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Film / Inherent Vice

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"If it's a quiet night out at the beach and your ex-old lady suddenly out of nowhere shows up with a story about her current billionaire- developer boyfriend, and his wife, and her boyfriend, and a plot to kidnap the billionaire and throw him in a loony bin... Maybe you should just look the other way."

Inherent Vice is the 2014 film adaptation of the book of the same name by Thomas Pynchon. It was directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson and stars Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, and an All-Star Cast. How all-star? Reese Witherspoon is in this movie, and she has three scenes.

Doc Sportello (Phoenix) lives in the fictional Southern California town of Gordita Beach in 1970, working as a private investigator while also getting high a lot. One day his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), shows up and asks him to take on a case regarding her lover, real-estate developer Mickey Wolfmann. Shasta believes Mickey's wife and Mickey's wife's lover are consipiring to take his money and have him committed. Meanwhile, a gangster named Tariq Khalil hires Doc to find Glen Charlock, another ex-convict who owes him money—and happens to be one of Mickey Wolfmann's bodyguards. Doc gets hired on still a third case when Hope Harlingen asks him to find her husband, Coy. Coy's been reported dead, but Hope doesn't believe it.

It gets even more confusing from there.

This film contains the following tropes:

  • Aside Glance: Doc looks right at the camera right before the film ends, as he makes a Call-Back to something Shasta said to him earlier.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Bigfoot is an aspiring actor who takes any role he can get. He's apparently terrible. One of his few roles is stiffly delivering a sales pitch as the least convincing hippy ever.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Downplayed. Bigfoot has noticeable stubble when he barges into Doc's place at the end mid-existential crisis.
  • Beneath Notice: The Golden Fang operatives who make the swap with Doc at the end aren't overtly shady contract killers but an unremarkable white, upper-middle class family, including their adolescent children.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Patient and upbeat as he is, woe be to anybody who puts Doc in a life or death situation, namely Adrian Prussia and Puck Beaverton.
  • Blatant Lies: A man insists that Puck's facial swastika is not a swastika, but an ancient symbol for good luck. Of course, swastikas are ancient symbols for good luck, so he's self-contradictory, but Puck is obviously a skinhead thug anyway.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Doc is a lazy, pot-smoking hipster who spends most of his free-time lounging around doing nothing. Despite this, he is a very tenacious private eye skilled in subterfuge, infiltration, and investigation. Say what you want about his lifestyle, the man is good at what he does. Not that the cops would ever admit it.
  • Call-Back: After Doc and Shasta have sex, she casually declares "this doesn't mean we're back together," and he agrees "Of course not". The last scene of the movie has Doc and Shasta driving somewhere in a car. He echoes her line from before, and she replies in kind. Cue Aside Glance and smile.
  • Character Narrator: Sortilège, Doc and Shasta's mutual friend who's present in the plot at several points, appears to be recounting the events of the movie in conversation to another pal. Given her Granola Girl ways, she also doubles as a Lemony Narrator, making wandering observations and even going on a tangent about astrology.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Doc uses stealth, a toilet tank lid and a syringe filled with heroin to take down Puck Beaverton.
  • Conspiracy Kitchen Sink: The Golden Fang. The Viggies. The Boards. Mickey Wolfmann. Wherever you look, a new conspiracy pops up.
  • Cowboy Cop: Bigfoot is a deconstruction of this trope. He's a famous, hardass cop, but he's also clearly got some serious personal issues. He's constantly looking for bit roles in Hollywood and is a henpecked husband at home.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Doc is an unabashed hippie/countercultural freak who looks like he hasn't showered in a week and spends most of his time stoned out of his gourd. But he's an astute private eye and makes surprisingly quick work of two contract killers.
  • Creator Cameo: Several news reports stated, and Josh Brolin also reported, that author Thomas Pynchon has a cameo somewhere in the movie. Nothing has ever been confirmed, not surprisingly given the famously reclusive Pynchon, who has gone decades without being photographed. One of the rumors was that Pynchon's hand is wielding the blackjack that comes down on Doc's head at the massage parlor.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Of the Noir. Doc smokes weed instead of drinking whiskey, Shasta Fay is far from a femme fatale, etc.
  • Defective Detective: Doc smokes weed, but he is an efficient private investigator.
  • Dirty Cop: Bigfoot tries to frame Doc by setting him up with a huge amount of heroin stolen from the Golden Fang. It's also implied that he had his old partner murdered, or arranged for Doc to kill the man responsible in revenge.
  • Dirty Old Man: Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd has sex with his very young patients and also screws his young secretary.
  • Erudite Stoner: Doc is a cunning private investigator who also happens to be an unkempt stoner with questionable hygiene.
  • The Faceless: Bigfoot's wife's face is never seen during the one scene where she is berating him.
  • Facial Markings: Puck the Nazi biker thug has a swastika tattoo on his face.
  • Femme Fatale: Shasta is teased as this, but she's ultimately not a bad person.
