“… maybe you should just look the other way.”

Some academics, including UOW’s own Prof. Wenche Ommundsen, claim Thomas Pynchon’s arrival on the scene of literature marked the birth of ‘Postmodernism’. Non-linear narratives, the stress on irony, hyper-realistic characters and an often-nonsensical plot are frequent features of Pynchon’s work, and likewise with Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Inherent Vice, one of Pynchon’s latest.

Perhaps the most prolific complaint in the history of book-to-film adaptation is that the film never stays completely faithful to its source material. That is where Inherent Vice excels. As if the film’s costuming, soundtrack (which you can listen to below) and set-design didn’t contextualise a 1970s coastal California town enough, the film occasionally references the arrest of the Manson Family as a current event. Joaquin Phoenix’s “Doc” Sportello is the same bumbling, surfie-stoner, with a weed-induced ambivalence for anything that doesn’t involve finding the sticky side of his Zig-Zags. In fact, the entire cast shines. From the increasingly enigmatic Owen Wilson playing the increasingly enigmatic Coy Harlingen, to a gut-busting turn for Josh Brolin, the red blooded Detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall of the adaptation process is the ability to convert less theatrical aspects of a novel, such as the complexity a novel offers in its 500-or-so words per page. Therefore, Anderson’s faithfulness in his adaptation is ironic. Thomas Pynchon was a challenging writer. In the novel, characters pop in and out of the narrative seamlessly, Sportello’s perpetual haze constantly invading the clarity of the plot, and the narrative itself being a sporadic combination of genres. These aspects are so clearly retained in the film, however, that their inclusion begs the question: do these literarily postmodern tropes work in a film? So in this way, it’s ironic that faithfulness to a book faulted the movie, unlike most cases.

The plot becomes confusing, and that in turn may compromise the audience’s attention and interest. The complex, crime-noir plot is the driving force of the film but without absolute coherence, you may find Inherent Vice difficult to penetrate and thusly enjoy, especially with its 148 minute runtime. Unlike a few critics out there, I cannot say that my word is law when I say I was enamoured with the film, personally, because watching it with friends, I found their reasons for disliking it equally as justifiable as my own reasons for loving it.

The film is divisive. To throw around a common expression, you’ll either love it or hate it. Lovers might attribute their enjoyment to the comedy, the performances and the faithfulness to the book (if they’ve read it). Haters might attribute their distaste to the confusing plot, come-and-go characters and faithfulness to the book (if they’ve read it). And the paradox of Anderson’s accurate conversion process should show that some aspects of the film can be viewed as a positive a negative. I’m sticking with “divisive” for this exact reason.

The film is divisive. To throw around a common expression, you’ll either love it or hate it. Lovers might attribute their enjoyment to the comedy, the performances and the faithfulness to the book (if they’ve read it). Haters might attribute their distaste to the confusing plot, come-and-go characters and faithfulness to the book (if they’ve read it). And the paradox of Anderson’s accurate conversion process should show that some aspects of the film can be viewed as a positive or a negative. I’m sticking with “divisive” for this exact reason.

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