There’s neither the need nor the room to properly explain the plot of Inherent Vice. However, to give some preliminary background, it focuses on dope-addled detective Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) as he tries to unravel multiple linked cases involving mysterious boats, violent cops, drug cartels, cults, brothels, the Aryan brotherhood, and everything else director Paul Thomas Anderson could fit. Understanding the plot isn’t required, even though it all make sense if you’re paying very close attention,. The film is just as sublime on an emotional level and it is easy to just go with the ebb and flow of the film’s narrative.
Anderson is one of the greatest filmmakers working today, and Inherent Vice feels like a culmination of everything he’s been working towards his entire career. It’s an epic and surreal film. The cast is enormous (Josh Brolin, Mel Brooks, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, and so many more) and the paranoia of the 1960s is vibrant, seductive, unnerving and profound.
At the heart of the film, there’s Doc and Shasta (Kate Waterson). She turns up several times throughout the film, but even when Shasta isn’t present, her ghost seems to loom over everything he does. To Doc, she represents a simpler time. There are many scenes in the film where the audience is simply lost in the world put on screen: the opening and closing scenes, a secret meeting in a foggy back alley, and a romantic dash through the rain at the orders of a ouija board. The film manages to evoke a transcendent atmosphere that makes the film feel like it’s slipping away even as you watch it, and that the characters are all scrambling to retain a moment of clarity, whether it be through drugs or sex or violence or love.
Inherent Vice is the best movie of year. It’s one of the best movies of the century so far. It is the reason why people go to the movies in the first place. It’s a swooning romance, a twisty detective noir, a delirious comedy, and a recapturing of a time long gone. It is a film that is completely alive, about nothing less than what it’s like to exist in an ever-changing, ever-fading space and time. It’s magical.