How to Understand the Inherent Vice Screenplay

By January 11, 2015Movie Reviews

This awards season we are presented with an unusual beast of a screenplay – an adapted piece of screenwriting (deemed unadaptable) that's metaphysical schizophrenia lends itself to the day-to-day world of Larry "Doc" Sportello, a pot smoking Private Investigator whose paranoia runs deep. As onlookers into his mindset, and the 1970's "Venice Beach-esque" setting, we [are supposed to] become entrenched into the seedy, sunshine underground of dark alleys and acid parties. But should we be trying to follow every twist and turn? Or are they simply there to frame a bigger picture that is what P.T. Anderson refers to as a "very direct story?" As we listen to a starry-eyed voiceover via Sortilege, but follow the actions of a paranoid investigator, who are we supposed to believe? It's easy, trust your instincts. 

 

The first thought to have before/after viewing this film (or reading the screenplay for those hardcores) is to not take it too seriously. Anderson has trapped himself with his talent by producing complex narratives, stories and characters in all of his previous works (Magnolia specifically). Here, he takes another path, one of the lonely and one that gets lost in its own journey. Yes, the screenplay's strange digressions are intentional (eg. the entire Dr. Blatnoyd story) because what's a stoner to do, right? And yes, I'll say it: the film itself is stoned. But through its inevitable haziness we find out what this screenplay (and novel) is all about: tonality, vibes and drifters in a specific era. 

 

We also need to understand the theme of "paranoia" that is pervasive in every scene. But the reality is that the only paranoia that exist is that which is projected by our characters. All of the contents in the characters' minds (for the most part) all come true. The Golden Fang is very real and causing disruption; Michael Wolfmann is being recruited by the FBI and the city laws are genuinely reflecting the acts of Mr. Charles Manson. So, really, there should be no paranoia, but we are presented with clouded strings of dialogue because our lead is, well, full of smoke. But that does not mean he won't stumble into results. In fact, Doc's stumbling is what provides the majority of the piercing black comedy laughs. 

 

 

But what about our friend Bigfoot? What is he doing in this universe? Did the stars not align correctly? They did. And he is supposed to be in this story. Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen represents the Levittown infused being that, at this point in time, is a mere portion of an entity. His juxtaposition with Doc is vital. They have respect for each other in a shameless way. Bigfoot is a piece of Doc just as Doc is a piece of Bigfoot. I'll also add in that Josh Brolin has become quite sound with playing this type of character. 

 

P.T. Anderson has spun his usual web with this adapted screenplay (one that probably won't get the recognition it deserves), but he added a layer of necessary nebulousness to it to pay correct tribute to Pynchon's source material. And honestly, Anderson is probably the only person able to adapt content like this to the screen. So, when viewing (or reading) Inherent Vice, remember to to sit back, relax and soak up the vibes. 

Clip Credits: Warner Bros.