Oh boy, am I tired of defending Inherent Vice. I have been anticipating this film since it was announced years ago. I adore Thomas Pynchon, I adore Paul Thomas Anderson and I adore Joaquin Phoenix. They are my cinematic dream team. There was no way I would be disappointed with a film involving these three gentleman. I wasn’t at all disappointed – in fact, I was actually gleefully excited after watching it. It was a brilliant film, and a fantastic adaptation of an excellent novel by quite possibly the best living writer.
Most people who have criticized this film complain about one aspect, and one aspect only – the story. They dubbed it “Incoherent Vice” and said the story makes no sense. Its a valid criticism – not being able to connect with a film does severely hamper the film-going experience. There is no debating that. What I am debating is that this story “that makes no sense” comes from the mind of Thomas Pynchon, a man whose novels are complex, confusing and dense, and has made his career entirely out of writing brilliantly idiosyncratic novels – and most people I’ve spoken to have never heard of him. That’s not to mean that he is a bad writer, or just some random author who I give way too much praise – in literary circles, Pynchon is highly respected, both for his writing style and his very private personality. His books are never going to appeal to everyone, just in the same way Nicholas Sparks’ novels are not going to appeal to everyone.
Its just Pynchon is a mythical figure of sorts, and of course the first film adaptation of one of his books is going to be divisive, especially when it comes from the insanely intelligent and brilliant Paul Thomas Anderson, and starring the complex Joaquin Phoenix. What makes me worry about this film is that while I watched it, I was absolutely captivated – I didn’t find a single moment of it confusing or incoherent. Granted, I did read the book prior to the film, and maybe that helped, but most of all, there was a huge mistake made by so many moviegoers that I wish they hadn’t made, because then this film would get a lot more praise:
People took this film too seriously. Paul Thomas Anderson knew what he was doing – he wanted to create a satire of detective films. He knew that the 1970s were a hazy time of drugs, fog and crime, and he writes a love-letter to that era with Inherent Vice. Yet, most people didn’t realize this, as they chose to try and find meaning and sense in the film on a surface level. If you are going to go and look for sense in this film just from the story, you’re going to have a bad time.
However, if you do what PTA wants you to do, which is sit back, relax and just go with the flow, you will find a transcendent and brilliantly meaningful film. I will say this simply – there is a story, but that doesn’t mean much. Inherent Vice, as with all of Pynchon’s works, is less about the story, and more about the experience. It is exactly the same for the film – a film without story is nothing, but a story without an experience is even less than that. Inherent Vice is definitely less about the story and plot, and more about the emotions a viewer feels – the nostalgia for the good old days, the melancholia of missing someone close to you, the paranoia of conspiracies and the confusion of everyday life – this is what Pynchon set out to create when writing Inherent Vice, and it what Paul Thomas Anderson tried to do accomplish adapting that novel – and would you believe it, they succeeded.
I don’t like the reaction to this film – I, as a reviewer, fully respect (and often take advantage) of the “everyone has their own opinion” fact, but I feel that the reaction to Inherent Vice was just a bit too harsh. I feel like people judged it to quickly, and were alienated by the ending. Sure, no one wants to be confused by a film, or find a film boring. That is a very poor model for a director to work with, and I do recognize that PTA took a huge risk in adapting Pynchon to the screen.
Yet, I feel like there is very little to actually complain about outside of the story not being there. The cinematography was gorgeous, the set design was fantastic and truly transported us back to 1970s California. The dialogue was of course, truly Pynchonian and thus hilarious and full of obscure references. The soundtrack was absolutely stellar. There was so much to be appreciative about in this film, most of all…
…the acting. Joaquin Phoenix can do no wrong at this point. He is truly the finest actor of his generation, and once again, he gives a brilliant performance here as Doc Sportello, the permanently stoned detective with a heart of gold. Other great performances include Josh Brolin, as the gruff but mysterious closeted detective Bigfoot Bjornsen, who has an unhealthy obsession with chocolate-covered bananas and pancakes, and Martin Short as the crazy dentist. Katharine Waterston was the only part of the film I wasn’t a huge fan of, because in the book, Shasta is a great character, but under her, she was just…bland. Paul Thomas Anderson is a man who has brought out great performances from every single actor he has ever worked with. Inherent Vice is definitely a great highlight to the filmographies of everyone involved, and no one can deny that even if one has a problem with the story, the acting in this film was very strong.
Inherent Vice is certainly a very divisive film. It is of course, hilarious and has some great comedy. I adored it. I loved it as a devotee of Paul Thomas Anderson, as an avid lover of Thomas Pynchon and a great fan of Joaquin Phoenix. But I also loved it as a film fan – it is very different and absolutely unique. There won’t be another film like this for a long time. I think people were far too quick to judge this film, and I urge everyone who didn’t like it to give it a rewatch, this time with a more open mind. If you’ve already seen this film and loved it as much as I did, I also think you should rewatch it, because it is absolutely brilliant.