In many ways, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, which expands nationwide Friday after its limited release last month, is one of a kind. But it is also the latest in a long line of movies I call “slacker noir,” in which a slacker protagonist is dropped into a narrative lifted from classic detective fiction. The Big Lebowski is the most famous example—so famous, in fact, that it arguably obscures the larger trend: Many stoner comedies involve dropouts pushed into into mystery plots, criminal conspiracies, and other elaborate investigative quests.
The twist that this set-up offers is that these protagonists generally want to extricate themselves from the plot at hand, rather than get to the bottom of it—and yet their wish to remove themselves from the action drags them deeper into intrigue. How do you build a character who is defined by the absence of desire? And what do stoner comedies have in common with noir detective movies? I try to solve these mysteries in the video below.