aleph null [more like aleph lull]’s review published on Letterboxd :
pynchon's my favourite living novelist; newsom's my favourite living musical artist; anderson's (sometimes) my favourite living filmmaker. this was ridiculously fun and funny, as i’d dearly hoped, and not nearly so hard-to-follow as i was scared. and just like shasta, it’s ‘laying some heavy combination of face ingredients’—it’s not tonally inconsistent, it’s thrillingly richly textured, and that bodes well for future viewings. but onto actual readings.
it’s foucault upon foucault: everything good and bright and colourful in the 60s is now twisted to serve j edgar & tricky dicky. everything counterculture’s gobbled by culture. sometimes that subsumption takes the form of cointelpro’s provocateur hellspawn. sometimes it’s disgustingly wealthy property developers making women like shasta respectable, ‘looking just like she swore she’d never look’. and of course, just as in madness and civilisation, sometimes it’s care for mental health perverted into a deeply unhealthy panopticon cult, sampling eastern religions to appear happy and hippie, then kicking those happy hippies through anti-communist disinfo programs. ‘it’s not groovy to be insane’, huh? well, now, it’s insane to be groovy, because sanity’s in the hands of the man.
but most often, both in the film and in real life, power solidifies itself through desecratory appropriation, whether the nazification of the swastika, the gentrification of historically black l.a. suburbs, or (tellingly, in the penultimate scene, which kinda sucks ‘cuz it’s not nearly on the same level as the rest, but at least it’s personal for doc) detective bigfoot bjornsen's attempts to sample doc's precious weed. bigfoot’s sampling is essentially uncool, turns weed from a tool of counterculture to a tool of civilisation (one he has no idea how to use, but still, he's sullied what was heretofore the realm of doc & co). unwittingly, he reveals his vulnerability, his need to try to reach out, to have a keeper. but he doesn’t know how to do that beyond breaking down doors, doors people have in place for very good reason. he has to travel by paving stones, and as he moves, he covers up the beach.
which is an optimistic way of thinking about it, you know? after all, this is 1970, man. the timing’s eschatological. no, not as in the end of the world, but the end of a world? sure. that gag about the book of revelation and proliferation of cults is more than just era flavour: it’s the end of the world as doc knows it. no, you know, there’s even something more absolute: the doomsday clock may be relatively distant at ten minutes to midnight, but no number that low’s going to make you feel safe from mutually assured destruction. especially when your love and trust and shows all summer either dies down or is subsumed into some great horrific ‘machine for making more machines’ (bottomley), and you’re white-knuckling the defibrillators on your dying—dead, now!—decade like college freshers headed back to their hometown, desperate to recapture the magic of that last summer before they had to deal with this great wide grey illimitable world. well, that world is dying. the world is dying. and more particularly, your world is dying. the soundtrack to your life simmers with oppressive druggy menace. anyone you meet might have sold out the 60s dream. no more love. no more trust. you just have to put on a show for the feds. no wonder there's a confederacy of dentists chomp-chomping away at the edge of the plot; the film’s melancholy texture is castration anxiety, the terror of irrevocable loss to inherent vice. never getting the good times back. there’s entropy that can’t be extricated from your system, no matter how countercultural. against that backdrop, the idea that the beach is only covered up? seems hardly near so likely as all the sand burning back into stone, resisting your bare foot, hard, unyielding, not to be sand again until long, long, long after you’re dead, and maybe the entire human race, too.
but, you know, if that hope hasn’t disappeared forever, if it’s still somewhere down there, if your buddy who turned cointelpro can be saved and rehabilitated, if shasta can wear those floral print bikini bottoms again, and yes, under the paving stones, the beach!, well, then there’s hope, and hey, doc? shasta? i think you might be able to get back together after all. so long as sortilège exists, in whatever spooky capacity she possesses, and gosh, i mean, she narrates your story, and knows things about you, and even gives you hints; don’t you think she’s kind of the author of your universe? well, hey, so long as she exists, there’s hope for you. i know you don’t want to jinx that hope by telling each other, and i know you’re looking forward as we look back at you, so, technically, we shouldn’t know this. but, doc, shasta—that don’t necessarily mean you ain’t gettin’ back together.