“Inherent Vice” Shows The Death Of The Promise Of The ’60’s

Inherent Vice is an American movie released to mainstream outlets on January 9th, 2015. It is based off the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name. The movie itself defies standard categorization: it really is a character study and period piece masquerading as a detective story with a liberal amount of humor interspersed throughout the movie.

The story begins in 1970’s California and centers around a sort-of private eye named Doc Sportello, an often bewildered hippy stoner who comes into contact with his beautiful ex-girlfriend, Shasta, after not seeing her for some time. She approaches him, seeking help with her new love interest, a local property mogul. Without revealing too much of the plot, this event triggers the rest of the story, with Doc “investigating” leads and trying to piece together what has happened to his ex-girlfriend and her alleged beau.

As far the aesthetics are concerned, the movie is indisputably top-shelf. The acting—especially by the two leads, Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin—is excellent. The movie features other prominent Hollywood actors and actresses, like Reese Witherspoon, and they play their secondary roles very well. Also, the music in the movie is awesome. It is a wide ranging, eclectic mix that highlights the late-60’s backdrop of the movie.

The movie’s credits opens with this song. I think it’s lyrics provide insight into the meaning of the movie:

Note these lyrics:

Oh my wild beautiful bird, you will have flown, oh
Any day now I’ll be all alone

I know I shouldn’t want to keep you
If you don’t want to stay
Until you go forever
I’ll be holding on for dear life
Holding you this way
Begging you to stay

Don’t fly away, my beautiful bird
Don’t, don’t fly away

These lyrics are quite fitting for this movie, as the movie is set at the outset of the 1970’s. The revolutionary promise of the ’60’s had died into the political quietism of the ’70’s. The political fervor of the ’60’s had collapsed as the youth of the ’60’s had passed on in age and found the idealism and rage that underlaid their political angst to be untenable to indulge in as they got older. Despite this, they sought to edify and aggrandize their experiences of the ’60’s.


The main character, Doc, is representative of the stereotypical ’60’s radical (hippie): slightly disoriented, superficially self-absorbed, nostalgic, drug-abusing and conflict-avoidant, yet wanting revolutionary change. He is reactive, not proactive and is at the mercy of authority and circumstance. Yet, he is relatively harmless, idealistic and possesses a level of child-like wonder for the world.

FIRST LOOK Waterston

Doc’s girlfriend Shasta represents hippie’s memories of the vague promises of the ’60’s. She is vague, ill-sketched but often talked about and obsessed over. Sashta represents the yearning that hippies thought they had for the world. She exists as an abstraction to Doc, a woman whose ability to love is ambiguous to him. She is mysterious, her fancies given towards hobnobbing with powerful men, all the while trying to maintain a level of distance between herself and the world she inhabits.

The interplay between Doc and Shasta shows the interplay between the ’60’s radicals and their ideals. Their perception of the world is necessarily strained through their heavy drug use, revealing the unreliable nature of their narratives and conclusions. The movie is fueled by the unreliability of its own narrative, especially with respects to the true nature of Doc and Shasta’s history.

Still, through this haze of dope and cigarettes, exists the ill-defined dimensions of ’60’s radicalism: a strong level of personal nostalgia dosed with an obsession with personal autonomy, a waning sense of love between men and women and fantasies about power in this world. I would imagine those who lived through the ’60’s and ’70’s would find this movie either mostly entertaining or mostly revolting.

JP Waterston phone

Doc fetishizes his relational history with Shasta (ported out as nostalgia) and has a level of distance with respects to truly loving her. Shasta doesn’t clearly love her new love interest and Doc fears she might—but only because true love represents something negative to ’60’s radicals. When Shasta doesn’t affirm their relationship at the end of the movie, it brings a level of comfort to Doc, as he gets to keep their relationship firmly within in the grips of his gauzy, marijuana-addled imagination.

Idealism cedes to realism

This sort of period piece perfectly captures America as it rolled from the tumultuous and idealistic posture of the ’60’s into the reality of the ’70’s. Desperate for the pastures of the ’60’s—but not really wanting that world—the hippies found themselves forced to change as they got older and the world got older with them. They obsessed over what the ’60’s really meant and what it really stood for—even thought they can’t even truly reiterate what actually happened in the ’60’s.

