Inherent Vice (2014)
January 10, 2015 11:24 AM - Subscribe

A detective film with a bunch of the standard social categories of the genre flipped on their heads. The first movie adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel.

No need to say much about the plot, it's one of those where the trailer leads you through 3/4 of the major plot points.

posted by idiopath (34 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
More like Inherent Mess. I love PTA and the one Pynchon book I've read, but this movie just didn't work overall for me. At the very end I was left going "What? That's it? That's the ending? Why are they suddenly in a car?"

Part of the problem is that for the first hour there are so many names thrown at you that it's very hard to understand who anyone is or why Doc Sportello is talking to them. The entire movie is conversation for the most part, and if you don't follow them closely you get lost 2 scenes later. Also, from what I read since, most of the longer, better rants from the book never made it to the screen. So you miss out on certain character's motivations, explanations of events, and the wonderful paranoia that Pynchon can bring to the page.

Another frustration that happens a few times: Doc will be having a scene with someone, and then it'll be later and in the very next scene he's talking to them again. And yes, I understand that in real life you could hang out with a friend and then they could call you after you both go home, but in this movie (full of these drug-fueled conversations) it came off as rather confusing.

And I even had to ask myself in the shower last night if my not liking this flick meant that I'd crossed into old and unhip land. But no, my pants aren't falling off, this is just a movie that doesn't quite work.
posted by Catblack at 1:29 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

to me that mess well reflected what it is like to be using those drugs, so the whole thing felt more real

one moment I'm talking to someone, then I am in a car, wait, who are these people?

all too realistic

that said, the way facts are handed to you in most movies feels condescending to me (and fuels the arrogant delusion that one could ever watch a movie and not miss something), so I guess I am predisposed to like looser story telling.
posted by idiopath at 1:41 PM on January 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Catblack, it's a *stoner* film.
posted by mlis at 4:31 PM on January 10, 2015

You assume I'm not experienced? (I am.) Jeez. Bet you could smoke my fingernails and get high.

I just didn't think Inherent Vice was all that great -- and I'm all about a PTA directed Pynchon adaptation freakturing lots of kicks and groovy times, man. I just felt it didn't go out there enough to put the filmgoer into it, and as a film it fell flat. What's the point a stoner film if it requires you to bring your own smoke?
posted by Catblack at 5:08 PM on January 10, 2015

I saw it this afternoon and rather liked it.

I've read "Inherent Vice" as well as most of the rest of Pynchon, and I'm not sure plot is his strength. Nor is he always interested in keeping the reader in the know. Instead he likes to be a massive spider, weaving of a web of connections that sometimes show a structure and sometimes not. Connections are everything - and not all the connections we see are really there, or mean what we think.

The movie does this nicely - there are a lot of people - sometimes people we only catch a glimpse of, and lots of connections - and we're just as much in the dark as Doc Sportello - and as he unravels the threads we can only try to follow (remember he knows much more about the people and organizations as they're part of the culture he lives in - and neither the reader nor the filmgoer share all of his innate knowledge). We see the web as Pynchon/PTA show it to us through the actions of Sportello.

At that, the film is clearer than the book which (as I remember it) throws even more at us, more names (what would Pynchon be without the names), more things, more hints. The conspiracy is more carefully delineated, though even so it only really starts falling into place about half way through.

I liked the mood of the film - it looked to me like the visions I had while reading the book, and Phoenix was a very good Doc Sportello. (Though he didn't look anywhere near stoned enough most of the time.) I also liked the odd humor - though I was laughing more than anyone around me, so maybe it was just my imagination. (Just as I was starting to count the "What's up Doc"s they stopped, and that got a laugh out of me a half hour later.)

A great film? Nah. A good one, and I'm glad I went to see it.
posted by Death and Gravity at 6:52 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'd agree with "good film, but not a great one." Which then raises a concern about expectations. Am I okay with Paul Thomas Anderson make a "good" movie instead of a "great" one, like I know he can? Obviously I should be, but it's not as easy as I'd hoped. That is entirely on me though.

