📰 Inherent Vice: Robert Altman, Thomas Pynchon, the Coen Brothers, and the Evolution of Stoner Noir
Full Title: Inherent Vice: Robert Altman, Thomas Pynchon, the Coen Brothers, and the Evolution of Stoner Noir.
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In basic terms, stoner noir is exactly what it says on the tin: a detective story, drawing on the conventions of the Chandler/Hammett hard-boiled school, where the protagonist happens to be a pothead.
Detective plots are complex – sometimes so complex that even their own authors don’t fully understand them.
The stoner noir asks us: what would happen if the gumshoe had to live or die based on the powers of concentration, the general state of mental adroitness, characteristic of the pothead?
In this sense, stoner noir operates to some extent in the parodic tradition of the mock-heroic.
what mock-heroics invariably do is take the heightened, perfect archetypes of classical story-telling, and place them alongside the comic imperfections of the real world. In so doing, they tell us something about both the real world, and the story-telling conventions we employ to represent it in fiction.
Stoner noir certainly replaces the unflappable, sardonic hero of the hardboiled detective novel with a type of fool – the pothead being an ideal modern archetype of the fool, a figure whose fraught relationship with the hardships and nuisances of everyday life we can all identity with to some extent.
Hunter S. Thompson’s “high and beautiful wave” had crashed, leaving in its wake a flotsam of glazed pleasure seekers, health faddists, and pop psychologies, all of which hovered satellite-like around the nebulous concept of the “self.”
The Long Goodbye’s significance to the stoner noir cannon lies primarily in the fact that is almost impossible to imagine The Big Lebowski without it.
Vast sociological desertions and studies might be written about precisely why The Big Lebowski struck such an indelible chord with a fairly large sub-set of the film-viewing public – particularly men of a certain generation.
The idea of plots – complex, puzzling, sometimes illusory - ties together the various strands of this story like a good Moroccan rug.
In a sense, the idea of a plot has always connected the world of the detective and that of the stoner – the good detective story requiring a plot above all else, and the stoner often being subject to the conspiranoid intimation that everything might be some kind of plot.
Joel Coen said of Lebowksi that they wanted to “do a Chandler kind of story – how it moves episodically, and deals with the characters trying to unravel a mystery, as well as having a hopelessly complex plot that’s ultimately unimportant.” For this reason, the “plot” of The Big Lebowski unravels and evaporates in the last act into a fog of misdirection and misapprehension which the various actors had fashioned around an illusory kidnapping. This relates also to the paranoia of potheads, and the literary paranoia of Pynchon’s work.
The paranoiac’s grand plot also tends to evaporate and vanish, either at the point where the paranoiac realizes that the plot was, all along, a creation of his or her possibly weed-befogged brain – or, at the point where the plot reaches it maximal state of complexity, and hence vanishes because it has become everything and nothing.