As the lyrics above show, the radicals were well-aware that their time shall pass, but they didn’t really want to let the period go. Authority and circumstance decided their fate, but that happens for any group of people that allow authority and circumstance to decide their fate. The heedless drug use and empty idealism portended their fate, but that doesn’t preclude the nostalgic idealism of their world.

The promise of the the ’60’s embodied by Inherent Vice is the utopia that progressivism, civil rights and feminism was supposed to have ushered in. The hippies or radicals were meandering about, smoking drugs and waiting for the revolution to happen, in which all that was wrong with the world would be washed away in a torrent of liberal justice.

That isn’t what happened.

The true promise of the ’60’s didn’t lie in promoting social justice, equality or tolerance amongst diverse groups, but that there would be a cessation of the conflict of life. The proliferation of drug use and historical revisionism embodied by nostalgia all serve to evidence that the true nature of the ’60’s was to flee the conflict that is life. The avoidance of truly confronting and dealing with authority figures also represent the inability or lack of desire to deal with the reality of human existence.

Inherent Vice represents the rheumy, nostalgic view hippies and radicals have of the the ’60’s as it passed into the ’70’s. The gauzy, broken promises of the ’60’s were little more than laughing ghosts in the minds of their believers, as they represented little more than the infantile desire to avoid responsibility, maturity and conflict in life.

The utopia they chased has amounted to little more than a world even more consumed with ruthless appeals to authority and more supplication to circumstance.

Read More: The Psychological Devolution Of The Modern Man

50 thoughts on ““Inherent Vice” Shows The Death Of The Promise Of The ’60’s”

  1. For my entire life (having been a kid in the 70s) I wondered if the 1960s were a reaction to what was already wrong with the world.
    Or the cause of everything that is wrong with the world.
    The baby boomers are not making a good case for the former assertion.

    1. The leading edge of the baby boomers were 20 years old in 1968. The peak of the baby boomers, 1955, were thirteen in 1968, so 50% of boomers were less than 13. The trailing edge were 6; just barely in grade school. BTW, 1968 is the end of the 60s; which did not start until about 1964. In 1968 you had riots and assasinations and the death of the idealism that the OP is speaking about. Also, the Vietnam war became much less of a contentious issue as Vietnamisation became policy with the election of Nixon, and the troop draw down had begun. I know this because I had a draft number of 111 and by the time my year fo selection came, 1973, there was no more draft.
      Most of what you blame on the baby boomers came before their time in charge. Really the first time you can see the changing of the guard to the boomer generation is with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Before that the reins of all power were firmly in the hands of the “Greatest Generation”. 1969 was also the birth year of the war on drugs, by Nixon, a “greatest Generation” member in good standing. No fault divorce passed in 1969 in California and was signed by Ronald Reagan. That also was not the doing of the boomers. Are you saying that Ronald Reagan was a baby boomer?
      The hippies of the 60s were mostly from the few children born just prior to the war, born during the war or born right after the war (WWII). I have sisters that fall in that category and they were the college students of the early 60s that fueled the image you have of the 60s. The sixties were a reaction to the hard enforced conformism of the 1950s which these pre war children had to grow up in; not the experience of the boomers.

        1. At least one was expected to be good at disco with the pitfall of being bad. There were levels. If you sucked at disco dancing, you sucked. If you were the best, you got credit. It was still human behavior, unlike today’s culture. Today, young people simply decide they are the best. They’ve been told that. They believed it. Go out and prove it? Ha ha. Why bother?

        1. I’m not here to rag on the boomers (though that’s funny). The “Greatest Generation” sucked too.
          Generation X has the credit for “not being interested in anything”. This opened the door in the 1990s for all those empty heads to get filled with this PC crap. Back in the late 1980s there was a movie called “Heathers” where there was a character, a teacher, who spewed Koombaya crap and was making things worse in the movie, and so the movie was ridiculing that type of person who was for the most part were just 60s retreads at the time.
          Now they run things and they raised the hordes of SJWs.
          The millenials I call “the most precious generation” because oh they are such special snowflakes and everybody is a winner.
          They’ll all look the same, as bleached bones in piles alongside the highways (at this rate).

        2. I am here to rag on the boomers. Every generation has it’s faults, yet every generation hates the boomers. I wonder why?

        3. Because they spawned Millenials; the first people in world history to simultaneously drool from the mouth with brainlessness and sneer in arrogance.

        4. The coming conflict may disabuse them of such characteristics. Especially the clash between the islamic world and the secular western world considering demographics.

