DEEP FOCUS: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
When it comes to furious flix, Terry Gilliam’s 1998 fantasy-adventure-comedy based on the legendary book by the late Hunter S. Thompson, ranks up with the very best. A visually thrilling work of pop cinema that’s filled with SFX, Fear and Loathing injects us into the phantasmic mind of Thompson’s alter-ego, journalist Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) as he travels to that mecca of madness, Las Vegas (in the year of the Lord 1971) to cover the Mint 400 offroad race, as well as a police convention about the dangers of drugs.
Raoul Duke hallucinates and sees a group of bloodthirsty bats swooping above him as he and friend Dr. Gonzo drive through the desert to Las Vegas
From start to finish it’s a bizarre, off-kilter ride to the outskirts of sanity where anything can happen, and controlled substances are used as methods for seeing the world differently (and often not in an attractive way). What Duke and his pal, the brutish Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) soon discover is that their no holds barred, glorious trip to find freedom in the heart of the American Dream is all but an illusion that never was there to begin with, much like Captain America and Billy’s search in Easy Rider.
The ‘anything goes’ atmosphere of Vegas provides a perfect backdrop for the mayhem that unfolds. The laughs mainly come from Depp’s portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson. He exaggerates the swaggering physical characteristics the Dr. of Journalism had, the comedic way he talked down to the wacky reactions to the drugs he injested. Meanwhile, Del Toro’s Dr. Gonzo is like an acid dosed bull in a china shop, with his mangey mop of hair, sweat covered pot belly and snorting angry demeanor. The two are like some kind of twisted alternate version of Laurel and Hardy.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is Hunter S. Thompson’s most famous book, a sort of culmination of his views on the decline of the 60s “peace and love” era as well as a grand celebration of the use of mind altering chemicals, which he proudly described in detail as he and his friend, lawyer Oscar Zeta Acosta (aka Dr. Gonzo) spent time in Vegas. The way Thompson injected himself into the things he was writing about later became known as the form known as “Gonzo”. It was a new type of post-modern journalism and would place him in the same prestigious company as literary figures such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner. Thompson remains one of those unique, crazy characters in American history that will only come along once. A person who lived life on the edge and inspired people from all over the world to “buy the ticket and take the ride”.