I really liked the acting in this, and the music was pretty good. The world is fleshed out very well, I just thought the story was a but lacking for a PTA outing. Felt like PTA trying to do a stylized dialogue film, instead of PTA doing a stylized dialogue film.
posted by dogwalker at 10:09 PM on January 10, 2015

I liked it, but it was a bit of a mess. I wonder if it would be more satisfying if that messiness were reigned in, or just feel like a do-over of The Big Lebowski.
posted by Artw at 7:06 AM on January 11, 2015

I'm OK with leaving out the trip to Vegas, but the acid trip & the surfer mysticism were missed.

Owen Wilson at the Vigilant California rally was fun.
posted by morganw at 1:09 PM on January 11, 2015

I'm imagining that like Harry Pottee if you've already read the book you're going to have a lot better idea what's going on in some sections.
posted by Artw at 1:24 PM on January 11, 2015

Huh, I just got back from seeing it and am pretty surprised at the luke-warm response to it here. I totally loved every second of it. I love the meta nature of a movie set in the seventies done as a seventies movie like The Long Goodbye or Night Moves; and like those movies, you really can't get too hung up on weather the plot makes sense or not.
posted by octothorpe at 4:22 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Or whether you spell "whether" correctly.
posted by octothorpe at 5:01 PM on January 11, 2015

posted by rocketman at 5:56 PM on January 11, 2015

octothorpe, nice try with the typo thing, but "Harry Pottee" is still the winner so far.
posted by idiopath at 11:21 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved how Sortilege would ride shotgun with Doc and then just kinda not be there when he got where he was going.
posted by whuppy at 12:03 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, I thought Sortilege-as-omniscient-narrator was a bold move that paid off well.

I loved just about everything about this movie--the score, the performances, the cinematography, the loosey-goosey plotting, etc.--but I can't even imagine trying to win over anybody else. My new canonical example of de gustibus non est disputandum.
posted by whuppy at 12:24 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh, I just now double checked it and confirmed, the lady with two boyfriends who huffed gas with Doc was played by Michelle Sinclair (AKA porn actress Belladonna).
posted by idiopath at 1:02 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Far out.
posted by rocketman at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2015

Matt Zoller Seitz wrote my favorite review so far of IV that really captures a lot of how I felt about it.
posted by octothorpe at 1:32 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

The first actual substantive thing I need to get off my chest re: INHERENT VICE is that it's the first thing in a long time that made me miss John Belushi. He was born to play Doc Sportello.

Second, I'm always encouraged when you can go see an actual film, not a digital rotoscope playground. This was beautiful and a joy to just watch, forget the plot for a minute or two or hours or whatever. That closeup of Michelle Sinclair! I'd stare at her talking for the entire movie.

Fourth, if this movie was a game, Martin Short won it. Owen Wilson lost.

Next, I gotta say that anyone who came in looking for the next THE BIG LEBOWSKI
posted by rocketman at 2:09 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

The first actual substantive thing I need to get off my chest re: INHERENT VICE is that it's the first thing in a long time that made me miss John Belushi. He was born to play Doc Sportello.

I agree with this casting, but I also think it's really funny that someone could be born to play a character from a book that wasn't written until well after his death.

(unless Doc appeared in some earlier Pynchon works, then I guess it ain't that weird anymore)
posted by dogwalker at 10:04 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Phoenix was great but you wonder who else they considered? Owen Wilson in the lead? Or Mcconaughey. Woody Harrelson and Downey, Jr are too old. Most modern younger actors are way too healthy looking to play a stoner from the '70s; it's not like Chris Hemsworth could pass himself off as someone who lived on dope, cheap beer and organic pizza.
posted by octothorpe at 10:25 AM on January 13, 2015

Yeah, I remember hearing that Downey wanted it (maybe even had it at one point), but eventually got replaced because he was too old. Phoenix is a pretty good choice, and I really can't think of anyone better. Maybe Casey Affleck, but I like him more than most people do.
posted by dogwalker at 10:44 AM on January 13, 2015

Shia LaBeouf as Doc, with Nicolas Cage as Bigfoot.
posted by idiopath at 10:53 AM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

John Belushi as Doc, with Burt Reynolds as Bigfoot.
Kirk Douglas as Mickey Wolfmann, Audrey Hepburn as Sloane.
Sally Field as Shasta Fay.
Robert De Niro as Puck Beaverton, Jack Nicholson as Coy Harlingen.
posted by rocketman at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I loved it. I thought it was hilarious, and captured this really interesting point of social change with the death of the 60s. The plot was purposefully trying to lose you, to give you this feeling of confusion and paranoia and just almost getting the big picture, and it worked well.

