See, there's, like, this, groovy, private eye.
His name is Larry Sportello, but most folks call him Doc, on account of him having an office in a medical clinic and getting dibs on the laughing gas. He's pretty much always stoned, but, hey, it's 1970 in Los Angeles—the heyday of hippies and free love and easily accessible mind-altering substances—so it's not like he's particularly unusual. But he does get the munchies quite a lot.
Anyway, he used to date this lewd lady named Shasta and, like, after months of them being apart, she walks into his apartment and tells him she's got a case for him. Turns out Shasta's new sideline lover is some real estate bigwig named Wolfmann. But she's gotten kinda tight with Wolfmann's wife and her lover, see, and they've decided to send Wolfmann to the loony bin so they can take all his money.
There's a catch, of course. Somehow, Wolfmann's gotten himself mixed up in the Golden Fang, which is … well, I can't exactly tell you what it is, but it may be a boat. Or a drug cartel. Or maybe a dental club. Or even a golden fang. Who knows, dude! Does it really matter, anyway? 'Cause Wolfmann—and this is wicked weird—wants to be a Nazi even though he's Jewish, and he hangs out with some Aryan Brotherhood bikers. And then there's this widow who's pretty sure her husband's alive. And there's a brothel involved somehow. And why wouldn't there be?
So it's simple, really. All Doc has to do is— OK, it's not simple at all, and I'm not completely sure what Doc has to do. Not that he can do it, anyway, 'cause soon after Shasta meets with him, both she and Wolfmann disappear. Poof. So now Doc's trying to find Wolfmann. And Shasta. And maybe the dead guy who's still alive. And, of course, the brothel.
Oh, and all the while he's gotta stay out of the way of his archnemesis, police detective Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen. That grim guy hates hippies just about as much as he loves civil rights violations, and he likes nothing better than to inflict some of the latter on some of the former. Especially on Doc.
There's little inherent virtue in Inherent Vice. But the movie's free-loving hippies do seem to, at least, understand that there's more to love than just sex. (Not that they're averse to the sex part in any way, of course. More on that later.) Doc, for instance, cares for Shasta, and he's deeply concerned with finding and saving her from whatever unknown peril she's apparently facing. He also takes a (more professional) shine to Hope Harlingen, the officially widowed client who believes her hubby might still be around somewhere. Hope, a reformed heroin addict, is now a drug counselor and a mother. Doc ends up sacrificing quite a bit for her (and for Shasta) so that they can potentially find some sort of resolution at the end of the movie. (Which is quite a bit more than I can say he does for those of us watching.)
A nefarious drug cartel funds, oddly enough, a drug rehabilitation center—a way (as Doc says) to get customers coming and going. It's a spiritually tinged facility where clients wear white robes and sit in circles to meditate. When Doc spots someone with a swastika tattooed on his face, a doctor tells him it's actually a Hindu sign meaning "all is well."
In flashback, Doc and Shasta—craving pot—turn to a Ouija board for direction. The board spits out a phone number, which is connected to a message inviting all druggies to run on over to a certain address for drugs. Doc and Shasta don't find any drugs at the address—just a vacant lot—but they do have a fun time in the rain, which leads Shasta to muse that the Ouija board clearly knew something about the two of them that they didn't know themselves.
We hear about "doper's ESP," and the narrator regularly references astrology. Someone talks about the "Bible freaks screaming on the beach." There's some discussion of resurrection.
Shasta spends a long stretch of time naked. We see her from almost every angle (including full frontal), stroking her nipple as she talks with Doc, pushing her foot into his crotch and then lying face down across his lap to be spanked—which he does, repeatedly. They end up having (explicitly depicted) sex, gasping and moaning. Elsewhere, they kiss and cuddle.
Doc investigates a brothel with an obscene name (repeated frequently), where he's told the day's "specials" and that he would've been offered special discounts if he was a police officer. When asked what private detectives might get, the lady answering his questions calls another woman in and promptly performs oral sex on her. (The two move out of the camera's view as we listen to their sexual sounds.)
We see a very explicit painting of a nude woman. And Doc discovers a bunch of neckties with naked women painted on them (legs often spread). One guy wears such a tie depicting Shasta. There's talk of pedophilia, of scheduled sex, of group sex and of oral sex.
