Song of the Day #4,869: ‘Journey Through the Past’ – Neil Young

Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth film, 2014’s Inherent Vice, was his first true adaptation. While There Will Be Blood was very loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s Oil, this film is a very faithful telling of Thomas Pynchon’s novel. Inherent Vice is actually the first film ever made from one of Pynchon’s notoriously hard-to-crack books.

The modern film noir, set in 1970 and soaked in pot and paranoia, follows private detective Larry “Doc” Sportello through a byzantine plot involving kidnapping, murder, gentrification, police informants, and an international heroine syndicate. It’s also a love story.

The movie is a hazy, nostalgia-soaked blend of The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski, with Doc Sportello (played by Joaquin Phoenix) serving as the easily distracted and often stoned hero. The plot is a convoluted mess, and mostly beside the point. Doc may well be hallucinating half the time, anyway.

One character who does seem to be a hallucination is Sortilége, a spiritually-awakened friend of Doc’s, who was a minor character in the novel but is upgraded to narrator here. Played by musician Joanna Newsom with winsome wisdom, Sortilége drifts in and out of scenes and it’s unclear if she’s physically present. Her dreamy, stream of conscious narration is the perfect complement to the film’s meandering path.

I read the Pynchon novel before seeing the film the first time, so I was prepared for the hazy proceedings and familiar with the tangle of characters. Uninitiated viewers had a harder time making sense of the film and Inherent Vice proved to be Anderson’s most divisive film since Punch-Drunk Love.

The film did manage two Oscar nominations (for its screenplay and costumes) and 73%/81 Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic scores, demonstrating the built-in support for even Anderson’s trickier work. In the years since its release, the movie has garnered an even larger cult following.

Inherent Vice is definitely a “vibe” movie, bathed in sweet nostalgia and featuring several achingly beautiful scenes. One, set to today’s SOTD, depicts Doc and his lost love Shasta running in the rain and is among my favorite scenes in any PTA film.

Shasta is played by Katherine Waterston (daughter of Sam) in her breakthrough role as a former lover of Doc’s who enlists him in a missing persons case before going missing herself. She, Newsom and Phoenix are joined by a stellar supporting cast including Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Martin Short, Benicio Del Toro, and Maya Rudolph.

The phrase “inherent vice” refers to the deterioration of something from within, due to intrinsic qualities rather than outside forces. Here, the inherent vice is paranoia — the hippies’ paranoia about capitalism and the police state, the straight community’s paranoia about a culture of drugs and free love.

There Will Be Blood and The Master depicted transitional moments in American history, and so does Inherent Vice — in this case the shift from optimism to disillusionment that bridged the 60s and 70s. It’s an interesting companion to the downward spiral dramatized in Boogie Nights‘ move from the 70s to the 80s.

Tomorrow will bring me to Anderson’s most recent film (until the release of Licorice Pizza later this month), and interestingly his first to take place outside of the United States.

[Verse 1]
When the winter rains come pourin’ down
On that new home of mine
Will you think of me and wonder if I’m fine?
Will your restless heart come back to mine
On a journey through the past?
Will I still be in your eyes and on your mind?

[Verse 2]
Now I’m going back to Canada
On a journey through the past
And I won’t be back ’til February comes
I will stay with you if you’ll stay with me
Said the fiddler to the drum
And we’ll keep good time on a journey through the past

When the winter rains come pourin’ down
On that new home of mine
Will I still be in your eyes and on your mind?
Will I still be in your eyes and on your mind?

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #4,869: ‘Journey Through the Past’ – Neil Young

  1. Peg says:

    Well I am truly impressed that you not only watched the movie but READ the book! Something we couldn’t do. I appreciate your analysis though.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    This is another one where we saw the previews countless times, but were not all that interested in watching the movie.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.