I think old film noir expresses an anxiety about the world being a corruptive place, where it's difficult to identify qualities like goodness or truth anymore. But ultimately they feature these world-weary but honest detectives who are able to find the truth, even if no one will hear them.

Inherent Vice's version of noir plays upon a more modern version of this unease. Not only are modern systems confusing and corruptive, but they're *so* labyrinthine you can keep digging forever and never find the truth. Authority is inscrutable, bad people in power have become smarter and savvier than you or me, and everything's a corporation. You see good characters like Bigfoot, Wolfmann, and Harlingen (Wilson), literally getting trapped in these roles they've grown to hate. Meanwhile, the good and innocent part of the culture has been corrupted, the world-weary detective with a heart of gold just drugs himself into a haze, and even his foil seems pretty disillusioned with the way things are going.

It's no country for old hippies. All we're left with is the idea that it's not clear what happened, but we've touched upon it enough to realize that people in power are getting away with something really awful.

I see similar (if unintended) themes about the difficulty of finding of truth in Serial, actually. Though in that, the machinations of an inhumane system are put in place because of incompetence more than outright malice, but maybe that's why it struck a nerve. The worries of 1970 vs. 2015.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:30 PM on January 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

Pretty good. I'll watch it again. So, so many shots of teeth.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:35 PM on January 17, 2015

Oh! I'd add that I'd love to see what Jean-Pierre Jeunet would have done with this film. I suspect it'd be a fair bit more exciting.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:01 PM on January 30, 2015

God I really wasn't moved by it.
I thought it was a pretty faithful adaptation of the book and I'm wondering if that wasn't what annoyed me about it.
No it was the disparity between the trailer and the open three minutes of the film, where it's instantly clear that 'Doc' is not merely some laughable goofy stoner. Later we both agreed that if the whole film had been filled with 'Bigfoot' Bjornsen characters it would have pulled it off but as is: and there were all these great actors who then had little or nothing to do. I would have watched a soup of these actors just being great, but it never happened.
Great soundtrack, too, but more than once I thought why pair this song with this scene? It's jarring in a way that isn't telling me anything new.

And lots of scenes were beautiful or nuts (Doc watching Bigfoot eat the frozen banana in the car, Doc and Shasta at the end - the moment that so many other scenes were lacking, the visceral 'I want this, but you want that' conflict and imperfect resolution of it all) that it didn't all add up to some greater point was unsatisfying.
We wondered if maybe he got sabotaged by his editor.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:42 AM on March 7, 2015

Despite following news of this movie since months before release, I hadn't yet been able to see it, because I live in a small town and it never made it to the theatre here after the early mixed response. Only after watching Night Moves last night, and then sitting down to read theories on what that movie was about, did I think again to see if I could find Inherent Vice to finally watch.

Anderson seems to be a victim of expectations for what his films should be. We hear (people make posts about the early news here at Metafilter) that Paul Thomas Anderson takes on Scientology or Paul Thomas Anderson does Pynchon and we still think back to Magnolia or especially Boogie Nights and we foresee something with that kind of energy of the jukebox music and the constantly moving camera, but he moved on two or three pictures ago. Punch Drunk Love is now a favourite after rewatches, but my expectations were let down the first time I saw it. The next two movies were great, full of confidence and craftsmanship, but had a much different focus and rhythm than was expected.

