Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – The Art of Pointlessness

In terms of marketing and box office, Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” failed. On the other hand, it became a cult classic thanks to the success of DVD sales. When this movie cames out, everybody, especially critics, hates it. Roger Ebert called this movie as “a horrible mess of a movie, without shape, trajectory or purpose”. However, I always wondered why the Criterion Collection gave a pass with this one. Because if there wasn’t this film, maybe, I can’t watch “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Inherent Vice” anymore. Other than that, the movie inspired many psychedelic films and drugs-theme. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Hunter S. Thompson where readers always call the book a “gonzo journalism”. It’s another sub-genre after Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” redefines the genre of journalists.

Both the book and the movie are insane and bizarre. It’s a story about Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, a journalist. With his friend Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo, a magazine assigns them to go to Las Vegas. At there, they had to inquire about a desert race, Mint 400. Duke and Gonzo took advantage of the trip from magazine fees to buy a lot of drugs. Plus, they borrowed a Cadillac Eldorado Convertible. The company finances everything including their hotel rooms and the rest is a historical record.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is an absurd, absurd, absurd movie. Terry Gilliam didn’t tell anything in this film. It’s a hard movie to watch not because is just nothing, mindblowing story, a monotonous yet repetitive plot. It’s just because the cinematography captures how realistic the protagonist situation is. Instead of using drugs, the movie injects you in the beginning quickly yet slowly takes you around Las Vegas uniquely. Similarly, “A Clockwork Orange” takes you into the bizarre future into the perspective of Alex DeLarge. In this movie, Johnny Deep, the pirate, narrates from beginning to end.

This movie isn’t captivating to the story and not captivating to any aspect. It’s so enthralling to the feelings and visions of the viewers. Nothing is absurd when you are in the shade of drugs while flying in the sky. Both in terms of story and character, this movie is nevertheless unclear. But, there is a magical touch. It touched me so much from bottom to top. Gene Siskel said that Gilliam managed to translate the theme of the novel into a visual. Las Vegas, a suitable place where vulgarity, greed, human lust, and others unite. It’s like a messy joke, other than unclear, this film was nothing.

I said that the movie is nothing because nothing else can be obtained. However, the movie is more than that when talking about the American Dream. Especially if the movie sets in a post-Vietnam war. Hippie, politics, and the anti-war community still on top of the world. Richard Nixon’s propaganda is everywhere as well. Johnny Deep’s Raoul is a flamboyant yet outrageous journalist. He spits a lot of comments about politics as a game and stands up comedy for politicians. In one of the scenes, there is a seminar on drugs where everything is just becoming a circus; probably because the movie also has settings in the circus.

For Thompson, Las Vegas is a dark side of the United States. Johnny Depp’s character also said that Nixon is a dark side of the American dream. Everything becomes a joke even drugs and Vietnam war is nothing but political games. But, the movie has a subtle desolation about American dreams too. Whenever the protagonist becomes a benchmark in a narrow space, it blurred out into a simulation. He is a brilliant journalist not because of how he walks like a zombie, as well as Del Toro’s Dr. Gonzo. But, it’s about how they feel feared and loathing on its own. They just move from one place to another, one casino to another casino, without any purpose, benefits, etc. Likewise, Nixon’s speech about promising America to never again attack Vietnam. It’s just nothing or in other words, it’s nonsense.

One other thing about this film: is Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro really on high when filming this movie? I’m also curious about Nicola Pecorini, the cinematography, as a person yet he nailed this movie while smoking on weed. Apart from our pirates and garbage collectors, a few cameos shown up yet I never expected them. There is Tobey Maguire and even Cameron Diaz. Visually, this movie isn’t quite a disaster or messy. I love how the color and the illustration of how a person is in drug control. On the other hand, I also admit that the designs are quite disastrous like reptile imagery. There is the pedestrian face as you usually find in some filters.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” has a pointlessness where everything blurred out into dazzle and confused, free your mind. In other aspects, this movie is an utter mess. It’s a movie without a purpose, a bizarre take one. Yet, it intended to be pointless and non-sense in other words. It’s a social commentary about American dreams. It’s about the true dark side of a Bat Country and the dark side of humanity; hypnotic in every essence, strange, weird, confused, and anything. This is where the movie as its point. It makes sense when everything becomes logical; when Depp and Del Toro become zombies, you keep running everywhere. This movie wandering in each place and course, in your mind.

5 out of 5 stars.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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