I shall be judging Inherent Vice‘s video, analysing its record and poring over its transcript to see if it’s a guilty pleasure or should be condemned. So read on only if you’ve already seen Inherent Vice, or don’t plan to.
Synopsis (AKA one long spoiler): The film is about Doc, a private detective in the 1970s, who is investigating 3 main cases: the disappearance of a real estate developer (Michael ‘Mickey’ Wolfmann), the disappearance of a saxophonist (Coy Harlingen), and the activities of a mysterious boat (the Golden Fang) off the southern California coast.
Overall, this film represents the end of the hippy generation and the loss of innocence experienced by the United States as it moved from the 1960s into the 1970s. The film’s title references this for in maritime insurance, ‘inherent vice’ refers to an item whose deterioration that can’t be avoided, E.G. eggs break, chocolate melts, glass shatters…and time passes.
0:00:28 Gordita Beach, California, 1970 – It’s the end of an era. The problem with films based on well-written books is that they feel compelled to have a narrator read their favourite passages. Like here, Joanna Newsom is Sortilège reading the exposition. Let’s hope it’s not a bedtime story.
[The year the film is set in is important, as the 60s are chronologically (and soon spiritually) over. It’s a matter of time.]
0:04:52 Like a lad with an Oreo, this movie starts in the middle. Shasta Fay Hepworth arrives at Doc’s beach house to ask for help. Her wealthy boyfriend (Mickey Wolfmann) is married and his wife (Sloane) and the wife’s boyfriend (Riggs) want Shasta to use her relationship with Mickey to have him institutionalised. The three of them could then share his money. Crazy is as crazy does, and I’m committed.
[Note: this plot line will be abandoned like science in the United States. The FBI will eventually sequester Mickey in an asylum for his protection, but this is the last we’ll hear of someone trying to steal his wealth.]
The main characters thus far:
- Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston): Ex-hippy and Doc’s obsession. She symbolises Time, and she’s passing. (“Tonight she was all in flatland gear, hair a lot shorter than he remembered, looking just like she swore she’d never look.“) Unfortunately for him, Doc doesn’t want time to pass.
- Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix): Stoner detective, dentist and many other ‘D’ words. Also the central character around whom the other stars orbit.
- Michael ‘Mickey’ Wolfmann (Eric Roberts): Real estate developer and wannabe philanthropist who decides to cast his lot with the establishment.
0:05:17 Shasta is using Doc’s heart strings to play him.
0:05:46 Shasta wants Doc to use his relationship with his bed friend (Deputy D.A. Penny Kimball), to help her. People in this film use each other the way I use my mobile.
Doc [on the phone to his aunt] : Mickey Wolfmann, what can you tell me?
Aunt Reet (Jeannie Berlin): Power house in LA real estate, from the desert to the sea. Technically Jewish, but wants to be a Nazi.
Conflict of interests.
0:12:03 Doc’s “old cop buddy” / policeman Lt. Det. Christian F. ‘Bigfoot’ Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) moonlights as a hippy on the telly in an advert for Channel View Estates, property being developed by Wolfmann. Perhaps Bigfoot is trying to make some extra WTF!?
Best of all, a view of the Dominguez Flood Control Channel that can only be described in two words: Right On.
0:13:38 It would seem Doc is a real physician with an office, and not just a ‘Doc’ of the Bugs Bunny sort.
0:14:36 Tariq Khalil (Michael Kenneth Williams) is waiting in Doc’s office. He says he would like some money due him from a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, and the debtor is Michael Wolfmann’s bodyguard. This racist organization plot line will remain like a ten-year-old beauty queen: under-developed.
0:18:46 Doc goes to the offices of Channel Estates to find Glenn Charlock, the Aryan that Tariq said owed him money. This is what the sales office of Channel Estates looks like.
0:20:48 Doc is knocked unconscious and wakes up outside in a dirt lot beside Glenn Charlock’s (Christopher Allen Nelson) dead body. I’ve not woken up next to dead people, but I have gone to bed with a few.
0:21:25 Bjornsen takes Doc in for questioning for the murder.
Bigfoot Bjornsen: Do you think Glenn and Shasta were f-u-c-k-i-n-g -ing?
