Inherent Vice is a neo-noir psychedelic trip where we experience our protagonist’s confusion, paranoia and memory loss as he stumbles through a mystery.
The characters that matter are easy to remember: Bigfoot, the flat top police connection; And Chasta Fe Hepworth, the femme fatale. But those titles don’t really fit all that snugly on these characters, unless you’re looking through Doc’s noir tinted hexagonal glasses.
The rest of the characters come and go with no rhyme or reason, giving the audience a bad case doper’s memory. There is no hand holding in this film. We’re expected to solve the mystery along with Doc Sportello. He’s not going to solve for us like some Sherlock Holmes. This is more of a Phillip Marlow and the Big Sleep situation—dig. You crash straight through the bent connections that make up Sportello’s web of mystery. And what is the mystery?
Who killed the sixties, man?
The film is on the tail end of civil rights movements. All the revolutionaries are working for the man in someway or another. Dentists form tax shelters and get caught up with syndicates that sell heroin to young girls, and then those girls lose their teeth to the heroin and have to go see Dentists. There’s no physical connection between all these events, try through he may to place it all under the umbrella of the Golden Fang—the corporate culture that sucked the ideals of the sixties dry—they’re all in it for themselves. The only thing that’s clear amidst the constant confusion is that Doc’s universe is subject to inherent vice.
“Eggs break, chocolate melts, glass shatters”—Doc’s Muse, Sortilege
And that’s the answer to the mystery in a way. No one particular person killed the sixties. The bikers, the surf bands, the land developers, and the girl who promised herself she’d never dress in flat land gear; they’re all complicit in some way. They all stopped singing Lennon and got jobs. It just kind of fell apart.
This may bum Sportello out for a bit, but his compass never wavers. He decides to fight the complicit complacency, and get Coy, a man stuck working for the golden fang, back to his family—Like Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, no matter how much it harms him in the process, his compass always points north.
“You were always true, Doc.” – Chasta Fe
Of course, he has to do dealings with the golden fang in order to get Coy back to his family. No matter what the golden fang will always be bigger than him. Even though he gets the girl in the end, the reminder of inherent vice, the fact that things break—especially hearts—will always be headlights in his mirror.