        5. @helmuththeelder:disqus
          I worked retail in men’s business wear shortly after the turn of the century (sounds weird to say that and not be an AARP member) and the one age group I hated waiting on were the boomers. Senior citizens and everyone under the age of 35 were tolerable (for the most part at least) but the boomers acted like I was lucky to be even talking to them.

        6. I’m guessing because the hippies were the actual manifestation of what was the transplanted Frankfurter Schule from germany. Marcuse and his Marxist ilk fled Deutschland and came to Columbia University, and eventually the young naïves of northern california to become the first of that generation to start flushing the USA down the toilet.

        7. This, in a nutshell, is the cause for animus directed against the boomers.
          As if dedicating 40% of government spending towards some type of social insurance for aging silver ponytails isn’t enough, there’s also the ongoing sanctimony we have to deal with, until they kick the bucket. I know some good boomers but on average they aren’t worth their Social Security benefits.

      1. The “Greatest Generation” were the first to be almost 100% government schooled. And it showed. They did whatever government told them.
        The Baby Boomers had government school and TV propaganda.
        And it all went downhill from there…

        1. The boomers were the first to challenge and successfully overthrow our society’s natural order. There isn’t a subversive ideology, New Age fad or half-baked spiritual moment that the Boomers didn’t fully embrace. The enormous Counterculture of the 1960s should be enough to merit our contempt. Yet, here we are still debating, “who” exactly fucked the dog. Anyone in the know already knows the answer to that question.

      2. I always thought these generational demarcations needed a bit of tweaking. I was born very late in 1960, so when Woodstock was happening I was learning to jump my spider bike over a ramp…I feel NO connection to those people; yet we’re categorized as the same generation. My age was those spiky haired, leather wearing anti-hippies of the late 70’s & early 80’s who get what’s so funny about peace, love & understanding.

      3. I get so sick of banging my head against the wall trying to explain the depth and complexity of a 78 million strong generation born between 1946-64. Now it’s your turn. On some web sites its all the Jews fault. O this one it’s all the Baby Boomers fault. Not too many accurate historians on this site but then again it’s not a STEM subject and those that study those disciplines are the smartest people in the world. Right?

    2. To me it seems more like a subversive agenda….. promise revolution, but wrap it up in apathy, strange fashion, liberal drug use and sexual degeneration…..

    3. There was plenty wrong before, but it was all an avalanche waiting to fall. It ‘broke’ on through to the other side in the 60s, no pun intended. I grew up way before all of that, so you’re not alone in that speculative sentiment. It just seems as if, one generation, all the psychotic deviants and dregs of humanity were set loose from their circuses and now everyone is infected, and like any disease, it just worsens with time. Don’t forget, this is all just a small blip in human history.. only we have the unfortunate circumstance of having to be alive at this time to witness the grotesque spectacle.

    4. You’re actually correct on both counts – it was a reaction and is the cause.
      am I making sense?

  2. Good film, but Anderson’s weakest (a bit too long-winded and pretentious). At least no two of his film’s are the same.

  3. I’m going to see the movie tonight.
    Great review. I’d like to see more movie reviews from a Red Pill perspective.

  4. Couldn’t even get through it all. Skipped to the end, turned it off and watched American Sniper. American Sniper was decent, just not gritty enough and a bit propaganda-ish. In relation Lone Survivor was way better.

  5. I haven’t seen this yet, but I’m starting to think PT Anderson has lost his mojo. Even Hard 8 was an above average flick, but how many ran out & got The Master on blu-ray? IV looks like a mess, but we’ll see.

    1. I thought Boogie Nights was great and then he went off into “I’m a genius land.” . He definitely has a great eye for how things will literally look on film, scenery, angles, lighting, detail. There Will Be Blood was a visual marvel but then he F’s it up with the “My milkshake, Your milkshake” trainwreck of a scene. The frog-scene bs in Magnolia. He’s pretty far up his own butt. Scorsese loves film-making, inadvertently is called a genius. PTA wants to be called a genius, so it’s time to go out and make a film.
      I’ll still watch it. But a Pynchon novel directed by PTA. Wow. That gets you into a vortex of self-aware, deliberately visionary, self-proclaiming genius dimensions that could blow your brain apart right there in the theater.

