguely remember Doc saying something early on about him being surprised that Bigfoot didn’t kick his door down, so it’s even better that the door does end up getting kicked down. It’s a really funny scene just for the visual of Bigfoot stuffing his face with weed, but it’s also significant in terms of their relationship. Here’s a guy in Bigfoot who realizes that this society is going downhill and can’t be fixed, and he recognizes that in the midst of all this corruption, there’s Doc Sporetto. He does care about the guy, and so, he downs a bunch of weed.

-I’m assuming Sortilege is part of Doc’s imagination.

-That “Shasta returns” scene is amazing. Waterston is excellent there, and I’d say it sort of represents the Hollywood side of things and how people are exploited at every turn. And of course, the whole deal with Shasta returning is where we get the movie’s reference to “inherent vice”.

-There are a bunch of different references to the Golden Fang, and eventually, the big point becomes that it’s all a symbol for the influx of capitalism. The very set up of that final heroin exchange–which is hilarious, by the way–and of the Golden Fang in general encapsulates that 1970s Nixon capitalism.

-I read that the book differs from the movie in the end scene in that Doc is alone in the book. So yeah, the movie scene does inject a little less melancholy, especially given the ray of light at the end. I still found it a very poignant ending, though.

Photo credit: Inherent Vice, New Line Cinema

7 Responses to “Inherent Vice Review”

  1. Dan O. January 18, 2015 at 10:34 am #

    It’s actually a wild and nutty movie, but I had such a great time with it that I hardly even cared. Good review.

  2. Hepburn3 January 18, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

    I want to see this film, and your review has spurred me on! 🙂
    Yes Joaquin Phoenix is an outstanding actor, love him and the cast of this film is all talent!

  3. #peggyatthemovies January 18, 2015 at 9:43 pm #

    Wow a B+.. I didn’t expect you’d like it that much. I figured you wouldn’t walk out like I did..but wow.. that’s wild! I thought a C at best from you! hahahahaha Again, I will always be saddened by my disappointment in this film. Fun still to read your review on it.. 🙂

  4. thycriticman January 19, 2015 at 11:52 am #

    I can totally imagine folks walking out of this. I mean, if people walk out of a movie like Locke, I can just imagine the amount of people who will walk out of a movie that is so utterly confusing and difficult to follow haha

    • polarbears16 January 19, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

      Yup, agreed. And I didn’t know people walked out of Locke; they really should’ve read beforehand that it was going to be 80-90 minutes of Tom Hardy in a car.

  5. Rifle January 19, 2015 at 7:53 pm #

    Bless the director and Paul Anderson for starting off without explaining anything! You stare at Doc and he is even more clueless about the entire story than you are…It is all in the ride, and everything is so foggily intertwined and connected to everything else you finally give up and just go along for the ride! Not going to be popular with big audiences, but you can’t look away once it gets going.

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