  • Film Noir: A neo-noir, almost a parody of the genre, set in sunny Southern California and mostly featuring a gang of drugged and sexed-up weirdos.
  • The Film of the Book: The first film adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel.
  • Guile Hero: Doc is able to maneuver through the criminal and countercultural underworlds of southern California through unassuming charm, quick thinking and simply asking the right people the right questions.
  • Henpecked Husband: Badass Bigfoot's wife chews him out, then chews him out some more for being so meek when she chews him out.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Puck Beaverton receives the lethal injection of Golden Fang heroin he intended to use on Doc, courtesy of the little hippie PI himself.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Jade, who is probably one of the most helpful characters to Doc throughout the movie
  • I Know You Know I Know
  • Kavorka Man: Doc is very popular with the ladies despite being a sleazy pothead.
  • Kudzu Plot: You're supposed to feel utterly overwhelmed by the amount of story, conspiracies and loads of characters.
  • "Last Supper" Steal: A stoner pizza party is framed to look like The Last Supper, with Coy Harlingen, an innocent party victimized by events, in the center.
  • Lecherous Licking: The dialog-free scene in which Bigfoot fellates a frozen chocolate banana while Doc watches in horrified astonishment.
  • Left Hanging: Many of the threads that Doc is hired to investigate or otherwise uncovers are left without resolution or explanation.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Adrian Prussia and Puck Beaverton plan to inject Doc with a lethal dose of heroin and it it look like he was just a hippie junkie who OD'd by accident. Thankfully Doc gets the upper hand.
  • Nice Guy: In contrast to many private detectives found in Film Noir, Doc is affable and courteous to almost everybody he encounters and genuinely cares for Shasta and Coy's well-beings.
  • No Ending: As noted, the movie has a Kudzu Plot and several branches get Left Hanging. Coy gets to go home, but that's effectively it for development — Shasta comes back unharmed, Doc's relationship with her remains on the rocks, the whole Wolfmann business seemingly looks like it's resolved itself, the Golden Fang get their drugs back, and Bigfoot still hates Doc.
  • No-Respect Guy: Doc is a capable private investigator and a valuable informant for the police. Despite this, he is treated with nothing but contempt by them due to being a pot-smoking hippie.
    • Bigfoot is this, despite appearances and his tendency to wail on or berate Doc when given the chance. His actual police career languishes somewhere between "unremarkable" and "laughingstock," he's dominated by his wife at home, and his acting career on the side is a joke.
  • Ominous Fog: Doc's first meeting with Coy occurs in a ridiculously fog-bound alley. Lampshaded by the narrator.
  • Ominous Legal Phrase Title: The legal definition of inherent vice is "an exclusion found in most property insurance policies eliminating coverage for loss caused by a quality in property that causes it to damage or destroy itself."
  • The Oner: The showy Epic Tracking Shots that have been in every other film of P.T. Anderson's career are absent from this one, but he does have two long takes. The Romantic Rain scene with Doc and Shasta (see below) is a long dolly shot. And later in the film, the scene where Shasta seduces Doc runs about six minutes without a cut.
  • Papa Wolf: Crocker Fenway implies that he had Rudy Blatnoyd killed for the sexual and other liberties that Blatnoyd took with his daughter.
  • Private Detective: Doc is a private detective who works out of a doctor's office.
  • Romantic Rain: Shasta sends Doc a postcard reminding him of one time they went out looking to score drugs. This is followed by a flashback with Doc remembering him and Shasta going there in the rain and embracing. Turns out the vacant lot they kissed in front of is where Dr. Blatnoyd and Golden Fang are located.
  • Running Gag: People calling Doc a "little hippy."
  • Shout-Out: Many characters greet the main character with, "What's up, Doc?"
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Somewhere towards the middle. In the end, corporate and government corruption are systemically bringing the idealistic 60s to an end, but pretty much all of its likable counterculture protagonists come out alive and happy (or at least in no worse shape than they were before).
  • Spiritual Successor: A Deconstructive Parody of the neo-noir genre that stars a sleazy, pot-smoking slacker (incidentally, whose nickname begins with a D) who gets roped into a Kudzu Plot involving a bunch of Genre Refugees. Sound familiar?
  • The Stoner: Doc and most of his friends smoke weed. He even gets into an argument with Penny over it.
  • Stoner Flick: A unique mix of Stoner Flick and Film Noir, with a perpetually high detective and his druggie acquaintances getting caught up in a bunch of criminal conspiracies.
  • Tap on the Head: Played humorously. After Doc gets coshed, he spins around and awkwardly flails some approximation of a martial arts stance before passing out.
  • Tattooed Crook: In spite of the Blatant Lies to the contrary, Puck's Swastika tattoo really does indicate that he's a neo-Nazi thug.
  • Title Drop: Shasta said she had to get off the Golden Fang because of her "inherent vice", i.e., an inherent flaw or danger.
  • The Triads and the Tongs: The Golden Fang is being used by a Chinese heroin-smuggling ring.However, everyone we see who actually works for them is white (and according to Dr. Blatnoyd, they're actually a consortium of dentists of all things)
  • Unreveal Angle: Hope Harlington hands Doc a photo of her baby (which was apparently affected by heroin coming through her breast milk), which causes him to scream in shock, but we don't see it.
  • Visual Innuendo: Bigfoot sure does enjoy sucking on those frozen bananas...