I have always been a bit apprehensive when it comes to films adapted from books. Every reader who has put in a lot of thought and efforts into reading a book (reading is, as against popular perception, not just an activity that is to be enjoyed; for me, its an activity that, among other things, lets us contemplate and, if the book is a masterpiece of world literature, leads to introspection) and every reader who has with him a favorite book- might it be a Harry Potter novel or maybe even a Percy Jackson one- which is being adapted onto the big screen, sweats it out while making his way to the theatre- if, God forbid, the director has turned in a mediocre cinematic experience out of a classic, it might even ruin the book for the unfortunate reader. Which is why for me, like, I am sure, for hundreds of Pynchon readers out there, the moment when I entered the theatre was the moment, I suppose, of truth.
And the moment that I made my way out of the theatre, as it turned out, was a moment of pride. For the director of Inherent Vice, Paul Thomas Anderson, has done full justice to the novel that Thomas Pynchon, the infamously reluctant novelist, wrote in 2009. It was one of the most anticipated releases of that year, and readers couldn’t wait to get hands on it- and I counted myself amongst them, which is why I was pretty interested- although admittedly not quite excited- to watch how cinema, that magical visual motion, did justice to a book that is rife with movies and actors and dialogues.
Perhaps, there could have been no other book of Pynchon’s that could have been adapted on screen with more vision and justice for, as I mentioned earlier, the novel is full of characters that watch movies, enact the actors inside the movies and play movie-like roles in the real world. The novel is, not unlike other Pynchon novels- but perhaps it is actually quite different from the other Pynchon novels because, for starters, its comparatively short and less complicated, even though that’s not saying much- a mixture of the pop-culture, somewhat political and the leaning towards the genre novel. Pynchon articulates within his whirlpool-like themes a particular genre- science fiction and mystery being his favorites; Inherent Vice is the latter.
The basic premise- even though there is never a basic premise in a Pynchon plot- is this: the ex-girlfriend of our hero Larry Sportello, also called ÔÇ£DocÔÇØ- who is a private investigator- pays him a visit and asks him to help her out. Her current boyfriend- a billionaire, to add to Doc’s miseries- has disappeared and our lady suspects that her boyfriend’s wife and her lover are the ones behind his mysterious disappearance. This pulls Doc into an unending maze and an equally unending series of incidences that he is, unsurprisingly, unable to decipher. Well, that’s the basic premise for you. There are a lot of characters added in there which are, I think, quite unnecessary even though eventually they sparkle it out. Joaquin Phoenix plays Doc while a cast of other characters play, well, a cast of other characters. Not unlike the ones Doc pops in time and again, this movie is a colorful cocktail that has direction and a particular vision.
I couldn’t help thinking inside the theatre (or maybe during the interval, I don’t remember exactly when) that the movie could have made a brilliant mini-series with cliffhangers and all. It could still be possible, what with the enormous amount of possibilities and story lines that Pynchon provides, and I’d be waiting for that day. Until then, of course, we have Anderson’s mind-numbing (literally) Inherent Vice to enjoy.
Overall Rating: 4/5.