The Mancunion

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Cornerhouse Pick of the Week: Inherent Vice

Having read the book, Harry Daniels says this film adaptation can’t hold a joint to the source material


Near the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name, Lieutenant Detective Bjornsen aka Bigfoot (Josh Brolin) uses one of his big feet to knock down the door to the apartment of the muddled hero of the film, Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), and then proceeds to munch upon Doc’s still-smoking joint, eventually devouring all the accumulated hash ash on the platter-cum-ashtray of his coffee table. This bizarre act appears to allegorise the one-hundred-and-twenty minutes that played before it. The film is an attempted digestion of an ash-heap of history: the Californian 70s, which plays out in the film as a paranoid comedown from the decade before it where hippies dreamed of peace and love, dreams now all but dying embers.

The film’s plot centres on the missing celebrity billionaire Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), with whom Doc’s ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) is in love. Doc promises to help and is then led into an ever-expanding labyrinthine underbelly of intrigue. Despite the plot’s intricacy, though, it often lacks the fundamental interestingness of far less sophisticated whodunits. Viewers who are sitting thinking they’re in for such a caper will be most definitely disappointed. Ultimately, the plot is a sphinx without a secret, and many viewers will find this incredibly irritating. It is far more interested in conspiracy and secretiveness in general than any particular one of its tangled mess of events, and far more interested in shouting “O tempora! O mores!” than in keeping its audience on the edge of their seats—and even doing this without total conviction.

Those that love the idiosyncrasies of Lynch’s Twin Peaks residents will enjoy the strangeness of the characters Anderson lifts from Pynchon in all their kaleido-encyclopaedic variation. But for all the novelty, a watcher will make little connection with the characters; even at the end of the film, when a main character is reunited with his family, something which in most other films would be wonderful, one feels no real happiness about the situation. This is perhaps the film’s main failing and the inherent vice within using the Pynchonian source. Despite its hollowness, the film does redeem itself mostly by being consistently hilarious—especially through the masculine Bigfoot’s passionate but mechanical attempts at eating an incredibly phallic chocolate-covered banana.