Inherent Vice and the future of Pynchon films

Andy Livingston

The internet was ablaze this week with the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s trailer for Inherent Vice. The film is based on the Thomas Pynchon book of the same name and features Joaquin Phoenix as the loopy and hilarious detective Doc Sportello and an unravelling crime in the beaches outside of Los Angeles.

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Pynchon is a notoriously difficult to crack author, filled with literary allusions, dream-like narrative and a penchant for throwing in the odd original tune in his pages. A film adaptation for any of his books seemed out of the ordinary until he released Inherent Vice. Featuring a rather straight forward narrative, the book pays homage to the noir fiction genre, while also keeping most of the Pynchonian aspects around. It also helped that the notoriously long winded Pynchon was kept to a quick pace and it made for a really great read.

Now with the film to be released, it seems the possibilities could open for future Pynchon adaptations. But who would direct what novel?

V.

The book alternates between Benny Profane and The Whole Sick Crew as they try to live a bohemian life and the adventures of Herbert Stencil in search for a mysterious entity named “V.” The stories begin to converge and grow increasingly weird as Profane and Stencil meet and travel to Malta to find V.

Who should direct?

Jim Jarmusch. He has the beatnik protagonist down from his early films and the episodic-yet-arching turns of his more recent films. Jarmusch’s ability to craft some good performances and deadpan humor would fit the material well, as it would also push Jarmusch to work outside his comfort zone of creating original screenplays.

The Crying Of Lot 49

The novel follows the adventure of Oedipa Maas as her world begins to crack when she becomes named executor of her old boyfriend’s large estate. It’s a hilarious take on the counterculture of the ’60s and also a historical romp through Jacobean plays, a rush through technology, Southern California and secret societies.

Who should direct?

Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The French director is especially adept at having films where the central protagonist is subject to a world that gets increasingly weird as it goes on. The fact that he casts Dominique Pinion (Amelie) wouldn’t hurt either as the wide eyed, yet wickedly smart Oedipa.

Gravity’s Rainbow

The beast of postmodern novels drops the reader into the paranoia and subterfuge of World War II. It follows the espionage efforts of the Allied forces through the work of Tyrone Slothrop, whose libido is dangerous in a way that no one quite understands.

Who should direct?

Darren Aronofsky. He can craft a sense of paranoia and confusing narrative that he sharpened with Pi and Requiem for a Dream, while also navigating the gallows humor that is always required for a Pynchon adventure. It would serve best to be more of a mini-series based on the sheer scope of it, but HBO would probably take a crack at it.

Vineland

One of the weaker Pynchon novels, Vineland shares some of the Southern California counterculture paranoia of Lot 49, but does lack some of the urgency and down the rabbit hole weirdness takes increasingly implausible turns.

Who should direct?

David O. Russell. It has a tight ensemble cast and will give Russell his chops to have period costume and some capers involving shadowy authority figures. Russell keeps his films pretty lean, so cutting some of the fat of the novel might be really good for the story.

Mason & Dixon

Another monster of a book, Pynchon goes far back into the creation of the American Republic with the adventures of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the surveyors of the Mason-Dixon line. Despite the change of scenery for Pynchon, he gets back to form.

Who should direct?

The Coen Brothers. They’ve mined a similar old-timey feel, but if there is a director(s) versed enough to cover all the ground that a Pynchon novel has it’s the quick wit of Joel and Ethan. They could push the postmodern button hard while also leaning on the meticulous detail that is required for such a period piece.

Against The Day Thomas Pynchon

Against the Day

Stretching from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair to the end of World War I, Against The Day is filled with famous cameos covering Bela Lugosi and Nikola Tesla, it has all the promise of Gravity’s Rainbow, just set a bit further behind in time.

Who should direct?

Wes Anderson. His set pieces and knowing winks to the past would fit well with the sprawling settings of Against The Day. Given the size of the source material and the meticulous nature of Anderson’s process, it could take eons to get done, but it would be a gorgeous, weird ride.

Bleeding Edge

Tacking the technology boom of just before and just after 9/11, Maxine Tornow is hired to examine the suspicious Gabriel Ice and his computer security firm. It’s on the precipice of when technology and its access blew up, contrasted with the instant restrictions that came into effect after the attacks.

Who should direct?

David Fincher. He has the finger on the pulse of turning stories about big things into personal endeavors, and Bleeding Edge is as much Maxine’s story of figuring out what to do in life as the world around her grows increasingly fast. The one thing the book has that Fincher has lacked in his films is the sense of humor, but give him the stylish reins and it would be a good choice.

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