Film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Director: Terry Gilliam
Year Released: 1998
Cast: Johnny Depp, Benicio del Toro, Tobey Maguire
Available on Netflix Streaming: Yes
Available on Cuevana: Yes
Dr. Gonzo: Let’s give that boy a lift…
Raoul Duke: What? No! We can’t stop here. This is bat country!
Yes indeed, it seems the drugs have started to take hold. On many more than one occasion, Raoul Duke, portrayed by Johnny Depp, spits out some outlandish, absurd and frenzied comment on the current state of affairs, like the one quoted above. In effect, this film does not have a conventional beginning, middle and end; instead relying on highlighting the “now” and what state of mind the characters find themselves in at each moment. There is no real plan for these two. Therefore, its unconventional nature makes it somewhat difficult to review. Difficult but not impossible. The film essentially tells the story of two men searching for the American Dream, as they head to Las Vegas to cover a story and get lost in their insane world of psychedelic drugs.
Starting off with our two “heroes” is probably the best starting point. Johnny Depp plays the particular oddity known as Raoul Duke, a Doctor of Journalism, whose eccentric behavior is nicely complemented by the terrifying fierceness and smothering attitude of Benicio Del Toro’s character, Dr. Gonzo, Duke’s attorney and drug buddy. These two characters represent the entire soul of the film. They make it what it is by infusing such overwhelming greed, gluttony and excess into each and every moment of the film. The first instinctual reaction is to be disgusted. However, take a closer look and one can see how Gilliam uses his characters to lampoon the American mindset and lifestyle. They are creatures of desire and not necessity. Their drug-filled adventures escalate further and further to multiple breaking points where one would imagine everything would collapse, and reason would win over the duo. Not the case for these two. In America, if things don’t turn out right doing it one way, we don’t change what we’re doing; we just keep doing what we’re doing until it becomes right.
Such is the essence of this film. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle of the numerous drugs, visuals and references that the film contains. At first glance, it may seem like nothing more than a pointless meandering on the lives of two drug-crazed individuals reaching the apex of depravity. However, at each turn, the film relays hidden messages. The endless possibilities in this country, personal freedom (and the loss thereof), rejection of conventional responsibilities as well as the meaning of the American Dream, in relation to the generation born out of the 60’s and 70’s, are all subtly explored by Thompson and placed on screen by Gilliam.
Raoul Duke narrates much of the film, ruminating on this experience with his attorney. His insights are mad, thoughtful, nonsensical and damn chock full of wit. His extremely deep reflection on the drug culture of the 60’s (particularly San Francisco) evokes such a nostalgic and regretful quality. The end monologue by Duke truly brings the entire theme and significance of the film together. The viewer realizes exactly who these two characters are and the context behind all the action in the film. It’s quite incredible.
Terry Gilliam has always had an extremely unique visual style and vision. It is no different here. Fear and Loathing constantly makes you feel like you are tripping right alongside Duke and Gonzo. The subtle change of colors, the onscreen shifting of objects, and the frequent off-center “canted” shots give an off-balance and unhinged characteristic to the film. The viewer can feel the inner tension of Duke and Gonzo, their anxiety, their zany view and perception of the world around them.
In addition, the music adds an additional layer to this visceral experience. It offers the sort of old-time tunes you would expect from 70’s Vegas but it still manages to retain this sense of frenzy and panic. For example, in the beginning where Brewer & Shipley’s One Toke Over the Line plays is just fantastic and truly builds the atmosphere and mystique of the two characters. White Rabbit has a tremendous significance in the film and that song is just awesome. Like I stated in the film intro post, the soundtrack is quite eclectic and despite what you may think of the film, it is hard to say that the soundtrack is not amazing. The drug score is just an incredible recurring track that gives those scenes a very out of world feeling. Simply put, this soundtrack captures the vibe and essence of old time Vegas beautifully.
People see this film for what it shows but rarely can they see it for what it signifies: the lost search for the American Dream, a lost generation, a lost sense of purpose. The journey of these two men dives straight to the center of those notions. They themselves are lost and are searching. It takes a little searching yourself to see it. If you come in with an open mind, you will most likely find yourself in love with the characters that move this story forward. They are despicable yet they are amusing. They are clueless yet indeterminably clever. All these contradictions establish a hysteria of interwoven, conflicting emotions and sentiments that come with doing multiple drugs at once. Regardless, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo remain two of the most memorable onscreen characters of all time, and their antics reflect their completely uncertain future, leaving Las Vegas on a straight road, yet lost and astray. Next stop: The American Dream.
Now some of the great music from the movie:
A lot of the songs contain lines from the movie on the soundtrack. Also some have footage from the movie as well.
The whole soundtrack is really amazing! Give it a watch and listen!