Blog - Inherent Vice

Feb 2015 - Inherent Vice

I'd heard a bit of hype about the film and seen an interview with Josh Brolin that intrigued me.

I'm fond of The Big Lebowski and people were drawing paralells.

brief summary

The protagonist 'Doc' (a private investigator played by Joaquin Phoenix) is handed a series of suspiciously interconnected cases and sets about investigating them.

During the course of these investigations his former girlfriend disappears adding some urgency to his actions.

Events are framed in a period of intense paranoia and political upheaval in the US. The Charles Manson case is fresh in the memory. It won't be long before Watergate and the whole apparatus of US government control has now turned it's attention to destroying the Hippie counter-culture which is seen as an attempt by foreign governments to cause instability in the US.

Adding to this atmosphere Doc's habitual use of canabis leaves him in a permanent state of confusion and mild paranoia anyway. And his code of honour and general laisez faire approach to life also leave him vulnerable to manipulation. Doc finds many of the situations he finds himself in and the characters he meets to be absurd, and that absurdity is the central motif of the film.

The Plot - SPOILER!

If you haven't seen the film just don't read this section.

Doc's ex-girlfriend unexpectedly arrives at his house ostensibly seeking his help.

She (Shasta) tells him that her current lover is a powerful married property tychoon (Micky Wolfmann) who's wife is plotting to have him abducted and committed to a mental institution.

It is obvious to Doc that Shasta's involvement in this affair puts her in mortal danger, based upon his reading of her body language. She drives away in her car leaving Doc to believe he may never see her again.

Doc's only plan subsequently is to alert a DA to the plot in the hope that it can be foiled and Shasta can be extricated from the situation.

However in the first of set of bizarrely coincidental meetings the following day, Doc is told where to find a bodyguard of the soon to be missing Wolfmann.

Doc goes to the place and discovers that it's a massage parlour. Before entering Doc notices a number of policemen in the distance but fails to register any significance.

Doc enters the massage parlour and after some humour he is comedically knocked unconcious from behind and awakes in the desert sand laid next to a dead man (the bodyguard in question) with the police standing over him.

Doc is told that Wolfmann has now actually disappeared as Shasta predicted, and wWithout you (the audience) or Doc really wondering why, Doc finds himself released without charge.

Doc is then given another coincidentally related case. A former heroin addict tasks Doc with finding her saxaphone playing husband (Coy) whom she has been told is dead. She tells Doc that she believes he is alive and in some way connected with the dead bodyguard.

Doc makes his way to Wolfmanns house disguised as an accountant, ostensibly to mention 'mental institutions' to Wolfmann's wife in the hope she may cough up some information in her surprise. But she is un-phased.

During the visit Doc discovers that Shasta has essentially been living as one of many 'bunny girls' in Wolfmann's house. The house is fully of froliking policemen who are using the house as a recreational facility.

Upon leaving Wolfmann's house, Doc is violently (though humerously) arrested (and freed without explanation off camera) again, either simply because he is a hippie, or because Wolfmann's wife has tipped off the police that he is an imposter.

Doc has further conicidental meetings during which he is given the name 'Golden Fang' as the collective noun for the people behind all the interelated events, and more specifically the name of a boat.

The missing sax player materialises and explains his disappearence to Doc, lamenting that he has inadvertently got himself tangled up in shady organisations he cannot leave.

Seemingly out of tangible leads Doc recieves a postcard from Shasta containing clues.

Following the clues Doc arrives in the office of a cocaine addicted dentist and a whole comedy section of the film serves only (seemingly) to place Doc with this dentist who later turns up dead.

Doc meets with a local policeman named 'Bigfoot' (whom I haven't mentioned until now for coherence reasons) who implicates a man named 'Puck Beaverton' in the whole affair. Puck is a also a bodyguard of Wolfmann, like the dead bodyguard.

Subsequently Doc drives out of town to a seemingly cult run institution where he finds not only Puck, but the Sax player, and the missing Wolfmann.

During the visit he notices an FBI presence and finds Wolfmann in a drug induced tauper. He questions Wolfmann about the missing Shasta and is alarmed by Wolfmann's deliberate refusal to answer the question.

Back home, Doc recieves a visit from the missing Shasta that seems to fit incongruously in the story. Shasta seems darkly altered and her previous palpable fear seems gone.

The scene is littered with confusing references that the audience feels must have significance to the story but cannot quite fathom (Three Hour Tour, Inherent Vice etc.)

Doc meets his DA contact again and is allowed to check the 'jacket' (criminal record) of an associate (Prussia) of Puck Beaverton. The pieces come together as he learns that Prussia is responsible for the death of Bigfoot's partner, and is essentially a hitman for the FBI. It becomes apparent that Puck and Prussia are behind almost all the events, Puck being Prussia's muscle.

