Tag: Thomas Pynchon

Review: Inherent Vice (2014)


You can only cruise the boulevards of regret so far, and then you’ve got to get back up onto the freeway again.

If you need a clue that Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name, is a film noir, look no further than Johnny Greenwood’s wonderful score. Where his earlier collaboration with the director on There Will Be Blood was all strings and tension, this score is more laid back, low key, mournful, and full of horns. The soundtrack, on the other hand, often points in the other direction. When the movie wants to be upbeat and exciting as it sometimes does, Anderson will use a previously written pop song like Can’s “Vitamin C” to give the movie that edge. It’s no secret by now that Anderson is a master, one of the best directors working and probably of all time, and his ability to pick songs and collaborators which fit so perfectly with what he wants to do is just one more example of his brilliance. That being said, Inherent Vice is not your typical Paul Thomas Anderson movie.


Many of Anderson’s previous films have been focused on a monomaniacal character whose fanatical pursuit of some cause or idea, whether it be riches via oil or fame via porn, leads to a terrible end for said character. No such thing happens here, though Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc sure does pursue his missing ex-girlfriend and her missing current boyfriend. If that sentence confuses you, prepare to be mired in a plot that aims to be confounding rather than clear. I followed it for a good while until one new name too many dropped in my lap and I just threw my hands up and went for the ride. I’m sure the plot is comprehensible if you see it an additional time or two, but with so many side characters who show up for a scene to impart some piece of information about another side character and then do some drugs, I don’t think it really matters too much. I think the convoluted plot is just another joke. With each new encounter the absurdity builds. This is a very funny movie. I’m not sure you could go through and pick out lines that were funny out of context, but within the world of the film the increasingly farcical situations really worked for me.

That isn’t to say, though, that this film is a comedy. It is sad as often as it is hilarious. The thesis, if you can call it that, is that Doc is a relic of the past. His hippie nature is already outdated as the sixties turn into the seventies. The forces of evil aren’t just The Man anymore, and free love means getting pulled over by a cop because there are more than three people in the car with hair past their ears. Even Doc can’t hold on to his outsider status as much as he would like to. There is a contrast there between him and his frennemy, an LAPD detective named Bigfoot, played wonderfully by Josh Brolin. Bigfoot used to be a hippie but sometime before the film starts he got a hair cut and learned of the power that comes from civil rights violations. In some ways he is a character to be pitied, especially in his final scene, and his inability to cope with becoming The Man and getting mixed up in drug trafficking from the other side of the law is in stark relief to Doc’s ability to go with the flow. In fact, this is the most I’ve liked Joaquin Phoenix in about a decade for exactly that reason. Under Anderson’s direction he abandons all sense of self-seriousness in favor of a cool detachment that really works for the character and for him. He’s delightful when interacting with prostitutes, musicians, FBI agents, real estate magnate’s wives and girlfriends, and hopped up dentists alike. Doc’s existence is not an enviable one, though I very much enjoyed my time visiting it.

Inherent Vice

I think the most remarkable element of the movie is, if I may steal some of its vernacular, the vibe Anderson creates in part through long tracking shots of a very different variety from those that made him famous in the late nineties as a technically exciting filmmaker. The movie is propulsive in a slow, mellow way that never feels the pressure to conform to typical scene constructions or even typical story progression. So those shots which start wide on Doc and the other minor character he’s sharing the scene with and move ever so slowly closer and closer until they end as a close up of the two are basically the movie in miniature. What starts as an expansive tale of corruption and misdeeds ends in loneliness and uncertainty of a very personal nature. There is much in the world that Doc can’t control and although he has been willing to let that ride, it does make for a harshed buzz.

Quotes, quotes, quotes

You might have noticed that I’ve started the past few posts here with a quote. Up until the previous post the quotes have all been from the actual work that I’ve been talking about, but since I was talking about a general idea in the promise post I pulled a quote that I liked about the topic. So for today’s post I thought I’d defend that decision. I think pulling a quote from a book or movie or song has a pretty obvious defense, so let’s focus on those other cases, shall we?

I am not the smartest person on the earth, nor the wittiest, nor the best writer. In fact, I often wonder what the point of writing is when there are so many other people doing it, and doing it way better than I will ever do. I will never beat Thomas Pynchon. I will never beat Neil Gaiman, and I probably won’t even beat Stephen King. There’s just something in me that will always feel inferior to everybody else doing what I’m trying to do, so why not steal from the best. After all…

Ah, but what of the pitfalls? What if I screw up the quote? What if I misattribute! What if the quote doesn’t really mean what I want it to mean?

Quoting: the act of repeating erroneously the words of another. – Ambrose Bierce

Misquotation is the pride and privilege of the learned. – Hesketh Pearson

Misquotations are the only quotations that are never misquoted. – Hesketh Pearson

And what’s the use of a quote, really? To get a little funny thing? Something profound? Why are quotes even a thing?

He who trains his tongue to quote the learned sages will be known far and wide as a smart ass. – Howard Kandel

There’s a difference between philosophy and a bumper sticker. – Charles Shultz

Quotations will tell the full measure of meaning, if you have enough of them. – James Murray

Quotes are nothing but inspiration for the uninspired. – Richard Kemph

The ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit. – Somerset Maugham

Ouch, that last one stings a bit, doesn’t it? I have a friend who complains that I quote movies too much in our regular conversations. I suppose I do. To be fair, half the time I don’t even know that I’m quoting something. The other half of the time I’m quoting Jurassic Park. See, now I’m sitting here by myself, uh, talking to myself. That’s, that’s chaos.

If you ever wrote a paper you were probably tempted to start that paper with a quote. Don’t worry, we’re all friends here. You can admit it. And that quote was probably from Oscar Wilde, right? The guy practically wrote exclusively in quote form. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve done it.

If, with the literate, I am

Impelled to try an epigram,

I never seek to take the credit;

We all assume that Oscar said it. – Dorothy Parker

And finally, if you can’t trust the word of a beautiful woman, who can you trust?

I love quotations because it is a joy to find thoughts one might have, beautifully expressed with much authority by someone recognized wiser than oneself. – Marlene Dietrich

What’s your favorite quote? Or can you just not stand them? Let us know in the comment section!