Photo Essay: Understanding Inherent Vice

As you may have heard, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film Inherent Vice is a little difficult to follow at times. Serious academics around the world have been furiously debating the best way to approach the film, with some arguing that it’s better to see it completely baked off your nut, while others recommend that you get coked up to the eyeballs beforehand, with maybe half a tab of acid set aside for the final act. However, here at Popcorn Nights we appreciate that not everyone likes to do the druggy druggy, or that occasionally you can’t get any blow for love nor money because White Dave has suddenly and urgently left town, so we’ve prepared this handy cut-out-and-keep guide* to the film’s plot that you can take with you to the cinema for reference. There is literally no need to thank us.

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This is Joaquin Phoenix, who plays ‘Doc’ Sportello, as he reads Pynchon’s original novel for the first time. He’s only on page 2. You have been warned.

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Doc gets stoned and meets … er … these guys on the way to that meeting with the other guy. You know, the one with the longish coat. That’s Rudy the dentist in the back seat. And the girl driving is the one who appeared in that earlier bit. They other guy in the back seat keeps on showing up too but we still haven’t figured out his name. Is it Toby? Timmy, maybe?

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Here ‘Doc’ is contemplating the thing that just happened at the Playboy mansion with the bunnies who are actually members of the cult. Also he’s worried about the bikers. Or is it the FBI? Or the cops? Or the underground cabal of dentists? Ah, to hell with it. Doesn’t Joaquin look dreamy?

OK that's definitely Shasta with Doc. She was in that earlier bit. She's either been kidnapped on a boat, or has been visiting family in northern California, or has been to the Dominican Republic on holiday with a bunch of bikers. But she's back now and Doc doesn't have a clue how that has happened, so we don't have to care either.

OK that’s definitely Shasta with Doc. She was in that earlier bit. She’s either been kidnapped on a boat, or has been visiting family in northern California, or has been to the Dominican Republic on holiday with a bunch of bikers. But she’s back now and Doc doesn’t have a clue how that has happened, so we don’t have to care either. Hang on, is this a flashback?

Whoah. Who let these guys in here? Isn't Walter supposed to be in 'Nam about now?

Whoah. Who let these guys in here? Isn’t Walter supposed to be in ‘Nam about now?

Yo! It's Benecio! Make the most of those three lines, fella, it's all you're getting. By the way, this scene is sandwiched in between the fight with the pimp and the bit where the real estate guy turns out to be a baseball fanatic with a penchant for PCP and quality jazz musicianship. Just so you know.

Benecio! Make the most of those three lines, fella, it’s all you’re getting. By the way, this scene is sandwiched in between the fight with the pimp and the bit where the real estate guy turns out to be a baseball fanatic with a penchant for PCP and quality jazz musicianship. Just so you know.

Something for everyone here, but we don't know who these people are. Is this a Boogie Nights outtake? No use asking Doc, he's busy in some sub-plot involving ties and a horny maid.

Something for everyone here, but we don’t know who these people are. The guy looks like the cat that got the cream though. Is this a Boogie Nights outtake? No use asking Doc, he’s lost in some sub-plot or other involving ties and a horny maid.

OK...up to speed. The guys Doc was tailing all along are trying to import these giant crabs from China or somewhere, but something to do with the light in LA has made them even bigger, and angry as hell. That's Doc leading the human resistance, which is made up of porn stars, several members of The Grateful Dead, Dennis Hopper, Neil Young featuring Crazy Horse and Ken Kesey.

OK…to sum up: the guys Doc was tailing all along are trying to import these giant crabs from China or somewhere, but something to do with the light in LA has made them even bigger, and angry as hell. That’s Doc leading the human resistance, which is made up of former porn actresses, several members of The Grateful Dead, Dennis Hopper and Luis Guzmán.

 

So, there you go. Simple once you’ve got it all laid out in front of you, right? Happy Cinema-ing!

* We recommend going at the screen with a pair of scissors to begin with. If that doesn’t work just bring out the heavy-duty equipment. A chainsaw should do it**.

** Obviously we don’t really recommend this. The legal department informs us we’ve got to point this out. It’s better to take a photograph of the screen, print it out, and tape it to the head of the person sitting in front of you. Don’t forget a torch!

 

Comments 18

  1. Mark Walker February 6, 2015

    Haha! Interesting post my man. Clear as mud. Seriously, though, I’m doing a lot of thinking on this one. I’ve worked out a good bit but it’s so loaded that I reckon it needs at least 4 sittings. And even then, I think most of the plot strands are pointless. That’s what I love about it.

    • Stu February 6, 2015

      4 sittings?!! I reckon I’d only have 10% of it sorted after 4 sittings! Haha. Joking aside, I do like the fact that lots of it is pointless, too. The irreverence of it is great at times – I loved that family of drug mules turning up near the end with the attitude-heavy teenage girl. Completely pointless but really funny and memorable in that Coens / Tarantino way.

      • Mark Walker February 6, 2015

        Haha! Yeah, I suppose 10% sounds about right. With the irrelevance, it’s very much like The Big Lebowski in that respect. Many of The Dude’s experiences led to nothing but, again, that only made the film all the more enjoyable. It’s was just a fun experience. After all the harsh criticism and lack of understanding has died down, I reckon this will be looked upon more kindly and seen as another fine inclusion in Anderson’s canon.

        • Stu February 6, 2015

          I agree (gah!). I’ve got to go back and watch Boogie Nights and Magnolia again. It’s been way too long.

  2. Jay February 6, 2015

    Well I can definitely attest that you haven’t made my understanding any WORSE. I went out to dinner afterward with my friend, who’d just finished the book before we watched it. I asked him all of my many follow-up questions, and all he could say was that he thought he’d understood things until I started asking questions, and only then realized he didn’t know the answers either.

  3. ruth February 6, 2015

    Ahah, fun post Stu! Phoenix’s expression in that first pic made me super curious to see what the heck he’s looking at!! I missed this in the cinema but I’ll be sure to rent it.

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