What’s Behind the Adventures of Two Addicts
Terry Gilliam’s film belongs to those works, the true meaning of which begins to be understood only after some time. Now it is strange to remember that in 1998 “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” failed at the box office, that the film was considered another “black” comedy about drug addicts. Today, no one doubts that Gilliam has turned out to be a masterpiece, and that the film’s cult status is due not only to the brilliant performance of D. Depp and B. del Toro, but also to its deep meaning.
Which book served as the literary basis for the film?
Gilliam’s film is based on the novel of the sixties, journalist and former drug addict Hunter Thompson “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A Wild Journey to the Heart of the American Dream ”(1971) and very accurately reproduces almost all the incidents described in it.
It is curious that the novel is based on true events, and the main characters – journalist Raul Duke and his friend, lawyer Gonzo – Thompson copied himself and his friend Oscar Zeta Acosta, a Mexican by nationality. Thompson managed to get rid of his drug addiction, wrote several books and shot himself in 2005 at the age of 67. Acosta went missing in 1974.
What role do drugs play in the film?
Almost from the first frame to the last, the characters of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” either use drugs, or talk about them, or move away from the consequences of their use. But it would be strange to consider Gilliam’s masterpiece as a visual aid on different types of drugs or a warning propaganda in the spirit of the “Say no to drugs!” Posters. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is not a film about mind-altering drugs, although at first it may seem different.
The theme of drugs in the film can be viewed from three aspects. Firstly, it is a sign of the times, such a striking feature of the 1960s and early 1970s that it was difficult to do without it when talking about that era. Secondly, it is a metaphor. It is no coincidence that the film constantly reminds of the Vietnam War: the US government, getting involved in this war, was just as intoxicated by the greatness and role of a superpower as Duke and Gonzo were – with mescaline, ether and everything they took. And just as any narcotic euphoria ends with a painful awakening, the warlike frenzy ended in defeat and crisis.
But the deepest level of the drug theme is connected with the main idea of the film, namely, an attempt to understand what was behind the youth rebellion of the 1960s, behind the flourishing of rock and subcultures.
What’s the point of the movie?
A lot has been filmed about the turbulent 1960s, but Gilliam, as always, demonstrates an original and deep understanding of the problem. Key to the director’s point of view is Luke’s final reflections on the essence of the 1960s subculture as seeking to find someone or something to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is not just about disillusionment with government policy or American society: the first item on the agenda was a spiritual, existential crisis associated with the loss of the meaning of life. And here one cannot but recall Dostoevsky, so beloved by Gilliam, who at one time astutely noticed that life without faith (read – without goals and ideals) loses its meaning, and when there is no God, then everything is allowed.
All countercultural movements of the 1960s were engaged in the search for ideals, goals and the meaning of being. Someone suggested making war, not love; someone went to Indian ashrams for exotic wisdom; and someone, like the heroes of the film, took the path of expanding consciousness with the help of substances. But taking drugs was not an end in itself, but only a way of gaining spiritual freedom, complete emancipation in a world where instead of icons there are portraits of movie stars.
What is the meaning of the images of Gonzo and Luke?
The adventures of the main characters of the film serve as an excellent illustration of how that absolute freedom turns in reality when everything is allowed. At the same time, Gilliam happily escaped primitive edification: if in the finale the intoxicated friends were arrested and imprisoned, the philosophical component of the film would have been reduced to zero. But the scary cops hunting for Luke and Gonzo exist only in their minds, in reality everything is prosaic: no one needs them, no one pursues them, they create all the problems for themselves.
At the beginning of the film, both heroes – for all their originality – evoke some sympathy, and their adventures are funny laughter. But the further, the weaker the sympathy becomes and the stronger – disgusting bewilderment. And if the episode with the maid Alice can still be viewed as a stupid joke, then the scene with the insult and intimidation of the defenseless waitress in the cafe is deeply disgusting and speaks of the complete degradation of Gonzo (and of Luke too).
However, the point is not fear and hatred: Gilliam clearly shows that the absolute freedom, which the informals of the 1960s so dreamed of, leads not even into an abyss, but into a dead end.
Why does Luke walk around with a rubber tail?
Coming to his senses after taking adrenochrome, Luke is not clear how he gets a rubber tail of a reptile. This is not just a funny detail: the tail is a sign of atavism, a rollback, immersion in the primitive element of chaos. This element is even more emphasized by the water that filled the room. In other words, experiments on expanding consciousness sooner or later return a person to the level of a prehistoric being.
What’s the point of racing?
The Mint 400 race, which Luke is supposed to report on, is a symbolic image of the race for success, the very “rat race” that was so criticized by the counterculture of the 1960s. Another ironically interpreted image is “The Great American Dream”. It is symbolized by the American flag, which the heroes carry with them and which in the end looks like a rag.
What is the meaning of the names Gonzo, Lucy and Alice?
Gilliam’s film is literally packed with allusions, reminiscences and hidden quotes, and the names of the characters are no exception. “Gonzo” is translated from English as “crazy”, “crazy”. You can remember the so-called. “Gonzo journalism”: sarcastic and highly subjective reporting, often written on behalf of freaks in the spirit of absurdity (by the way, Thompson is the godfather of gonzo journalism). Lucy’s name refers to Lennon’s cult song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Many perceived the title of the song as an encrypted reference to the drug LSD, although Lennon himself categorically rejected such an interpretation. Well, Alice is Alice, who ended up not in a magical land, but in the number of two drug addicts, not inferior to a magical land in surrealism.
“Fear and Loathing …” is not the first appeal of filmmakers to Thompson’s prose: in 1980, the film “Where the Buffalo Roam” was made based on his novels; in 1995 – the film “Better than Sex”; in 2011 – “The Rum Diary”, and in the last film the main role is again played by D. Depp.
In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the viewer sees Thompson at the Matrix Club, where he exclaims: “It was me … Mother of God! It is me!”. The writer not only starred in the episode, but also actively helped Johnny Depp get into the role – to the extent that he shaved his head with his own hand.