Movie Review: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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Exactly eight years ago, one of America’s ‘mad’ journalists took a shotgun and blew up his head. Born Hunter Stockton Thompson, he is a man who lived by the gun and died by it. Not in the metaphorical sense of bursting into banks and robbing clients and killing them in the spree. No. He was not a felon in that literal sense but his mannerisms befitted that of a naughty social deviant beyond reproach. Not from his editors or even colleagues. He was, in fact, what Italians call menefreghista. One who does not give a fuck.

Thompson’s addiction for shooting guns and weaponry collection magnified his cantankerous demeanor in the field of New Journalism that he became a part of. Christened ‘The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight’ alongside illustrious literary journalists such as Truman Capote of ‘In Cold Blood’ and Tom Wolfe among others, Thompson was rogue from the word go. He is credited for starting Gonzo Journalism after writing piece called ‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.’

Gonzo Journalism normally lacks objectivity and is characteristic of expletives, exaggeration – and for a man like Thompson- with his entire time spent smoking and inhaling all manner of drugs known to man- first person narration ensured he indulged himself into his stories until they nearly sounded true.

Movie

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The name partly reveals what Hunter Thompson met in Las Vegas. And with the saying ‘What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas’, it is easier said than done. Thompson went ahead and wrote about ‘what happened’ in Vegas and the movie is based on his book by the same title.

The movie stars Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke suspected to be an author surrogate for Thompson and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo who are seen speeding along the Highway of Nevada desert high as the sky. Duke has an assignment to write a story about the Mint 400 motorcycle race in Las Vegas and it’s a race against time. All this while, he is intoxicated with mescaline and his altered mind, therefore, makes him see a swarm of bats eager to obstruct his view as he drives.

The trunk of their red Cadillac Convertible shows cache of different drugs meant to sustain them. Mescaline, cocaine, amphetamines and ‘a whole galaxy of…downers, screamers, laughers…. (Plus) two dozen amyls’ as narrated by Johnny Depp on the background. The ground is set for a high octane moment of two drugged beings – one tasked with writing a story for a magazine.

When Duke and Dr. Gonzo arrive at a hotel bracing for the following day’s motorcycle event, hallucinations take better of him and he now sees fellow patrons as some reptiles. Cringe! The day finally comes and Duke stands by the terraces to watch as the motorcyclists are flagged off for the race. It eventually turns dusty with the narrator doubting any conventional coverage of the event. Later, Duke’s photographer – Lacerda calls him to a vehicle from the where the latter can observe the race and take pictures. Assuming they are in a warzone (Blame it on drugs), Duke relieves Lacerda of his duties and jumps off the vehicle to chart his next course of action.

Deranged by a turbulent personality, Duke returns to the hotel and together with his partner in drugs; consume more mescaline and diethyl ether to maintain their stupor before heading to a casino. At the casino things do not turn out well because Dr. Gonzo becomes bored and they return to their room. Here Gonzo consumes a full sheet of LSD and throws himself in a bathtub mumbling and grumbling.

At one point, an introspective Duke remarks through the voice of the narrator: “One of things you learn after years of dealing with drug people is that you can turn you back on a person but never turn your back on a drug.” He departs his friend, Dr. Gonzo from the room with an excuse that he is headed to the car wash. Another haunting voice interrogates him: “What is the meaning of this trip.” He wonders if it is all about drugs frenzy or covering a story.

Duke admits later. “Clearly I was a victim of the drug explosion. A natural street freak.” After inhaling and sniffing other drugs and even blacking out and ‘resurrecting’, he is seen hunched by his typewriter typing. Trying to makes sense out of the catatonic chaos.

He later escorts his friend Dr. Gonzo to the airport this time promising him if he falls into trouble, there is always a telegram. Duke races back to the hotel to finish his story. If no drugs comes his way that is.

Shot in 1998, this movie running for almost two hours is a daring sprint on the edges of a cracked cliff of drug binge by one of America’s most celebrated rogue journalist who emulated Ernest Hemingway to the core. February being a month of love, Hunter S. Thompson is the genius junkie to proffer a flower. That is by getting ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and watching it raw.

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