Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Critic’s Corner: ‘Inherent vice’

    Image Via Warner Bros Pictures

    Director Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” guides the audience through a series of mysterious events taking place in Los Angeles, as the year 1970 sees the remnants of the ‘60s fade away. The film focuses on Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), who has all the mental characteristics that place him behind everyone else around him—it’s as if the turn of the decade hasn’t quite hit him yet. His casual state of relaxation makes him slightly distant, and his craving for drugs occasionally gets in the way of his work.

    In other words, Doc is a hippie who is beginning to understand that his lifestyle is becoming less and less accepted by society. His lush sideburns are often accompanied with sunglasses (worn both outside and indoors), bolo ties and casual sandals. If there was to be someone who represents the ‘60s in a nutshell, Doc does a splendid job.

    His profession as a detective-for-hire keeps his days busy, although he still finds plenty of time for lighting up. So when Doc’s girlfriend leaves him at the beginning of the film, followed not long after by her disappearance, the wheels have been set in motion for Doc’s course—though he may be late to the station.

    From the beginning title sequence all the way through the film’s culmination, Doc seems to be floating in a cloud of marijuana smoke, barely keeping up with what is going on around him. He has to quickly find out whether his missing girlfriend is indeed worth his search—and his love—and in the process he must deal with countless others who have small, albeit significant, stakes in her whereabouts.

    There are numerous proceedings that keep him busy, yet not always productive: a cleaned-up heroin addict Hope Harlingen’s (Jena Malone) husband has gone missing, an LAPD detective nicknamed “Bigfoot” (Josh Brolin) is hot on his tail, and there’s an interesting link between a corrupt dentist (Martin Short) and a New Age drug treatment center.

    These occurrences are relevant to Doc’s girlfriend and her potential kidnappers, but their value is often short-lived as they usually make way for just another semi-decent lead. Furthermore, early scenes of Doc hallucinating call into question whether events later on are blown out of proportion, or simply nonexistent.

    Occasionally it seems that Doc’s interest for solving crimes is declining, but through his impeccable suaveness and loose-bound determination both he and the film trudge on through the smoke.

    The extremely conversation-heavy plot has a steady rhythm to it. While the large amount of dialogue does slow the film down, Doc’s confusion and quirky mannerisms make the occasional slapstick moment all the more priceless.

    Phoenix’s aim is one reminiscent of Jeff Bridges’ famous stoner persona “the Dude” from the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski.” Though the Dude knew that his lost rug really held the room together, a soiled rug is hardly a justifiable reason to get tangled up in the crimes of a group of LA thugs. Similarly, Doc’s motivation in “Inherent Vice” is a blur. However, his subtle moments of confusion are central to the film’s humor. Plus, Bigfoot’s ambiguous role as either a benefit or a burden to Doc’s solving the case keeps his role light and intriguingly funny.

    “Inherent Vice” is a film that captures its period well. Though heavy with crude sexual innuendos, its cleverness creates unique characters, each with their own story to tell. The film comes at a time where it could gain a lot of momentum heading into awards season, with Anderson’s directing and Phoenix’s nuanced acting standing out.

    Doc’s general acceptance of whatever crazy things happen around him, paired with his goofiness, makes for an entertaining and interesting journey. While he is trying to find his ex-girlfriend, he is also trying to find himself—and for someone who parades around in bellbottoms and lax footwear, Doc is a character worth getting to know.

    Chaucer may be reached at [email protected]

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