Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights, The Master) latest endeavor opens like many films of the ’70s: with a sepia hue that gives an orange, unnaturally warm aesthetic to the movie. From the opening shot of a fading L.A. sunset, Anderson draws you into Inherent Vice moments before launching you into a sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll-infused tale of modern pulp noir that would make Jeffrey Lebowski proud.
The film was adapted from the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, and there has been much discussion over Anderson’s ability (or inability) to keep with Pynchon’s nonlinear style of storytelling and maintain a plot that is cohesive enough to not lose his audience.
“I never remember the plots of movies. I remember how they make me feel,” Anderson said recently during the New York Film Festival.
Inherent Vice’s plot will at times leave the audience feeling a bit foggy and disoriented, much like our main character, stoner private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix, The Master).
Joining in this comedic quixotic romp is Doc’s missing damsel in distress Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston, Michael Clayton), the relentless LAPD Lt. Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, No Country For Old Men), an overly wealthy real estate tycoon, his wife, her lover, a gang of Nazi bikers, a mysterious heroin cartel known as The Golden Fang and an all-encompassing sprawling conspiracy (which might be a hallucination of drug-induced paranoia). It’s set against the backdrop of ’70s post-Manson-Family-Massacre Los Angeles, and though a complex story, it is a story that begs to be told.
Supported by an ensemble cast of Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and even an appearance by Martin Short, this is a tale in which there is no shortage of performance. Though mostly drawn to the main character, Doc, this film is overflowing with an array of peripheral characters that keeps one giggling at their antics, confused by their behavior and absolutely mystified by their audacity.
An actual insurance term, inherent vice is a loss caused by the inherent nature of the thing itself and not the result of an external cause. Pynchon takes you on a journey with Doc, who insists on being incoherent. Through the dulling of his own faculties with almost any substance that can be acquired, Doc is frequently unable to discern reality from hallucination, adding to his sentiment toward the process of crafting a story or plot. Andersons’ adaptation of this novel insists his audience elevate itself to the point of feeling the disorientation and confusion with the main character, to go through this journey as an actual participant and not simply a bystander. One might find oneself confused, disoriented or at a loss when watching the film, but remember, it is a loss caused by the nature of the story itself and not the result of any external cause (i.e., the director). It is, by its own definition, Inherent Vice.
Print headline: Natural feeling, The new Paul Thomas Anderson movie might leave you confused but feeling good about it.