For reasons even he doesn't understand, Doc pays Prussia a visit during which he tells Prussia that he is working alone. Prussia decides to kill Doc making it look like an overdose.

During this meeting Doc notices Puck is wearing a neckalce made of shells that he's previously seen Shasta wearing. This is obviously significant but you (the audience) are not really given time to ponder it due to the events of the next few scenes.

Puck handcuffs Doc to a pipe and tells him that he's going to kill him with an overdoes. Puck bites doc on the neck (significant) and then leaves to fetch the syringe.

Doc is far more resourceful than Puck imagines, and uses a secreted (or discovered, it's unclear) piece of credit card (with Shasta's name on it) to free himself, laying in wait for Puck's return with the substantial lid of a toilet water bowl.

Doc knocks Puck senseless and without hesitation injects puck with the syringe, presumably having decided that Puck deserves to die.

Just as this happens Prussia returns, possible meaning to administer the fatal injection to Doc personally, but Doc takes Pucks revolver and shoots Prussia several times in the torso.

Prussia falls back through a self closing door leaving Doc unsure as to whether Prussia is still a threat.

When Doc finally emerges he finds Prussia dying and Bigfoot present, and busy loading a car.

Doc realises that Bigfoot could have helped but chose not to, it becomes clear that Bigfoot deliberately sent Doc to kill Puck and Prussia, without care for Doc's safety.

Bigfoot explains that he knew Doc was capable, but the drugs he is stealing at the time leave you in no doubt that Bigfoot had a contingency plan in the event of Doc's death.

Bigfoot then plants the stolen drugs on Doc (he no longer needs the contingency), and informs the owners of the drugs as to their location.

You wonder if this is simple spite, but it turns out that Bigfoot has known a lot more than he's acknowledged. Bigfoot knows that Doc will not be killed by the drugs cartel, and that in the process of returning the drugs, Doc will be able to tie up some of his own loose ends.

Doc uses the situation to free the Sax player from the clutches of the cartel, and the conversation clears up some other loose ends, such as the motive for the killing of the dentist etc.

Wolfmann is announced on the TV as having returned safe and well from the mental institution, we are left to wonder if the FBI or his wife put him there. We know from earlier in the story that Wolfmann has been earmarked by the government for a particular job in Las Vegas, but that he suffered an inconvenient existential angst.

At home alone, Doc's door is kicked down by bigfoot and a surreal scene ensues during which the two repeat simultanously the same line, and Bigfoot eats Doc's entire stash of canabbis.

The scene feels as though it's a metaphor but you have no time to ponder it's meaning

The final scene sees Doc reunited with Shasta, driving somewhere at night. Doc is overtly checking his rear view mirror without explanation, and finally acknowledges somthing behind him with a smile.

precis

MAJOR SPOILER!

A confused but well meaning hippie is manipulated into helping a low ranking policeman exact revenge on the killers of his former partner.

In the process the pair become embroiled (often comedically) in the machiavallian affiars of government agencies and powerful crime syndicates.

The whole thing is seen through the eyes of the hippy who's confusion and mild paranoia are compounded by a tangential (or otherwise) story arc involving his ex-girlfriend.

Some cinematic and narrative devices leave the audience feeling uncertain about real events surrounding the hippy's ex-girlfriend.

thoughts

Straight to it. Is Shasta actually killed on the boat?

Her reappearence and the subsequent sex scene seem real enough but the narrator's comments about her clothes, her noticable change in demeanor and her comments in the final scene about being 'underwater' leave you feeling uneasy. Does bigfoot kill Doc after kicking in his door, with the stash eating being some curious metaphor? Is this how Doc and Shasta are re-united (in death?) Why is dock overtly checking his rear view mirror in the final scene?

During the 6 minute unbroken sex scene Shasta's intention is clearly to recieve a spanking. Aside from a few mild protests ("guys love hearing this stuff" etc.) Doc remains silent and motionless during Shasta's masturbation and provocative conversation. At the point when Shasta lays over his knee she tells Doc exactly what to do by saying 'if I had that girl over my lap I'd spank her' and Doc immediately does so.

The lovely thing about the scene is that Doc's rising passion during the scene is left absolutely to your imagination until the moment he begins spanking her. It wasn't until the second viewing of the film that Ig_logo.sv understood the sutblety of the conversation. The film makes a fool of itself but it is littered with this sort of subtlety.

Many of those subtle references will be lost on non-US viewers (they are on me). For instance the 'three hour tour' is a reference to the US sitcom Gilligans Island. In fact the film is littered with references to Gilligans Island, which has a deeper significance to the psychological reception of the film in Americans. Providing a comedic backdrop missed by people unfamiliar with Gilligans Island. Many of the characters in Inherent Vice have direct analogues in Gilligans Island and the US audience is subconsciously invited to make the relevant connections, presumably providing insight and comedic overtone.