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Why I’m Not Watching the ‘Inherent Vice’ Trailer

Why I'm Not Watching the 'Inherent Vice' Trailer

Critics are calling Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” “a masterpiece.” Slate raves: “After the towering one-man dramas of ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘The Master,’ Anderson has returned to the sprawling, Altmanesque style and Southern California setting of early work like ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘Magnolia’!” “Beautiful and funny and rich and weird!” says Badass Digest. “‘The Big Lebowski’ meets ‘American Hustle,’ with a sprinkle of Omar from ‘The Wire’!” adds Uproxx.

Whoops, sorry. Those are the reactions to the trailer for “Inherent Vice,” which is by nearly every account a two-minute tour de force on a par with a postage-stamp replica of Picasso’s “Guernica.” Right, folks?

I get that people are excited for “Inherent Vice,” the product of what would have seemed like an impossible pairing between Paul Thomas Anderson and Thomas Pynchon. I’ve seen comparisons to “Southland Tales” and “Airplane!” float through my Twitter feed, and since I prefer the nutbar PTA of “Boogie Nights” and “Punch Drunk Love” to the magisterial PTA of “There Will Be Blood” and “The Master,” my already sharp interest has been further piqued. But I’m not watching the trailer, and, in the internet parlance of the day, Here’s why:

Trailers are commercials. Some of them are very good commercials, overseen and even crafted by the filmmakers themselves. But they’re still advertisements for products that, in many cases, I already know I’m going to consume. The chances of my seeing “Inherent Vice” would be no less if the trailer were a godawful mishmash of disparate tones than if were a miniature masterpiece that bathed my synapses in liquid fire. Why on Earth would I watch it when the decision has already been made?

Trailers ruin movies. Or, if “ruin” is too strong a word, they lessen the experience of watching them, the way it would if some blabbermouth friend told you a film’s plot in advance. Some trailers are more subtle about it than others, but even the best pull enticing moments out of their original context and serve them up in an appealing stew. If the trailer is a good one — by which I mean one that successfully stokes your desire to see a movie — those moments remain lodged in the back of your mind, and you can’t help but anticipate them. It’s worst with suspense-driven movies, where the most incidental bits of knowledge can put you ahead of the game — “He hasn’t gone down to the basement yet, so I know he can’t die in this scene” — and in horror movies, where studios ruin sublime shocks by revealing them in advance. I was horrified to learn that “The Conjuring’s” “hide and clap” sequence, one of my favorites of the year, had been spoiled by the film’s trailer — and retroactively grateful I’d never been tempted to watch it. The best-case scenario is that a trailer doesn’t have a negative impact, but why take the risk?

If people want to watch trailers, more power to them: It’s a free country, etc. But except in rare cases, like when I’m trying to figure out which of two movies by unknown directors to see in an open film-festival slot, I don’t. (I also skip the flap copy on hardback books — or did, back when I still bought them — and fast-forward through the “Next Week On…” scenes at the end of TV shows, unless it’s a show where I’m not that invested in what happens next. I know this is weird.) With trailers come judgements, and those judgements start to coalesce into a narrative that, to revise an old saying, can be halfway around the world before the movie gets its pants on. Remember when the first trailer for “The Wolf of Wall Street” dropped, and everyone agreed the movie looked like one of Scorsese’s worst? Yeah.

Of course the trailer for “Inherent Vice” makes the movie look appealing: That’s what trailers are supposed to do. (“BREAKING: Commercial successfully sells product.”) Sometimes, as with “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the process involves highlighting the movie’s most marketable elements at the expense of accuracy. (My all-time favorite is the trailer for Steven Soderbergh’s “Solaris,” which included the line “Sometimes love is so strong, it opens a passageway to a place where anything can happen.”) But even if they’re on point, trailers eat away at the element of surprise, disrupting the careful construction by which a movie reveals itself — not just in terms of plot, but of tone. No great movie is ruined by knowing too much in advance — A Trivial Pursuit card gave away the endings of “Psycho” and “Citizen Kane” years before I saw them, and it doesn’t prevent me from esteeming them both — but you only get one shot at viewing them with no preconceptions, and I’ll take that shot every chance I can. 

