Inherent Vice: Watch a fascinating twist on the ending
Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 film Inherent Vice, based on the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, was one of the more curious and critically polarizing films of last year’s awards season. Some critics dismissed it as too obtuse, others hailed it as yet another entry in a long line of Anderson’s masterpieces. (Personally, it was one of my favorite films of last year, one of the few I saw multiple times in a theater and, in my opinion, acted as another brilliantly dystopic vision of California that goes hand-in-hand with Anderson films like There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights.)
Audiences primarily stayed away, and a bulk of those who saw the film walked away wondering what just happened. Though Anderson has gone all-in on home video in the past (the DVD extras that accompany Magnolia are particularly revelatory), the just-released Inherent Vice Blu Ray is relatively bare bones. But there are four additional “trailers” that accompany the feature, and while three of them mix in the occasional deleted scene with traditional teaser editing, the final one—a six-minute meditation called “Everything In This Dream” (above)—does open up some new ideas, at least about the film’s ending.
One of the great thrills of watching Inherent Vice is trying to decipher exactly what is actually happening and what might just be a hallucination of oft-high protagonist Larry “Doc” Sportello (played with stoned gusto by Joaquin Phoenix). There are a handful of moments in the movie where that point is really driven home—at one point, friend and narrator Sortilege (Joanna Newsom) simply vanishes from a moving car. But there are other moments, especially those involving brutish cop Bigfoot Bjornson (Josh Brolin), that teeter in between the grimy reality of the film’s noir elements (there are multiple corpses) and the altered magic of the more spectacular drug trips (like the Ouija board scene).
The title “Everything In This Dream” would suggest that we are supposed to take most all of Doc’s thoughts and actions as merely flights of fancy—the subconscious mental rambling of a perpetually herbed-out almost-detective. But “Everything In This Dream” seems to ground the story in something much more concrete. There’s a more profound sense of foreboding, especially in Sortelige’s narration about the sudden influx of violent older men at doper parties and the speech that Bigfoot gives comparing the current uneasy state of affairs to the Watts riots or the Hollywood blacklist era. It ends with Sortilege reading the final lines of Pynchon’s book (the bit about driving to Mexico and running out of gas) while Doc and his mysterious paramour Shasta Fay (Katherine Waterston) drive into the fog only to end up settling on a beach. In emerging from that fog, Doc seems clear-eyed for the first time since we saw him in the opening moments of the film.
Of course, nothing in any of these trailers offers definitive answers, but instead introduces new questions. I would argue that the whole point of Inherent Vice is to get lost in the questions, and that real life—stoned or otherwise—rarely offers straight lines or neat resolutions. Even with the meager extras (you can watch the rest of the bonus trailers below), Inherent Vice is worth checking out again, if only to let go of the narrative and allow its myriad questions (and its stunningly beautiful cinematography and its deceptively hilarious script) wash over you. (Or, at the absolute least, watch the trailers below and revel in the way Benicio Del Toro lays into the words “Golden Fang.”)