Wolfmann's wife walks around in a revealing bathing suit, and her supposed life coach wears a pair of very tight-fitting trunks. Bigfoot suggestively sucks and gnaws on a chocolate-covered banana. A housekeeper shakes her rear in Doc's face and then seduces him in a closet, inviting him to bed. (She's then called away.) A dentist is apparently having intimate relations with both his alluringly dressed receptionist and a young runaway named Japonica. He and Japonica kiss and make out in front of Doc.
Doc gets hit hard on the head. When he comes to, he's lying in the dirt, a dead body beside him (blood spread over the dead man's face) and the police pointing their guns at him. He's stomped on and body slammed by Bigfoot, and knocked off his feet by other policemen.
Someone is tied up in a small room, apparently in preparation to be killed via drug injection. At least two people are murdered through "accidental" drug overdoses. A body is found with twin puncture marks in the neck. A guy's head gets smashed with a toilet tank cover and repeatedly smacked into the ground. A gunshot wound produces a lot of bleeding. A supposed hit man's office is bedecked with a collection of baseball bats.
Crude or Profane Language
More than 50 f-words, some of them used sexually, some combined with "mother" and others written out. Fifteen or more s-words. We hear multiple exclamations of "a--," "b--ch" and "d--n." Obscene gestures (of various kinds) are made a half-dozen times, and lots of rough language is assigned to male and female genitalia ("p---y," "d--k" and "t-ts," primarily).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wolfmann, we're told, "went out of his mind since he discovered drugs—no offense to you, Doc." And drugs are everywhere here—incessantly used by Doc and lots of the other characters. I'll focus first on Doc: He smokes both marijuana and tobacco regularly, and we see him use laughing gas as well, sharing it with a potential client. He drinks beer, snorts something that looks like cocaine and, we're told, has used his share of LSD. He's apparently drawn the line at heroin—which Hope admits to using.
What's Hope's story? Well, she tells Doc that she and her (possibly dead) husband would spend much of their time getting high on that hard-core stuff up until they had a daughter. She says the drug was making hair grow from her nipples, and she shows off her false teeth, explaining that heroin drains the body of calcium "like a vampire." Those are the more savory aspects of the addiction, she says. Now she talks to kids about "sensible" drug use.
Other folks drink, smoke weed and snort cocaine. One man smokes a joint, then eats it, then shovels a bowlful of pot into his mouth. People drive and do all sorts of other crazy things under the influence. Peyote is mentioned. When someone steals and plants several bales of drugs in Doc's car, he finds a way to return the contraband to the "rightful" owners.
Other Negative Elements
Hope shares a disgusting story about how she met her husband—involving vomit, excrement, an erection and a shared bathroom stall.
Inherent Vice is a whacked-out, confused, incoherent mess of a movie—and intentionally so. Nearly all of its characters are stoned out of their gourds, so perhaps it's not too surprising that the movie would have an air of breathless insanity about it. To use an all-too-appropriate drug metaphor here, Inherent Vice is a bad trip—a movie that purposefully twists and upends you like an experimental roller coaster, attacking from every angle and leaving you not quite sure whether to laugh or scream.
I've reviewed movies with more sex. I've reviewed movies with more foul language. I've even reviewed movies with more drug use—though this one comes pretty close to pegging that meter. But Inherent Vice mooshes all that content together in one thick '70s stew—asking us to gobble it all down during a drawn-out and stomach-churning two-and-a-half-hour munchfest. It asks us to experience hippiedom with all its garish temptations intact—from the sex to the drugs to the sense of utter bewilderment that might be found amongst the truly and utterly stoned.
Hey, don't think me square. Love me some Peter, Paul & Mary and Jefferson Airplane. I'd wear sandals all the time if I could. But there's a reason those supposedly groovy days aren't with us still: It's fine to give peace a chance, but all that free sex and binge drugging doesn't work so well in the real world. And I'd rather not partake, even in a movie.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Joaquin Phoenix as Larry 'Doc' Sportello; Katherine Waterston as Shasta Fay Hepworth; Josh Brolin as Lt. Det. Christian 'Bigfoot' Bjornsen; Joanna Newsom as Sortilège; Jordon Christian Hearn as Denis; Hon Chau as Jade; Own Wilson as Coy Harlingen; Jena Malone as Hope Harlingen; Reese Witherspoon as Penny Kimball; Sasha Pieterse as Japonica Fenway; Martin Short as Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd; Keith Jardine as Puck Beaverton; Eric Roberts as Michael Wolfmann; Serena Scott Thomas as Sloane Wolfmann
December 12, 2014
April 28, 2015