If you were hoping that Paul Thomas Anderson would use the DVD of Inherent Vice to explain everything you didn’t understand about his sprawling, stoner-iffic adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel…well, keep hoping. The only extras available on both the Blu-ray and standard DVD editions that are hitting shelves on April 28 are four “special trailers,” which collectively have a runtime of just under 12 minutes. But just like the movie itself, these Vice trailers reveal themselves to be something more daring and complicated, particularly when viewed multiple times in succession.
Watch the “Paranoia” teaser from the disc:
They’re also the only key Anderson seems interested in handing viewers to unlock the many mysteries of Vice. Back in the days of Boogie Nights, the filmmaker — who’s adored by his fanbase with a passion that borders on zealotry — would happily break his movies down in interviews and deep-dive DVD commentary tracks. (The two-disc editions of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, for example, are packed with bonus features.) In recent years, though, Anderson has grown more reclusive, and also less willing to explain himself and his process. During the run-up to Inherent Vice’s premiere last fall, for example, the writer/director granted only a handful of interviews that were filled with cryptic comments, like describing the film as being influenced by such vintage Zucker Brothers comedies as Police Squad! and Top Secret!
Watch the “Shasta Fay” trailer:
As frustrating as his obtuseness might be, Anderson’s silence actually makes these trailers speak louder. Incorporating new and alternate footage, as well as previously unheard narration, they recreate the movie in microcosm, touching on its larger themes and ideas and, towards the end, providing a dreamy epilogue to the theatrical cut. They may not “explain” Inherent Vice — which some critics found “meandering,” and even worse, “punishing” — but they do provide a road map pointing viewers to What It All Means.
Watch the “Golden Fang” trailer:
The first three trailers are variations on conventional movie trailers, each highlighting different aspects of the film, from the rambling plot—Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) navigates the landscape of Southern California circa 1970, searching for his missing girlfriend Shasta Fey (Katherine Waterson)—to the Golden Fang, the constantly-morphing threat that follows Doc throughout the movie. All of this build-up sets the stage for the final trailer, “Everything in this Dream,” an intricately constructed six-minute mood piece that functions as an all-new alternate ending to the film. The first few minutes — which consist of lots of unseen footage, as well as one moment the seems like a blooper, with Phoenix reacting to someone yelling at him offscreen — flow dreamily alongside Doc as Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) narrates his thoughts, which all revolve around his sense that the party that was the freewheeling ‘60s is moving on, echoing the mournful tone that some critics noted in their initial reviews of Vice. Then, halfway through the trailer, it returns to the scene that closes the theatrical cut, with Doc and Shasta together again in his car, navigating through the nighttime SoCal fog.
And finally, watch the nearly 6-minute long “Everything is this Dream” trailer:
But the trailer’s version of the ending departs significantly from what we saw in the film, instead keeping more in spirit with Pynchon’s novel. As The Playlist pointed out, having Shasta in the car is Anderson’s invention, and lends the movie a more romantic conclusion for its central couple. In this trailer, though, their dialogue is omitted in favor of Newsom reading the closing sentences of the book — sentences that were definitely not incorporated into the theatrical cut. Her words describe a solo Doc navigating his car home, fully prepared to just keep on driving, possibly as far away as Mexico: “Then again, he might run out of gas…and have to leave the caravan, and pull over on the shoulder, and wait. For whatever would happen. For a forgotten joint to materialize in his hand. For the CHP to come by and choose not to hassle him. For a restless blonde in a Stingray to stop and offer him a ride. For the fog to burn away, and for something else this time, somehow, to be there instead.”
This passage provides the strongest indication yet that much of what Doc experiences during the course of the movie isn’t real, but rather the ramblings of his drug-addled mind. At that point, even Shasta herself takes on a spectral presence. The trailer’s wordless closing moments find Doc sitting on a sun-dappled beach watching Shasta — or, perhaps, just a memory of her — walk along the surf before vanishing out of sight. Should this last, lingering shot prove to be Anderson’s final word on Inherent Vice, at least it’s a potent one. Because if, as the movie itself seems to argue, reality is a state of mind, than it’s only in this new coda that Doc finally finds his happy place.