Inherent Vice: The One-Minute Guide

We’re only a few days in, but 'Inherent Vice' is already the outstanding candidate for the best, worst, funniest, most self-indulgent, headiest and least coherent film of 2015. Make no mistake, it’s weird, so here’s a primer with tips from its writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson ('Boogie Nights', 'There Will Be Blood') to help you make sense of it.

Most Popular

1 | It’s adapted from a Thomas Pynchon novel
Pynchon, famously reclusive, legendarily obtuse, has never had one of his books filmed before. Depending on whom you believe, it’s either because he’s never allowed it, or no one’s been foolhardy enough to try it. Anderson, a self-described “hardcore aficionado freak fan”, optioned Inherent Vice when it was published in 2009. He began by transcribing the 384-page, drug-addled roman noir and then chipped away until he had a two-and-a-half-hour movie.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Paul Thomas Anderson: “The book was like a bible to us; we’re dedicated to preserving it. But things started to get good for us when we loosened up. Be respectful but knock it around a bit.”

2 | It seems complicated but it’s not actually
Both the book and film are set in Gordita Beach, a fictional California hangout for bums and stoners, in 1970. Technically, Inherent Vice is a detective caper: shambolic private eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is asked by his ex-girlfriend Shasta (English-born new-ish-comer Katherine Waterston) to investigate a plot involving her new squeeze, a real-estate mogul. It’s also a snapshot of a time when people were swapping “happy” drugs (marijuana, LSD) for unhappy ones (heroin). But for Anderson, it’s much simpler: Inherent Vice is just an old-fashioned love story.

Most Popular

Anderson: “It’s really just about a guy pining for his ex-old lady.”

3 | You’re not expected to hear all THE dialogue
Phoenix is at his mumbliest best – feel free to use that on the poster – and Anderson intentionally avoids tidying it up in post-production. Also, he shot parts of the movie on 10-year-old film stock he had lying in his garage to give it the look of a “faded Seventies postcard”, or a screen smeared with Vaseline.

Anderson: “One of the inspirations was North By Northwest, where audiences don’t have to understand everything. The plot is more of a gateway to atmosphere, mood and other ideas.”

4 | Don’t get distracted by the cameos
Inherent Vice is episodic with Doc Sportello weaving through the lives of cops, hookers and white-supremacist motorbikers. Reese Witherspoon plays his on-off girlfriend, Owen Wilson is a trippy saxophonist, Martin Short’s a demented dentist; and there’s a rumour the 77-year-old Pynchon is in a scene.

Anderson: “We had to say, ‘We can’t do that, it’s The Towering Inferno’. You can’t have a great star turn up and say, ‘More coffee?’”

5 | SEE IT for the unimprovable ORAL SEX description
According to Pynchon: “Pussy eating: it’s dark and lonely work but someone’s got to do it.”

Anderson says: “I disagree. It’s adventurous and noble and everyone should do it.”

Inherent Vice is out on 30 January

***
MORE FILMS:

10 Films That Are Better Than Their Books
JK Simmons On The 'Whiiplash' Effect
20 Must-See Films For 2015
***