After seeing so many responses saying that this film was a mess, slow confusing and incoherent, I came to it on the defensive. I now expected perhaps jarring juxtapositions or overlong takes that intentionally pushed at the viewer, or maybe a lot of stoner lugubriousness that worked against any notion of entertainment. But I was surprised. Maybe it was because I came in forewarned that the crime plot made little sense, maybe I was helped by having just watched Night Moves with its over-his-head-and-one-step-behind private investigator. I thought this movie flowed nicely. I really liked the transitions between names being introduced and Doc stumbling on to that character. I liked Doc's varied levels of pretending to understand. There was a lot of fun in the constant heaping of useless complexity if you weren't looking for it to add up to anything. There are more than enough clues right from the start, with Bigfoot talking to Doc from the TV, with the narrator Sortilege appearing and disappearing, with Doc's hopeless note-taking, that no bit of business was be taken too seriously. Lighter than the last two movies, it felt like a nice (welcome?) blend of Anderson's later style with touches of the early energy.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:11 AM on April 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

So Inherent Vice has been out on Blu-Ray for a month now... one of the special features is called "Everything In This Dream." It's a montage of deleted/existing scenes, recut by Paul Thomas Anderson with a new monologue from Sortilege that was taken from the book. You can watch it here, and I highly recommend it. I believe it includes the closing paragraph of the book. It's one of the best things in the film, dreamlike and meditative, and I wonder why it wasn't included. It's possible that it was maybe too "on the nose" for the themes and concerns of the film. It gets right to the heart of the co-option and death of the counterculture dream, and the overwhelming sense of something irretrievably lost.

The final sequence of that feature is a wordless scene of Shasta on the beach as Doc looks on. She wanders through the frame, eventually being swallowed up by Doc's figure in the foreground right before the sequence ends. It seems like this might have been an alternate ending, but I can't get any information on that. Anyway, the way this plays out lit a spark in my brain that Shasta was never present during the events of the film. Maybe she's died, and Doc is in denial about that while wandering through this trail of half-baked clues and coincidences. The motivation throughout the movie as a "detective mystery" is never entirely clear. He's on the search for Shasta, and then she appears as if nothing's ever happened. He on the search for Mickey Wolfmann, and that plot thread ends with nothing. But what if it's a murder mystery, with Shasta as the victim? And his search for answers is as much about his search for acceptance and peace as anything else?

If you watch the movie again with this as a possibility, there's a lot that falls into place. Doc isn't just a doper, he's a man in mourning, dazed and unwilling to confront his loss. The first scene between Shasta and Doc reads entirely differently, with lots of supporting clues. That six-minute long, tonally odd sex scene also finally makes complete sense, also with lots of hints. There are a dozen other things I could bring up to support this, but I wouldn't want to lay everything out there.

Anyway - I haven't read the book, and from what I understand Shasta isn't nearly as central to the book as she is to the film - but it's possible that this is an additional wrinkle to the film that PTA has added, right? I don't know. (I haven't figured out the details of this would-be mystery-within-the-mystery, either. If she's dead, how did she die, and why? On the Golden Fang's boat? Who killed her? We meet a few killers throughout the movie - Adrian Prussia, Puck Beaverton, Crocker Fenway. Puck is wearing the same necklace that we see Shasta wearing. And does the title of the film provide any clues?)
posted by naju at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

Just watching this tonight, on a friend's suggestion. I have been laughing hysterically for most of the film, which has irritated my Laguna Beach 60s and 70s raised spouse. I find I really like this movie and further research is indicated. I stopped reading Pynchon 3/4 of the way through Mason Dixon but i have laffed my ass off through this movie and am directed to the book, I think.
posted by mwhybark at 9:33 PM on February 27, 2019

Also: before we put the film on, with little preview knowledge, we decided to watch it as a big-budget adaptation of The Rockford Files. We did not know or anticipate this, but there are so many seventies TV jokes in the film, sometimes several overlapping in one scene. It was somewhat distracting, but in a laugh-inducing way.
posted by mwhybark at 10:39 PM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

The is the movie I keep going back to.
And keep finding, looking back, that somehow I've turned it off after a quarter of an hour.
posted by jouke at 11:36 AM on June 21, 2022

I want Joanna Newsome audiobooks of Pynchon's entire oeuvre.
posted by whuppy at 2:35 PM on January 18

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