Every once in a while, a movie studio will play its cards close to the vest, the way Disney-Pixar sold “Brave” as an adventure story about a rebellious princess finding her own way in the world and left out the bit where her mother turns into a bear. But with pre-release campaigns lastings months — and, in the case of franchise installments, sometimes years — and opening weekends more important than ever, there’s no sense leaving anything in the tank.

As I said, it’s purely a matter of personal preference, if one into which I’ve probably put way too much thought. If you want to watch the trailer for “Inherent Vice,” it’s right here. Go ahead. I won’t judge.

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John Gotti at Sparks

After having seen INHERENT VICE at NYFF I would mostly have to agree with this article. The trailer pumps you up for an amazing PTA version of a Big Lebowski caper but the reality of this film is absymal. It is the worst PTA film ever. It has it’s moments (sold in the trailer) but on the whole it is a giant disappointing mess. Almost unwatchable despite a fun, kinetic trailer. Disappointing. I don’t know how PTA is going to come back from this one…

Marc Schenker

Miss Alice, that was lovely. Don’t you love reading these miscreants?

Marc Schenker

As usual, here’s another Indiewire critic be crying something else everyone already has: the movie trailer that tells the whole movie. Apparently you haven’t gotten it yet that when you see such a trailer, you put it in Netflix queue, where you will probably see it in Instant. This trailer was done by Anderson and it is nothing of the kind. It simply makes you: smoke that joint, preferably with a Baby Boomer and get there early to get a good seat. Okay?

Sam Adams

@Dan: No. Don’t know when I’m seeing it, but not today.


Did you not watch the trailer because you were seeing it a few days later at the NYFF?


Is a film worse the second time around? Films are more than their narratives.

Lynn Redgrave

It’s long winded, self righteous articles like this that make lose hope for humanity.


Read into things a little too much? I just want to get a glimpse of the movie I’ve been hearing about for the past 2 years. Now that I’ve seen the trailer, I’m getting hyped for the real deal, not because of how the trailer was "crafted to sell to me" but because the shots and sound design and performances remind me of the amazing worlds that PT Anderson has brought me into before, and I can’t wait to get back there.


how out of place is the sam cooke track?

Sanker from India

Totally agree with you. I’m like that too about movies, tv shows and the back of a book. It was funny to see a trailer for the master(after I watched the movie), that it had scenes that were not even in the final film!

Sam Adams, you monster in human skin you!

Poor dear… and you’ve only had 116 weeks to get around to watching "Brave," too. Pssst, Eddy– Norman killed Mrs. Bates.


"Remember when the first trailer for "The Wolf of Wall Street" dropped, and everyone agreed the movie looked like one of Scorsese’s worst? Yeah."

As Matt said above, no, no I don’t remember that.


What, exactly, is Sam Adams’ point? That we should only use trailers if we’re REALLY UNCERTAIN about seeing a movie? That we should not get ourselves excited in advance at the risk of disappointing ourselves? We should avoid trailers so that we don’t anticipate certain moments cut into them? To me, this seems like Spoiler Culture run amok, to the nth degree. Forget about not knowing details of the plot–and by all accounts the plot in INHERENT VICE is quite loose–of a film, Adams says we should know NOTHING–about tone, composition, style, etc., and be practice cinematic abstinence so we’re virgins, pure and ignorant, going into a film for the first time. Well, that’s all well and good, and yes, the times when I’ve known nothing at ALL about a movie and been blown away by it have been fun, but, goddamn it, what’s wrong with getting EXCITED? What’s wrong with looking forward to something? I flipped the first time I watched the INHERENT VICE trailer and so did everyone else I know who watched it. PTA is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, and I’ve been waiting for this since it was announced, and the trailer just got me even more excited for it, and I can’t wait. And no, watching the trailer won’t make me endlessly anticipate certain moments from it. I am not familiar with Adams’ work, but he seems dour and more inclined to mourn his love of film while the rest of us celebrate ours.

Eddy Q

I mostly agree with you, but it was rather hypocritical of you to include a massive spoiler of Brave, a film I have not yet seen, in an essay about ruining movies.


Did you get your medal yet?


‘Remember when the first trailer for "The Wolf of Wall Street" dropped, and everyone agreed the movie looked like one of Scorsese’s worst?’

er, not really?

miss alice

Where’s the #sh!tfilmsnobssay hashtag?

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