      1. Hmm, see I tried watching BN twice because of the hype & quit both times since I couldn’t get into it. I actually thought those 2 scenes were kinda cool & probably his best 2 flix overall, different strokes I guess

        1. For me those scenes had no set up at all. That’s what gets on my nerves. Like in TWBB, all of a sudden the movie climax centers around this relationship between the main character and the ‘bastard in the basket’. All of a sudden we were supposed to be moved by that drama point but it hadn’t been developed very much at all. Certainly not enough for such a massive climaxing scene, imo.

        2. I actually considered the climax when Eli is murdered but yea, TWBB isn’t quite perfect, definitely better than his last 2 tho I hear, lol.

      2. The milk shake bit came from some senator’s quote during the Teapot Dome scandal, Anderson liked it and used a slightly different version for the film.

      3. Wes Andersen is another director who has been getting worse. The imagery in each movie is amazing, but its the same absurd tone in every movie. I couldnt finish watching Moonrise Kingdom or Grand Budapest Hotel.

        1. Bottle Rocket was pretty good. Rushmore is one of my favorite movies.

        2. not quite sure about BR, I give him credit for Rushmore, doesn’t crack my top 20 or so tho

        3. Yeah. I sometimes have forgotten who is who and which movie is which with those two. I almost misremembered G.B. Hotel as one of PTA.
          G.B Hotel….same here. Nice visuals, lazy as hell story/plot logic plus all kinds of license that wasn’t fairly set up in any way. Just “I’m a genius, I can throw pointless and illogical curveballs at the audience when I want to.” Like that hellishly stupid frog scene in Magnolia, though it worked for some..okay. I hope so.
          It’s starting to match the culture. All visual, no ability to think. Pick up some Neal Postman novels if that concept interests you. (I’m not Neal Postman, he’s dead).

  6. LOL thanks for the blogging idea this Saturday afternoon…
    A committee of independent Bloggers have gathered to join forces and select a candidate for the upcoming presidential election. One of the readers flippantly suggests nominating Linda Lovelace. The committee approaches the porn star, who agrees to be the flag bearer of the newly formed Upright Party.

  7. Meaning no criticism to your writing, but your analysis of the movie generated the same reaction in me as the movie itself: I wanted to walk out of the theater. And I did.
    This is only the second movie I have walked out of in my life. One hour into it I realized I was not only completely and totally uninterested in any of the characters,l but I could not care any less about them I f I tried. In addition, I realized most tragic of all for a film, I was BORED! Sick to my stomach BORED. I was in too much pain from my boredom to even fall asleep.
    Plan 9 From Outer Space was a more interesting film. I can imagine this movie someday being featured on Mystery Science Thester 3000, except it would not be good enough for that show.
    I walked out, as I said, and went looking for another movie. I saw the Alan Turing movie with Benedict Cumberbatch. The Imitation Game. A much, much better film. It made it clear what I’d always wondered, which was, why didn’t his wartime service help him with the charges against him? The reason: Because no one knew about it and no one who did know about it was going to talk about it. A tragic tale, which I normally dislike, but a much better movie.

    1. He was never my favorite director, but I think he was one of the better ones during his prime. If Anderson wants to keep working, he HAS to go back to making flix the average moviegoer likes. Even one of his weaker ones, Hard 8, was better than the average movie & definitely better than his last 2. He tried the highbrow art stuff(is that even what it is, lol), now he should consider it a learning experience.

    2. Anderson was never my favorite director, but I thought he was 1 of the better ones during his prime. For the average audience, his last 2 just doesn’t cut it. Even one of his weaker films, Hard 8, was better than the average movie, but now he’s doing something wrong, lol. I’m not sure what he’s thinking.

  8. Granted I was only 5 at the time, but I remember the hippies political fervor ending right after the draft did.

  9. In Canada, Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister in 1968 when the first Boomers were just starting to vote. When Trudeau resigned, paving the way for the Conservatives to score the largest majority ever, the youngest Boomers had just got the vote. To many conservative Canadians, the Trudeau era represents the beginning of the end with no-fault divorce in 1986 to the adoption of the Charter or Rights and Freedoms in 1982. That was the doings of the war babies and inter-war generation. If anything, you can thank the Boomers for free trade and the GST.

  10. I work in the industry as a film critic and can comfortably say this is one of the better written reviews of this movie- very original and insightful analysis (much better than any of the reviews I’ve read written by working, “professional” critics.”) Excellent work, man.

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