Crazy, weird and after two viewings I am not sure I know exactly what is going on or what is real vs imagined. I know it is somewhat of a cliche but really this movie needs more than one viewing. At first you were like “am I supposed to follow this story?”, you try and fail. On the second viewing you KNOW that the plot -as dense and convoluted as it is- does not matter. So, you let go and just go with the flow of the insane path that Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) starts following after Shasta tells him that her rich boyfriend’s wife and her boyfriend (the wife not Shasta’s) are planning to throw him (Shasta’s rich boyfriend that is) into the loony bin and take his money…and that’s in the first 10 minutes of the film.
This is another of those style and mood over plot. From the character names (Shasta? Amethyst? Sortilege?) to the solid 70s clothing, cars and beach-bum-hippie culture. We get a crazy beam of colors, words and settings that total up to a very immersive experience. The interesting thing is that on top of all the ridiculousness and the drug-addled atmosphere there is a sweet hopeful humanity here and a sense of loss. I am not a child of the 60s or 70s but the film oddly enough made me feel nostalgic to these time and made me feel for the sense of loss of a certain culture, neighborhood and way of life. It’s a funny film most of the time, very funny at times. It’s a movie about relationships about being with the one you love while knowing it’s not a good idea and it will end bad.
The characters are real and surreal at the same time, I’m not even sure Sortilege, our narrator even exists. As for the relationship between the oddest of odd partners, that of Doc Sportello and Det. Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen? It’s fascinating and Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin go all in for those roles delivering fun, energetic and memorable performances. Big Foot is an actor turned detective (or he could be both at the same time I suppose). He abuses Doc, thinks very little of him or his life-style but also seems to listen and depend on him all the while towing the line between square white-shirt detective and bat-shit crazy.
This is obviously a very polarizing movie and P.T. Andersen’s most inaccessible work yet. It is not for everyone’s taste and that makes sense. I am glad I gave it another viewing and for me it worked very well.