– Richard M. Nixon
Much has been made of the incoherence of Inherent Vice, but less effort has been made to explain this incoherence in terms of grand spiritual design. Because the disconnect, that strange form of hilarious unknowing, that crepuscular unravelling of perception, is not chance, not vagary. Throughout his work, Pynchon’s has one thundering chorus, ever-repeating. Well, two, really, flip-sides of the same coin: paranoia and entropy. All pure deteriorations. And they’re here in spades. Inherent vice is not just a marine law term; rather, it’s the tendency of physical objects to decay, based not on external forces, but on the components by which they are originally created.
And there is the true nature of Pynchon’s novel (and Anderson’s film) staring you straight in the face: we are at the death-knell of the 60s, an era becoming yesterday’s ghost, and every form of straightness moving in with kids. Men like Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello are no longer the rule. They’re the exception. Even those around him, lovers, friends, associates, are trying to get him to pass on into the new consciousness. It just so happens that this grand emptiness, the one that we are living in now, is a usurpation, and we have simply forgotten the great before, in the way of all things.
“For the rats
have moved in, mostly, and this is for real.”
So says John Berryman.
And paranoia? Take your pick. We have the Golden Fang, an international conglomerate that encompasses mysterious sailing vessels, dentist syndicates and FBI-funded rehabilitation centres. We have the seeming interconnectedness of several or more cases that fall and fumble with each other in ever-comical reach-arounds. And we have Shasta Fay-Hepworth, who is everything in this film, emblematic of all that was lost when the neighbourhoods fell to full-price condos, and COINTELPRO got a finger in everybody’s wallet. Now even the beautiful and pure are doomed to servitude: their bare-skinned images are emblazoned on the formal wear of minor plutocrats. But the wearers are having crises of their own, forms of spiritual wanderlust; try to give away your millions, and they’ll find a place for you in the great housing systems of the soul, and set you on the straight and narrow. For the ultimate form of madness is to adopt philanthropy and head for the wildernesses. Even the cops are given over to weirdness, a dream of something they never encountered first-hand.
Anderson does wonderful things. Because there’s unfilmable, there’s ‘unfilmable’ and then there’s Thomas Pynchon. But Anderson doesn’t seem to care, pointing his camera, insouciant, at the shifting sands, the infinite mirage. Like Altman, PT has been quietly leading genres coyly to bed, one by one, and then viciously fucking them in ill-lit backrooms. He is our new redeemer. After two of the finest American films of the last twenty years, he has become the true auteur. I can’t imagine anybody else who could make this work.
And he has created a film that reflects the inherent vice of filmmaking: once, long ago, before we all became too fucked or scumbled on the lustrous ascent, film was like this, and men and women created things that were lasting, and good, and true. But, somehow the rats have moved in. And the fall was there all along, hidden in the very systems that obliged the miracle in the first place.
“So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
– Hunter S. Thompson