"The Ugliness of Drug Abuse"
Bizarre filmmaker Terry Gilliam captures FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, a 1971 novel by Hunter S. Thompson, with colorful mind-numbing antics and excessive drug use. Raoul Duke and his attorney go to Las Vegas to cover a sports story, but instead experience one drug trip after another. Filled with disturbing images, an overabundance of pseudo-literary narration and a plotless series of mind numbing antics, this movie is literally a techno-colored 90-minute drug trip, showing all the disgusting dehumanizing effects of substance abuse.
“He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” ( Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784).
Perhaps the most bizarre filmmaker today, other than Tim Burton, is former Monty Python member Terry Gilliam, who has brought us 12 MONKEYS, THE FISHER KING, TIME BANDITS, and the surreal BRAZIL. He brings his love of the odd and crazy to a 1971 novel by Hunter S. Thompson, FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS. Filled with disturbing images, an overabundance of pseudo-literary narration and a plotless series of mind numbing antics, this movie is literally a techno-colored 90-minute drug trip, showing all the disgusting dehumanizing effects of substance abuse.
The razor-thin story is this: Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) has been sent on assignment as a journalist to cover an off-road race called the Mint 400 in Las Vegas. Hitting the road in a red convertible dubbed “The Red Shark,” Raoul takes Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), his jurist sans prudence, and a trunkful of mind-bending pharmaceuticals. Along the way, they pick up a young hitchhiker (Tobey Maguire), who instantly becomes afraid of this insane duo. The hitchhiker makes his exit as soon as possible. While driving, they take several drugs including alcohol. Raoul has the first of many hallucinations believing that the desert is filled with attacking bats.
Arriving in Las Vegas, they park the car in the bushes and instantly head for the bar. There, Raoul has a second hallucination believing that all the patrons are lizards who are eating one another. Eventually, they make their way to the race, but the air is so filled with dust that Raoul can hardly work. Instead, he goes to a makeshift bar, drinks a sandy beer, chats with a few cameo role characters (Mark Harmon), and then goes back to the hotel for more drugs. Meanwhile, Dr. Gonzo is loading up on drugs in a bathtub filled with dirty water. Various other cameo roles occur representing other hotel guests including Cameron Diaz, Lyle Lovett and Christina Ricci as a young girl who paints portraits of Barbra Streisand. Raoul tries to leave Las Vegas, but Dr. Gonzo states, “As your attorney, I advise you to return to Las Vegas and check into a hotel.” Raoul does, realizing but not caring that he has to pay for all the exorbitant expenses including room service and more. He meets his attorney for more drug taking.
If TRAINSPOTTING demonstrated the horrors of heroin use in the grays and browns of industrial England, then FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is in vivid color. Indeed, the lights and activity of Las Vegas only further enhance the spiraling, maddening lifestyle that these two anti-heroes display while falling far short of the American dream. Drug use is rampant, confusion is rampant and the title says it all. Raoul and Dr. Gonzo are afraid of life and loath it at the same time, and so numb themselves by drugs. The audience sees all the disgusting effects including self-abuse, vomiting, memory loss, disregard for others, and insanity. It is not a pretty picture, and it is definitely not pro-drug.
The horrifying and shameful aspect of the story is that this debauchery is played for laughs. Raoul and Dr. Gonzo are Cheech and Chong, turned all the way up till they blow out. But, drug abuse by all means is not funny.
This movie earned two stars instead of one for the hard work by the two leads and the art direction which is filed with color and accurately depicts the early 1970s. It has no plot and the biggest irony of all is the very literate and intelligent narration which occurred during the worst mind-altering drug trips. Anyone who has seen someone high on drugs knows that intelligibility and the ability to articulate vanishes. The use of many cameos also became a game, and in fact, was the only way to get through this horrible movie. “Oh, let’s spot Debbie Reynolds; look there is Harry Dean Stanton.” By including all these guest stars, Gilliam took the viewer out of his world and gave the viewer a sport. Finally, though nothing really made sense in the story, a few words and actions by the cameos simply appeared unmotivated by reason. Gary Busey as a highway patrolman asks Raoul for a kiss. Why? It didn’t make any sense.
FEAR AND LOATHING has not received good reviews from the secular press. It seems that even those who may appreciate the depravity of the late 20th Century find this story unpalatable and loathsome. Though perhaps appreciated by some fans of the book, this movie will be largely by-passed by most of America. While striving to demonstrate the collapse of the American dream, it becomes a jumbled, unwatchable mess.
(PaPaPa, LLL, VV, S, N, AA, DDD, MM) Extreme pagan worldview featuring extensive drug taking; 81 obscenities & 35 profanities; moderate violence including implied car accident, beating, threats with knife, & self-injury by drug abuse; sexual innuendo, crude sexual references, reading pornography, & implied pedophilia; upper male nudity; alcohol use & abuse; smoking & extreme drug abuse; and miscellaneous immorality including disregard for law, not paying for hotel room, speeding, & gross vomit scene.