How far does imagination extend? As levels of comprehension are often based on which reality is presented, it’s hard to truly imagine its limits. These roadblocks are often examined after reading or watching a piece of fiction, do I like it, hate it, does it stay with me (or in this case) what the fuck was that!? As my tired mind sat through the New York Film Festival’s midnight screening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s, Inherent Vice, it came to my attention that this must be what taking LSD is like: falling in and out of consciousness, different characters stumbling in and out, Owen Wilson’s voice, pizza.
The schizophrenic to and fro of what Anderson has created is one of those rare moments where perhaps the mind has reached its limit. The reality distortion field too blurred, the mind shuts down. The basics are clear (kind of), Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is a private investigator whose ex comes to him with a problem; her current boyfriend has been locked in a loony bin by his wife. With his vast amount of resources including his DA girlfriend (Reece Witherspoon), an office with all the amenities of a Dr.’s office (because it is an actual Dr.’s office), “connections” to the police department and weed to supply answers, Doc is the man for the job.
As Doc stumbles across a vibrant cast of characters (celebrity cameos that come off as a bit forced) the plot losses its focus. But the ridiculousness of Doc and all his buddies keeps us engaged. Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin, an underrated actor) is the only character in the film besides Phoenix who escapes a cameo. A cop with a crew-cut strait out of 1955, Bigfoot is a joy to watch as each scene finds him in different terrine—a T.V. cop, car salesman and emasculated househusband.
With the plot stumbling along, the arrangement of each scene is allowed to come to the forefront. A scene of particular note occurs when Bigfoots young son pours him a glass of whisky. The child is dressed as a cowboy, sitting on a polished mahogany bar and knows the exact amount of whisky his father desires. This is what sets Anderson apart from other directors; his genius (I only reserve this word for people like Mozart) is not merely in the details, but creating a world of unparalleled absurdity. Don Cheadle finding himself in the middle of a donut heist in Boogie Nights, a young Asian kid throwing fireworks in Alfred Molina’s living room, and a young business partner posing as a child in There Will Be Blood.
This absurdity may throw some viewers off and Vice had numerous scenes where, upon trying to compare it to two of his greatest films, I felt robbed. Do we call something brilliant simply because its maestro has created it? As the obnoxious movie goer in line during the memorable scene in Annie Hall proclaimed “it is NOT one of his best it lacked a cohesive structure,” hit me with a large sock of horse manure, but this is how I felt.
The film had some wonderful moments particularly by Brolin who, after making his second coming in Flirting with Disaster, continues to take on ultra-masculine film roles with a twist. But like any LSD trip (as I would imagine) it will take another viewing before I understand this film and am able to fully grasp how I feel about it. Perhaps this is the beauty of Anderson’s work, like a lasting relationships chemistry blooms with time and several viewings.
Inherent Vice opens in select cities on December 12th with a wide release on January 9th.