Tuesday, 25 November 2014
Let me be clear: I'm not saying it's a terrible film, and - although I seem to be in a tiny minority - I'm fully aware I'm not alone with my foul opinion. I don't want to be that insufferable twerp who tries to make a name for himself by giving a one-star review to something he alone didn't like or understand, just so people will take notice and commend him for his bravery in refusing to bow to popular opinion. The sheer tidal wave of positivity for Inherent Vice is proof that it has worth, so who am I to ignore that? I'm far more interested in trying to get to the bottom of my intensely negative psychological reaction to the film, simply because I don't understand why I would feel this way.
Now I'm not entirely dense; I realise this is kind of the point. The Big Lebowski and The Big Sleep, two films for which I have a lot of affection and which crop up in innumerable Inherent Vice reviews, are similarly labyrinthine. The trippy nature of Anderson's film is so deeply ingrained that it's obviously intended that you're never quite sure what you're seeing isn't a figment of Doc's weed-addled imagination. Fine. But somewhere along the line, character empathy turned to alienation: long takes filled with people mumbling dialogue that washed right over me recreated the experience of being stoned only insofar as it was like being in a room full of enormously boring assholes talking inconsequential shit for hours on end. Forgive me, but that's not my idea of entertainment.
The obvious explanation for my antipathy is that Paul Thomas Anderson just doesn't do it for me: I liked Punch Drunk Love a lot, but Boogie Nights and Magnolia left little impact on me, while I have nothing positive to say about There Will Be Blood or The Master, two films which almost everyone else I know believe to be among mankind's greatest artistic achievements. I haven't seen Anderson's debut, Hard Eight, and nor am I in any rush to. But my reaction to PTA's last three films isn't just a dislike of a particular style, it's a total inability to fathom what the majority of like-minded people find so appealing, and that's just not my usual state of mind. Am I not clever enough? Am I too old? Too mainstream? I don't think so, but maybe I'm not the best judge.
What I am is suspicious: I get a distinct whiff of emperor's new clothes about Paul Thomas Anderson in some circles. That's not to belittle or denigrate those who are genuinely passionate about his work: I respect your opinion and am, in some small way, quite jealous. But I'm sure there are more like me out there who won't admit it. I saw Inherent Vice at one of two sold-out preview screenings at London's Prince Charles Cinema which were introduced by Anderson himself, and the gales of laughter which greeted early scenes suggested to me that there were several audience members desperately trying to tell PTA that they got it, they were down with it, as if he was going to take them back to his hotel and hold a thank you party in their honour. I can't understand why anybody would act that way, but then I can't understand why people eat mussels either, yet it definitely happens. I've seen it. It's disgusting.
I'll continue to watch Paul Thomas Anderson's films because a) he's clearly an important director and b) I really, really want to like them, but I now dread the day I see the next one, because I'm sure I'll go through all this again. Inherent Vice, for me, was an hour of confusion followed by an hour and a half of mental torture, and I must be some kind of masochist for willingly putting myself through that again. But I'd rather see something and hate it than not see it at all if it's met with widespread approval, because if there's one thing I can't bear it's an uninformed opinion. And if there's another thing I can't bear it's missing out on something everyone else is on about. You might think that's pathetic, but in the words of a wise old sage, that's just, like, your opinion, man.