Essays, Film, Reviews

Notes on Walking Out of Inherent Vice

I couldn’t sit through more than an hour of Inherent Vice. I’ve never read a Thomas Pynchon novel either, but hearing some of the narration, I would assume his narratives to suffer the same form of dry monotony. Who knows? It might just be remorse for not having read the book beforehand. Anyway, I decided that this experience, at more than two and a half hours and on a work night, wasn’t for me. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult for me to leave the theater, but I’m trying to be less stubborn when it comes to forcing an experience onto myself.

It really felt like you needed the book as a point of reference to understand the film. There were a couple of guys sitting a few rows ahead of me. I’m going to assume they were  either Pynchon bros, Paul Thomas Anderson bros, or perhaps some combination of both. Anyway, they were visibly excited for the film to start. So I kept an eye on them and noticed how much more they seemed to pick up on certain moments or characters in the film. And it just wasn’t happening for me in the same way. It’s not like I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the detail in the film. It was more like a character would appear onscreen for the first time and the two fans boys would immediately recognize the inside joke of that particular moment. I didn’t have that luxury unfortunately.

For the most part, I just tried to follow the stilted dialogue and hazy plot as if it were interesting. But it really wasn’t. I think Paul Thomas Anderson took for granted that his audience would have most likely read the book, which for the record, is perfectly okay with me. I’m only trying to explain the experience of an outsider in this instance. The style of the film treated every character with an enigmatic quality, as if we were expected to know them and understand why they weren’t just ordinary characters. The narrative has the same problem. The plot drags with a mess of details that, although connected, hardly seem to coalesce.

To me, the dialogue was the most problematic aspect of the film. I’m not taking for granted that it was stylized in a way meant to draw attention to itself. But it felt more like a monologue in disguise, as if each character’s lines were interchangeable in a way.

I honestly wasn’t bothered by the intricacy of the plot or the style of direction. There were a couple of scenes that made me laugh, a bizarre quality that I could find endearing. But they were too far and few in between one another. I just wasn’t connected to the story in the same way a reader would tolerate its claim to grandiosity. I couldn’t take an interest in the characters because they assumed that I already found them interesting. So that’s why I left the theater. It’s a two and a half hour experience for fans to compare to the book, lacking the imagination of a more standalone adaptation.