‘Inherent Vice’ film is true to its novel equivalent while still maintaining cinematic qualities

By Rafael Abreu

‘Inherent Vice’ will take you on a cinematic adventure with its ‘noir detective story’

Written for the screen (based on the novel by Thomas Pynchon) and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “Inherent Vice” is very much like its source material in terms of tone, themes and personality. It does a few things differently, but is ultimately very faithful to the novel in its own way.

It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Larry “Doc” Sportello, a hippie/stoner private investigator that decides to do a favor for his ex-old lady Shasta (Katherine Waterston). It also stars a variety of other actors in a variety of roles, most notably Josh Brolin, Joanna Newsom, Benicio Del Toro, Reese Witherspoon, and Owen Wilson.

The novel tracks Doc as he goes from case to case, location to location and encounters different people along the way. His encounters with so many different people is reflected in the film quite well, having certain notable actors show up maybe once and never show up again, allowing for new characters to be introduced.

The book had its own way of doing this, but in the film, it’s done in a more stripped down fashion; whereas in the book certain characters might show up again, it’s rarer for the film to do the same. In any case, the whole point of introducing so many characters just to further convolute things I think is well established for the type of film that “Inherent Vice” is.

“Inherent Vice” is supposed to be a type of noir detective story, but flipping and subverting traditional conventions. The book brought that up well enough, while also delving into the psychedelic (sometimes separate from noir, sometimes mixed).

The film does a better job, I feel, of demonstrating the noir, given that noir has become so strongly associated with film and allows for such visual noir tropes as the femme fatale, fog, lingering music (provided by Jonny Greenwood) and of course, narration. The narration in this film is similar to that of the novel, but with its own twist, having it make sense in the film’s noir contexts.

I felt that all of these familiar tropes helped demonstrate the noir part of “Inherent Vice” better than in the book, but just as conversely, the more psychedelic moments of the book are not handled as well in the film, mainly because it isn’t as strongly emphasized – that, and the film’s narrator is not always in Doc’s head or recounting Doc’s history.

As far as the story is concerned, you need not be too concerned about it. It goes all over the place and, especially in the novel, it all comes off feeling hilariously complicated. This is also part of subverting and playing with noir tropes; so many new characters, plot threads, conspiracies, some of which are connected, some of which come together and some of which don’t even matter.

I believe being confused is the point, and focusing on the characters and themes that surrounds these “mysteries” is what counts. We’re able to look at these different people, how they interact with each other and what it all means on a greater level. However, you could also focus on the plot being confusing and how it is thus poking fun at how convoluted other noir tales can become. Or you can get frustrated.

The flaws of “Inherent Vice” are necessary for it to be fully effective; the plot and film itself can be confusing and all over the place, but that’s the point, even in Pynchon’s own novel.

This is not a story where what happens plot wise is the most important. It should feel like a trip, a trip where laughter comes from taking note of both tropes and Doc’s facial expressions, where understanding can be gathered just through actions and emotions. However, you may not want to see a film where incoherence is highly probable, dopers clash against oppressive forces and two-and-a-half hours fly by. Or maybe you do.

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