A barely there kind of story, Inherent Vice is mostly concerned with the 60’s Zeitgeist and how the Free-Love Generation ended up bankrupt and being chased down by capitalist America. Like our main character, P.I. Doc Sportello, we see everything happen through a layer of fog. Confusion reigns supreme as Sportello tries to track down the boyfriend of his ex-old lady, fighting motorcycle Nazis, police brutality and insidious Beach Boy-esque band members.
The story might seem a bit similar to The Big Lebowski on paper, but, at the same time this is a story about the loss of community, triggered by the Manson family killings. It’s an investigation into all the little vices and paranoia’s that brought about the distrust and cynicism at the end of the best decade ever.
Paul Thomas Anderson has shown himself to be pretty adept at adapting stories for the big screen, with his film There Will be Blood loosely based on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!
He’s also quite good at capturing an atmosphere, like in Boogie Nights, one of Anderson’s biggest successes, which takes in the story of Dirk Diggler who is conceived as one of the biggest stars of the Golden Age of Porn. He’s not opposed to transcending reality either, as seen when frogs fall from the sky in Magnolia and when the ensemble cast mystically sing Aimee Mann’s “Save Me” in unison.
This is Joaquin Phoenix’ second film with Paul Thomas Anderson and, though they seem to be building up a bit of a rapport, any thoughts of nepotism can be swept aside.
His character, Sportello, spends the majority of the story fighting the comedown at the end of the 60’s. This sounds pretty straight forward, but it isn’t. He played a similarly repressed character in Her and though there mightn’t be as many cringe-worthy moments in Inherent Vice, Phoenix will have to dig deep to communicate the emotional struggles that lurk beneath Sportello’s glassy eyes and vacant expression.
We also get the opportunity to see Josh Brolin crack jokes, which is always pretty surreal, while Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon and a host of other big-name stars fill out the cast.
Pynchon will become one of the first major postmodernist writers to have his work adapted to the big screen. Although Inherent Vice doesn’t contain the kernel of Pynchon’s work, it still remains a big task to take on this project. His novels are known for being pretty difficult, (he actively set out to induce forgetfulness in readers while writing his 1,085 page tome Against the Day) and have slowly been shoved into the un-filmable category alongside giants like Don Delillo or David Foster Wallace.
It’s going to be very interesting to see how Pynchon’s whimsical, but erudite tone translates and how Anderson portrays the metafictional aspects in his work. My guess is that the outcome will be something along the same lines as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet but with confusion, rather than fear or nerves, informing our interpretation.
Jonny Greenwood returns to score his third Paul Thomas Anderson film, after There Will be Blood and The Master, bringing an unreleased Radiohead track “Spooks” with him. The fact that Greenwood is an integral part one of the most innovative bands in the world is obviously a good sign that the soundtrack won’t be lacking. Pynchon, like contemporaries such as Murakami or Easton Ellis, is known for referencing old band’s and songs, with Country Joe & The Fish getting a nod in the very first paragraph of the book. Whether the score will interact with the musical references is hard to say but music, itself, will play a huge part in establishing the film’s atmosphere.