When discussing Paul Thomas Anderson’s directing career, there’s one film that gets constantly overlooked: 2014’s Inherent Vice. The movie is perhaps his most underrated work, a hazy and madcap adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 novel of the same name.
Brought to life by an ensemble cast featuring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro and more, it’s a heady reimagining of the complex world of Thomas Pynchon that has long been consigned to pages of books.
Arguably, the primary reason the film gets neglected is because of the plot. As with the book, it follows Larry ‘Doc’ Sportello, a good-hearted but hapless stoner-cum-private investigator in 1970. Sportello becomes embroiled in the all-consuming Los Angeles underworld whilst investigating a trio of cases that are linked by the disappearances of his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth, and her new and wealthy partner, Mickey Wolfman.
It’s a brilliant take on the corruption of the time, and the story skillfully blurs the line between the law and crime in a way that’s like a mesh of Polanski’s Chinatown and the iconic TV series The Wire.
Fusing the weed-drenched surrealism of The Big Lebowski with the suspense and sunny setting of Robert Altman’s 1973 take on The Long Goodbye, the film is loveable for so many reasons. Even the Jonny Greenwood composed soundtrack, which is comprised of original cuts and works from the likes of Neil Young and CAN, makes a strong claim for being the best in Paul Thomas Anderson’s filmography — sorry fans of There Will Be Blood, Phantom Thread and Licorice Pizza, but this is the one.
The most riveting facet of the film has to be Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Sportello. It’s hilarious, sexually charged and contemplative, and the positioning of Sportello as a lovelorn stoner, navigating the seedy underworld of Los Angeles, gave Phoenix the room to explore long untapped emotions. It’s one of the most dextrous performances he’s ever delivered, as he manages to cover every base of comedy and drama with such dynamism.
We could spend an eternity discussing the quality of Phoenix and the supporting cast’s performance in Inherent Vice. However, today we’re turning out attention to a subtle Easter Egg placed in the book and film by both Pynchon and Anderson. One of the most memorable and hilarious scenes in the movie is the moment we meet Dr. Rudy Blatnoyd, played by Martin Short, at the Offices of Golden Fang Enterprises.
After meeting the cocaine-addled and downright insane doctor, a voiceover from the narrator, Sortilège, gives some clarity to where we no find ourselves in the plot. As well as meeting Dr. Blatnoyd, we also meet his secret love interest, Japonica Fenway, the mentally ill daughter of a prominent local lawyer who is not to be crossed. Sortilège says: “The Fenways? They were heavy-duty South Bay money, and led lives of unusually high density and often incoherence. Her father, Crocker, also known as the ‘Dark Prince of Palos Verdes’, was a lead lawyer at the office of Voorhees-Krueger, who had given Doc his first paying gig as a P.I”.
I’ve seen Inherent Vice numerous times and didn’t pick up on that brilliantly muted reference until very recently. An incredible nod to two of the most iconic horror movie villains of all time, Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th franchise and Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, is a testament to the complexity of the plot that such a glaring reference has been overlooked.
It’s now time to comb through more of Pynchon and Anderson’s works to see if any other Easter Eggs are waiting to be discovered.
Watch the scene below.