A movie theatre is like a womb. It’s dark and ambient, sound thrums from every side.
Including pre- and post-production, a film may take many months to complete, but for the sake of argument, let’s say it takes, on average, nine. Not unlike pregnancy, the director has spent 9 months thinking about YOU – about how to tell you this story, how to appeal to you, how confront you, console you. She’s thought about your comfort and your attention span. She’s thought about what you need and what you want, and how much of either you can take. You spend an hour or two under her care and control, in a dark little cocoon, maybe learning something, maybe growing a little as a person. And then you come back out into the world, blinking at the sudden change in light, maybe wiping away some tears. If the film was any good, then you are reborn a slightly changed person.
There’s a slight adjustment that we all make upon exiting the theatre, transitioning from the director’s world where we’ve been immersed back into the real world where bladder concerns and a cold walk to the car need to be addressed. Yesterday evening Matt and I were at Landmark Cinemas taking in Inherent Vice, and upon our egress, I felt slightly off kilter. A man was sitting at a table, eating frozen yogurt and watching the theatre empty. “How was it?” he asked us, and for a couple of film reviewers we were oddly quiet. Sometimes you come out of the theatre mournful and needing a hug, other times jubilant and wanting to celebrate with a drink at Bier House or The 3 Brewers. And sometimes you come out needing time and space to digest what you’ve seen. You need to chew on it a bit before you can pronounce it good, or bad, or ugly.
That’s how I felt, and still feel, about Inherent Vice. Although not as impenetrable as Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, I still feel like the movie was an inside joke to everyone who read the novel, and booey to those of us who hadn’t. I was lost a lot. There’s a lot of characters to keep track of, and so many story lines that PTA doesn’t even bother to wrap them all up. Matt and I laughed, but we laughed alone. There were maybe half a dozen other people at this early showing but if anyone else thought the movie was funny, they kept it to themselves.
But this movie isn’t meant to be watched in a conventional way and it’s not fair to judge it based on plot or logic or basic human understanding. But what then can I say? PTA’s story telling is bold, intuitive, and intentionally hazy. You aren’t meant to watch it in the typical linear fashion of the mainstream, with a start, a middle, and an end; you’re supposed to enjoy each meandering scene as it comes, pausing on the sun-dappled textures, nodding your head in much the same way Doc (Joaquin Phoenix) does throughout the movie. Can you let go and appreciate the lack of structure and cohesiveness?
This movie isn’t for everyone. Frozen yogurt guy, who solicited our opinion, was about to go in and see it himself. Said he picked it because it looked “different.” “It is!” I assured him. It really is.