Glenn was Mickey’s bodyguard and now Mickey is m-i-s-s-i-n-g -ing.
Doc could never figure out what Shasta might have seen in him besides being the only doper she knew who didn’t use heroin, freeing up a lot of time for both of them.
0:29:46 Hope Harlingen (Jena Malone) has a case for Doc. She tells Doc about Amethyst, her daughter with a probably not dead musician whom Doc must look for. Doc gets on her case.
I don’t know if you have the stomach for it but… This is what we had her looking like. Everyone helpfully pointed how the heroin was actually coming through the breast milk.
Hope hands Doc a photo of her baby
0:30:06 Hope mentions she has new teeth because heroin “sucks the calcium from your body like a vampire”. She does have a toothy grin.
[This scene will become relevant toward the end of the film. In short, an Indo-Chinese heroin cartel working off of a boat called the Golden Fang is making money off of every aspect of the heroin trade. They make money 1) selling the drug, 2) helping people kick the drug and 3) replacing the wrecked teeth of those addicted to the drug.]
0:33:04 Doc, posing as a lawyer, pays a visit to Sloane Wolfmann (Serena Scott Thomas). While there he gets the name of a sanatorium owned by the family (Chryskylodon) and admires Mickey Wolfman’s collection of ties emblazoned with the naked images of the women he’s slept with – Shasta is an item on this list. The gentlemen knows how to tie one one.
0:37:27 Doc speaks with Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon) “part time squeeze and Deputy D.A.”. She sets him up for an interview with the FBI, and not of the job sort.
0:41:16 The FBI is in town to investigate Mickey’s kidnapping.
Doc: Aren’t we all in the same business?
Agent Borderline (Timothy Simons): There’s no need to be insulting.
0:41:48 Three of the four FBI agents finger their noses? Is it a tell or a signal? Regardless, they’re very nosy.
0:44:48 Jade (Hong Chau, the Asian woman from Chick Planet – the sex trailer that doubled as the Channel Estates sales office) meets Doc and tells him a bald bloke with a swastika tattooed on his face (A.K.A. Puck Beaverton) is the one who knocked him out. She also brings up a boat: the Golden Fang, a schooner used to transport heroin. The boat, then, is good for trips.
[IMO, the Golden Fang represents the Future. It’s referred to in only the vaguest of terms and Doc never gets to board it. We, the viewers, are permitted glimpses of it on the horizon, but are given no concrete details about its contents.]
0:47:32 Doc meets Hope Harlingen’s husband, Coy (Owen Wilson), the musician who was rumoured not to be dead. It would seem that rumour was accurate.
0:48:06 Sauncho Smilax, Esq (Benicio Del Toro), Doc’s lawyer, tells Doc the Golden Fang originates from near the Bermuda Triangle.
Sauncho: See, the problem with this vessel is trying to find out anything.
[More parallels reinforcing my belief that the Golden Fang symbolises the future.]
Doc: Are you emotionally involved with the boat? Sauncho: She’s not just a boat, Doc. She’s much more than that.
That’s what I keep trying to tell everyone.
0:52:41 Sauncho says that Mickey may have taken the boat out for a ride and that he’s working in cahoots with the FBI to buy property in Las Vegas so that the Mafia doesn’t buy up the entire strip. I’m starting to realize this entire film is one long explanation.
0:54:46 Doc to Penny on the telephone.
You can bring a bar of soap and clean my feet.
I’m not too proud to admit that, like the FBI nose pickers, I have no idea what this is meant to represent. #ThisStinks
[Note: Con-day, a reader far more intelligent than I, elucidated this point on my post at the Inherent Vice Message Board: “On dirty feet: In the book it’s explained that crude oil has been washing ashore on Gordita Beach, and that regular feet cleaning has necessarily become part of the beach lifestyle.”]
0:56:11 Penny pops over despite the feet and tells Doc that Coy, in addition to not being dead, is a police informant. He faked his death in order to return to his wife and child and stop being a ‘snitch’ for the police. Dead men sell no tales.
