So, I watched the movie first on this one guys. I'm often torn between my own inclinations and not being "that guy" so when Paul Thomas Anderson made a movie that looked really good based on a book that wasn't really on my radar I had three options:
- Read the book immediately.
- Wait on the movie until I got around to the book,
- Damn the torpedoes and see the movie anyway.
I saw the movie anyway.
Honestly though, it wasn't a bad choice, though it's hard to tell. For one, I saw the movie in its theatrical run which was over 2 years ago. Also, the movie was what attracted me, I hadn't heard a lot about the book and it did stick in my mind but I think I would have been happy if I had stuck with the movie which I really enjoyed.
The movie stays pretty close to the book, but by its nature brings a lot more to every scene, the acting, the blocking of the shot, the music, it adds a lot to the tone that is difficult to subtract when you're reading the same event in the book. At times I thought the book seemed a bit goofier than the movie which lays a mysterious noir-like tone even as Doc is trying to remember if he's hallucinating or not. Then I remember scenes from the movie where the comedy was played up more than the book so who knows.
The one last thing I will say about Inherent Vice the movie, is that it was tighter. Not exactly neat -- it is a sort of noir or commentary on noir after all -- but it returns to the early themes in a way the book doesn't and it ditches a long and confusing trip to Las Vegas from the book that seemed extraneous even on the page.
The Vegas trip deals with the missing land developer's wife's boyfriend and Puck Beaverton who is a thug at the center of the conspiracy but gets a side story about turning a girl onto anal sex and Doc Sportello going along to reunite them resulting in their marriage. When we meet Puck again the whole marriage adventure seems to melt away and you have to wonder what the hell that was all about.
It's one of the strengths and the weaknesses of the novel (as opposed to a movie) even a tight one has to build a world. The movie shows you a shot of the beach and that's where you are, but those of us who never turned on, tuned in or even dropped out in 1970s California, the writer has to build the whole scene for you, or suggest enough to let you build the rest, but what contributes to that world and what is extraneous? We get a lot of passages that fill out Doc's character as someone who has past experiences and baggage, but many of which don't tell us much more than we already gleaned in terms of character. Even great writers need great editors.
At it's best, Inherent Vice is a damn good book. It's my first brush with Pynchon which is a shock and I'm sure he has done better, but I could see why he is a highly regarded writer, there are some vivid scenes that draw you in and pull you down the rabbit hole in this booke. He also shows an ability to twist and toy with multiple literary vernaculars: dissecting them in a way that feels uncanny. That is familiar but not really.
In any case, noir is a good form for a book that is interested in things that have been lost: the hippie movement, ethnic enclaves of early Los Angeles, the sense of security of the pre-Manson era. It's melancholy, "hard-boiled" as they say, but like most books by those descriptions it retains a weary hopefulness. There's something inherently hopeful in being old fashioned.