I can’t be the only person who’s finished Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas wondering, “What the heck did I just watch?”
Adapted from Hunter S. Thompsons’s semi-autobiographical novel, this film follows Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp), a fictionalized version of Thompson, himself, and his attorney Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) as they drive across the Mojave Desert on route to Las Vegas, where Duke is assigned to write an article on a motorcycle race. The two men experiment with every type of drug you can think of, but almost always partake in the hallucinogen variety. We mostly see the world through their perspectives while on these drugs, though at time we’re not sure what’s real or fake.
The premise is simple, causing us to over think the plot and try to piece things together. I eventually realized there is basically no plot and the film’s purpose is to submerge us into the drug scene of 1971. With Depp narrating the entire movie, it appears to take passages from Thompson’s book verbatim.
Depp as Duke reminds us of some version of his Captain Jack Sparrow character, but with less makeup and surprisingly more mumbling. We literally can’t understand most of what he says. Not that it would matter much anyway.
Fear and Loathing acts as some sort of social commentary of the Vietnam Era and the loss of the American Dream. But the characters are so subdued the entire time that we honestly don’t know why they’re so reckless and self-destructive–just that they are.
Del Toro and Depp’s hijinks are entertaining at times, but we’re never invested in their characters. Nor do they ever become enlightened, despite the mind-opening drugs they take or what the filmmakers want you to believe.
There were moments in the movie I thought maybe the acid trips and nonsensical self-aggrandized pontifications were behind me.
At one point Depp sobers up, and so does the film. And for a short amount of time there’s coherency. This lasts for about 20 minutes and it’s actually enjoyable. Then we dive back into the hallucinations. For those 20 minutes I was engaged in the story–or, I suppose, what was masking as one. But the more I think about it, having a brief span of sanity amidst the chaos surrounding it only creates an inconsistency in the experimental work of art unfolding before us.
Despite the cacophonous story, there are some humorous moments of drunken antics and stunning visuals. What makes this movie somewhat appealing is the surreal imagery created by the hallucinations of the characters set in a world that’s a real life hallucination in itself–Las Vegas.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is filled with self-importance without self-reflection. Characters who supposedly lament what’s wrong with our society and our world, but never realize that they’re contributing to the problem. Or perhaps, maybe they are the problem in some way. Depp spews out all these psycho-analyzations, which are ultimately hollow. Like I said, no real self-reflection. Only pretenses of it.