1:04:54 Jade informs Doc that Chick Planet is a front for the Golden Fang to launder money. As it’s borderline prostitution, I suspect it’s less of a ‘front’ and more of a ‘behind’.
1:10:14 Glenn Charlock’s sister Clancy (adult actress Belladonna appearing under her birth name, Michelle Sinclair) shows up at Doc’s office and says Mickey wanted to use all of his money to build a free commune in the desert. She also implies that Puck Beaverton [see 44:48] killed Glenn and kidnapped Mickey. She neglects to explain why we should care. Then there’s this:
Clancy: He [Puck] is a major-league asshole.
Doc: Sounds like you dated.
Clancy: Him and his room-mate.
Doc: Two at a time?
Clancy: That’s my preference.
This is Belladonna we’re talking about, after all.
[Mickey was interested in building a free commune in the desert, but that was before boarding the Golden Fang and seeing the future.]
1:11:20 According to Clancy, Shasta was “deeply in love” with Mickey. Doc returns to his office to spray his still bare and even dirtier feet with room freshener. Foot Message?
1:12:00 Nice example of the hippie music in the film (“Les Fleurs”, by Minnie Riperton)
1:13:22 A postcard from Shasta has Doc reminiscing about a romantic moment, once upon a Ouija board. Déja voodoo.
1:18:25 Doc visits Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd (Martin Short) in a giant golden fang. He’s the executive leader of a Dentistry syndicate called the Golden Fang. Think of him as a King with a dental crown.
1:20:18 While there, Doc stumbles upon a room full of young people receiving dental care because their heroin addiction sucks the calcium from their teeth. Their dental plan is better than their life plan.
[See 30:06 – This is yet one more way for the Golden Fang to make a profit off the heroin.]
1:22:51 We meet Japonica Fenway (Sasha Pieterse – a serial escapee from the Chryskylodon asylum) because this film is simply a parade of characters meant to distract us from the lack of a coherent story line.
1:25:12 Bigfoot calls Doc to say the Dr Blatnoyd has been drilled…in the neck. By fangs. What a pain!
1:26:18 Here’s where it gets very complicated to the point it’s a WTF!? Bigfoot and Doc meet. Their conversation is as dense as a religious fanatic in science class.
1:31:38 Doc travels with Sortilège to the mental institution [see 33:04 and 1:20:18] called Chryskylodon, which means ‘gold animal tooth’ in ancient Greek. It’s all Greek to me.
[FWIW, Sortilège exists only as some sort of Greek chorus but occupies no space on this material plane. Proof of that is this scene, where she’s speaking to Doc in his car, yet when he parks, she’s disappeared back into the ether.]
1:34:26 In the institute’s meditation room, Puck Beaverton (Keith Jardine), wearing a naked Shasta tie, attracts Doc’s attention. Mine too, but I care far less about this than he, I suspect.
It was occurring to Doc now – something Jade said once about vertical integration. That if the Golden Fang can get its customers strung out, why not turn around and sell them a program to help kick? Get them coming and going. Twice as much revenue. As long as American life was something to be escaped from, the cartel could always be sure of a bottomless pool of new customers.
1:35:20 Owen Wilson promotes my site!
1:35:26 The head of the institute (Jefferson Mays as Dr. Threeply):
Which brings us to the institute’s own Zen garden, imported from Kyoto. But each textured pebble, each grain of white sand is transported and reassembled here exactly in place by a team of some of our more obsessive patients.
1:36:32 Doc finds Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts) in the asylum. The FBI has placed him here because Mickey wanted to give away all of his money in his “bad hippy dream”. He sounds a lot more sane when he tells Doc to “Go away, little hippy. Go away.” To be fair, we all sound more sane when we say this.
1:38:47 Mickey re-emerges and builds the casinos the FBI wanted him to build. #YouBet
1:40:59 Then, suddenly, just like that, Shasta shows up at Doc’s place and I wonder why this film hasn’t ended yet.
1:43:44 Shasta stands before Doc in her full frontal skin asking him what kind of girl he needs. ‘Naked’ would seem to be his response.
1:46:43 Shasta touches herself while describing how much she enjoyed being treated badly by Mickey. This so Doc will give her a little spanking and a punishment bonk. “Hippy Shades of Grey”
1:50:31 Shasta explains she got her necklace on a boat ride, which probably means the Golden Fang. This is the same style of necklace Puck will wear later.
