An In-Depp Review of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Written for Video Rat Blog
This 1998 weird, surreal dark comedy/road movie, based on Hunter S. Thompson's 1971 novel, finds Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) taking off in search of the American Dream; which, in their minds, lies somewhere in Las Vegas. Directed by Terry Gilliam, himself no stranger to delving into the strange, such as he did in such cult classics as "Brazil, and "12 Monkeys."
The majority of viewers will generally fall into two groups: 1) People who hate this movie due to its glorification of drug use; and 2) People who love it for the very same reason. Both perhaps miss the point. Rather than being about the drugs, this movie examines the internal struggle one faces in their pursuit of that legendary slice of happiness, The American Dream.
There exists a world one finds in only the early hours of the morning...usually around 3am. Into this eerie, dark world, some stumble by accident, yet others dare to visit, deliberately. Despite the bustle of this underbelly, there a stillness hangs in the dark air. We cross into a realm of Lynchian surrealism. The people you find here, you will only ever find here. By daytime, some of these folks might exist as someone else, but I swear to you, most of them only live here. In this world, Duke and Dr. Gonzo search for the incantations that conjure the American Dream. And the drugs? They function as the keys to unlocking this netherworld, with its requisite superficial strangeness.
The pursuit of the American Dream seemingly proves fruitless. The night world, seemingly endless, only once, and briefly, gives way to daybreak during the intermission of Duke's search. Then, both worlds blend together, his time in Vegas as a sort-of Purgatory. An oppressive sense of helplessness ultimately gives way to the inescapable marriage of fear and loathing. A marriage most of us have surrendered custody of ourselves to, at one point or another, and perhaps, we return, from time to time. Hunter Thompson captures this perfectly, and frequently, in his works. This movie taps into that emotion wonderfully.
Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing" brings the novel to life in glorious, colorful depravity. This is a rare instance where I find a movie adaptation superior to the book. Most likely due to the Thompson's over-the-top literary imagery, one may better appreciate seeing it fleshed out in a more visual medium. Additionally, I found the movie's ending more satisfying than that of the book. Depp's final monologue gives the viewer a sense of accomplishment. Perhaps the American Dream isn't so much a slice of happiness, but, rather, the liberty to pursue it.
Did I Like The Movie? Yes, very much so! The surreal imagery, vividly capturing of the 3am world, coupled with brilliant performances from not just Depp and del Toro, but the entire cast, make this a great film for fans of David Lynch, road trip movies, existentialist philosophy, and those who like their comedies dark.
Similar Titles "The Rum Diary", 2011; "Two-Lane Black Top", 1971; "Easy Rider", 1969; "Eraserhead", 1977; "Office Space", 1999
< back to writing