A Puff of Smoke – Inherent Vice


I couldn’t even tell you what the title of this new PT Anderson movie means. The protagonist mentioned it had something to do with maritime law, but like much of the two and a half hour movie those lines of dialogue floated over me in a drug induced daze.

Based on a Thomas Pynchon novel there’s a plot to Inherent Vice, but like many of the best private investigator movies from The Big Sleep to Chinatown to The Big Lebowski to The Long Goodbye, it’s impossible to summarize or even make sense of what happened. Not that this movie belongs in the same breath as those classics, but there are moments hidden in the shaggy 150 minutes where it does.

Private Investigators are the philosopher princes of filmdom. They search for answers and ask questions only to end up disillusioned. I generally find the message of the genre is one of cynicism. Stuff happens, people show up, they die, and there really isn’t any meaning to it except for trying to find around all the sin and lost souls a couple moments of happiness between birth and death. At least that’s what I think Sam Elliott was trying to express at the end of The Big Lebowski.

Not that I feel Inherent Vice was trying to reveal any such truths. From the opening scene it lost me over what the case Joaquin Phoenix was working on. Even if Pynchon is known to be a heavy intellectual hitter, this movie is more concerned with capturing a time and a place and a state of mind. Those are 1970, Southern California, and being really, really high. On those levels the movie succeeds as it’s filled with sideburns, celebrity cameos, and paranoia.

On repeated viewing you might be able to make sense of it all, but I wouldn’t count on it.


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