Shasta: They told me I was precious cargo that couldn’t be insured because of Inherent Vice. Doc: What’s that? Shasta [smiling]: I don’t know.
That makes all of us, then.
Sortilège: Inherent Vice in a marine insurance policy is anything you can’t avoid. Eggs break, chocolate melts, glass shatters and Doc wondered what it meant when it applied to ex-old ladies.
That clears everything up not at all.
[In fact, Shasta represents time, especially the passing of time, and this is something that cannot be avoided (like eggs breaking). Implicit in this idea is that it’s not worthwhile to mourn the passing of time, as it’s something “you can’t avoid.”]
1:54:26 Penny gives Doc gets access to Adrian Prussia’s (Peter McRobbie) police record, and he learns Prussia is basically a hit man for the cops. This was back in the day before they started doing it for themselves.
2:00:22 Doc goes to meet Prussia but is introduced instead to Puck Beaverton (who is wearing the same necklace Shasta wore when he punished her with his sex).
The giant man gives Doc some PCP laced marijuana and then handcuffs him to a pipe. Proof that marijuana is truly bad for you.
2:01:20 WTF!? While under the influence of PCP, Doc’s able to pick the lock of his handcuffs with the piece of a credit card with Shasta’s name on it that he keeps on his shoe? PCP is an open the gateway drug.
2:02:36 Doc injects Puck with the drug cocktail and then shoots Prussia. Isn’t this how World War I started?
2:05:06 Bigfoot is also there and stows many of the bales of drugs in Doc’s car. Is it to frame him like a picture of Snowden in the NSA headquarters?
2:06:10 Crocker Fenway (Martin Donovan), calls and says the PCP is his. He’s got more drugs than a Columbian medicine cabinet.
2:08:24 Mr Fenway insinuates that he killed Dr Blatnoyd for corrupting his daughter (Sasha Pieterse as Japonica Fenway). That’s ‘insinuate’ with extra ‘sin’.
2:11:16 Doc negotiates with Fenway to return the drugs in exchange for Coy’s safety, after Coy quits his job as police informant and moves back in with his family. It sounds to me like he could’ve also asked for some cash as well, but he’s a hippy so it doesn’t mean the same thing to him as it does to people.
2:13:41 They make the trade and Doc is given a credit card for Coy with the message “Well done, welcome back to the main herd, safe journeys.” ‘Safe trips’ might be more appropriate for this film.
2:16:04 Doc drops Coy off at his house and I can’t help but feel there was a lot of energy spent and wasted getting us from the beginning of the film to this point. The book was no doubt more complex but this film is less interesting than an old episode of Columbo.
2:16:24 In under two minutes, the Golden Fang is seized by the Department of Justice. Well, that was as anticlimactic as sex on quaaludes.
2:21:48 Shasta and Doc drive into the night with no destination more specific than…THE FUTURE! Ooooooh.
[Thus the conclusion to the three cases I mentioned at the outset of this post are as follows. 1) Michael ‘Mickey’ Wofmann returns to his family and rejoins the establishment, 2) Coy Harlingen rejoins his family, and 3) the Golden Fang operation is closed by the authorities. This film tries too hard to be arty and not hard enough at everything else.]
- WTF!?’s: 5 incoherent vicious ones
- When to Follow: When you want your time dead but not wasted and you have nothing to kill it with
- Where’s This Found: Inherent Vice is an orgy of characters, and like an orgy it’s hard to keep them all straight. Paul Thomas Anderson usually does a better job of running multiple story lines than this jumble of scenes he’s collected in a giant pile of WTF!? Intellectuals will tell you it’s a great film but won’t be able to say why, only that they don’t understand it so it must be brilliant. Personally, I refuse to be duped. Out of a possible 10, I have 5 F’s to give
- What To Feedback: What is your favourite Paul Thomas Anderson film?
Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos
What to Follow Up
If you enjoyed this review, you may like my explanations of
If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook! It’s the easiest — and nicest! — way to say ‘Thank you’.