Take a Drink: for every joint Doc smokes.
Take a Drink: for every bummer / “far out” revelation Doc experiences
Do a Shot: if you can think of another 2014 narrative film that is as widely relatable as it is impossibly puzzling.
By: Bill Arceneaux (A Toast) –
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a film critic – or an obsessive cinephile – is being able to watch a filmmaker grow, from the beginning of their catalog to the present or end. When I first discovered David Lynch, I took it upon myself to watch all of his films, and in the closest sequence of release date order as possible. From the early short films to Eraserhead to Inland Empire, I got a good feeling of the man’s style and mindset towards cinema, as the years turned into decades.
Now sometimes, you’ll come across a filmmaker that doesn’t really have definitive chapter points in their work (like Rob Cohen or Gene E. Ric, Director for Hire), but usually, if you care enough to pay close attention and follow along with devotion, an auteur’s filmography will unveil all from conception to death.
At this point, what has Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography revealed? Well, remember when people were calling him “The Next Kubrick” after the release of There Will Be Blood? Perhaps, as moviegoers, we’re searching for the reincarnation of one of our great artists so desperately, that anyone with a special inkling for creative flare and visual depth is looked at in such a way.
What I mean is, Anderson’s work so far has been near perfection if not complete perfection. Even imperfections in his movies can be overlooked or held close and appreciated. We’ve experienced his introductory era (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights), then his sophomoric semester (Magnolia).
Now? We’re knee deep in the experimental phase. At about this time, Lynch was on Blue Velvet, I’d say. And Anderson is on Inherent Vice. Mark your cata-logs correctly.
To compare Lynch and Anderson seems odd, but in the case of Blue Velvet and Inherent Vice, it most certainly feels right. Velvet, all throughout, has this very uneasy atmosphere, as if something is lurking behind the curtain that opens the movie. That something, of course, was Frank Booth. How could such a person exist in a world where nice college guys meet nice high school gals? Vice, all throughout, has a very uneasy atmosphere, too, but it’s much different.
This difference is due to confusion. Rampant confusion. Everyone knows something and nothing at the same time. Is there something lurking behind something? Is there something to lurk behind? Will the cops find my stash? Will those hippies try to kill me and eat my baby?
At the center of this confusion is Doc, a private eye who operates out of an operating(?) dental office. When an ex-girlfriend comes to him for help, he sets off on a trip that leads everywhere and nowhere. Seriously. So much happens about nothing that it’s hard to say anything happened at all. This is where comparisons to The Big Lebowski kick in. But, I assure you all, these comparisons only hold up on the surface. Underneath, it’s less Dude and mostly Lynch. Or maybe a combination of the two.
Imagine him with Lynch’s hairdo.
When I reference Lynch, I mean in terms of A) Mood/Atmosphere and B) Execution of story. The mood/atmosphere is, as I stated above, a bit uneasy. But, not in a dangerous or creepy way. More like off-kilter or unbalanced. Not unlike someone who is drunk, stumbling around and vulnerable. Many a joint is toked in this film, but the high is sort of keeping Doc together. He (and we) may be confused by all of the convoluted plots and subplots, but that’s no reason to not be mellow. It’s an uneasy ease of mind; a high but with a catch to it.
The story executes itself in the first gear of a detective story. The whole time, Doc is collecting information and piecing it all together through keywords and images. Occasionally, he’ll jot something down in his notepad, but (un)fortunately, it’s never anything helpful. He’s a dopey dopehead, in over his head, and goes about absorbing everything pretty much the way you’d expect. We get glimpses of something bigger (as does Doc), but it all amounts to red herrings or something that Doc gets distracted from at the last minute. People speak to him in almost non sequiturs, implying more to the conversation than what is being said. Same goes for the visuals, too. It’s a time and place we’re familiar with aesthetically, but peculiar in its ways.
Inherent Vice is and isn’t a puzzle to put together. It’s a math equation whose answer will make you slap your forehead in an “of course!” manner. I’m convinced that there’s more to it than just a stoner walking around a late 60s detective tale, but will wrack my brain for days and even weeks before coming to that very conclusion all over again. It’s not structurally a moebius strip (like Lost Highway was), but your trip into it will feel like one.
I have no idea where Anderson will go from here, but I’m excited to find out. Few directors keep diving further and further stylistically, instead hanging on to their careers by doing only what works. Anderson could’ve just kept to the ensemble pieces. Instead, he’s on track to make something akin to Fire Walk with Me (on the Lynch scale). THAT will be crazy.
What is this movie about, and why is it so damn good?
Did you like The Master? How about Up in Smoke? This is all that matters.