A "wild outlaw with a pen," the rules were definitely not made for Hunter Thompson (the "rules are not for me" attitude, symptomatic of early- to middle-stage alcohol and other-drug addiction, is fully described in my book, "How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics: Using Behavioral Clues to Recognize Addiction in its Early Stages"). His 1971 semi-autobiographical story "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," the book on which this movie was based, was proclaimed a masterpiece of "New Journalism." Yet, it portrayed drug-addled brains and outrageously destructive behaviors which, while not quite glorified, were not deeply criticized. In classic alcoholic style, he was termed eccentric and a "cult" figure, while sharing his nihilist views that life is absurd and the world has no meaning. He was successful because he put his feelings to paper apparently succinctly at a time when so many others of his ilk in the '70s who couldn't write held the same vacuous beliefs. He wrote nonsense very well indeed, reportedly never wasting a word.
The story portrays two druggies in grown-up bodies with the minds of, at best, the fraternity boys in "Animal House." Benicio Del Toro, who gained 40 pounds for the role, beautifully plays gun- and knife-toting lawyer Dr. Gonzo. Gonzo accompanies seemingly cogent chain-smoking journalist Raoul Duke (Thompson's alter-ego, which served as the model for the thinly disguised sleazy "Uncle Duke" in the Doonesbury comic strip), played by Johnny Depp, to report on the 1971 Mint 400 Desert Race and a District Attorney Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, both held in Las Vegas. While the movie clearly does not glorify the use, it leaves us bewildered over the incredible luck in failing to get busted for destroying hotel rooms and endangering others on the road as they drive to and around Las Vegas with a suitcase full of every drug imaginable while stoned out of their minds. Snorting coke during speeches at the D. A. Conference, they haven't a clue as to what's going on. Nothing gets written on either event for Duke's employer.
The movie was billed as one about two guys who find that "sometimes going too far is the only way to go." No it's not. It's about two addicts on a binge who destroy cars and hotel rooms, steal room service (averaging $35 per hour for 48 hours in 1971 dollars), and adversely affect more than a life or two. While there was no real message to the movie other than "it's the only way to go" for those who enable such behaviors and "disgusting" for those of us who don't, there were at least a few laugh-out-loud moments (but then, I have to admit to having a bit of a taste for ridiculous Leslie Nielson movies and, even, "Animal House").
More importantly, although you'd have to listen very carefully to notice, inflated egos, the central clue to early- and middle-stage substance addiction, were evident. As he's readying himself to cover the race, journalist Duke comments, "Those of us who had been up all night were in no mood for coffee and donuts; we wanted strong drink. We were, after all, the absolute cream of the national sporting press." While cruising the Strip and thinking of themselves, he says, "Stoned, Ripped. Good people." After running into a beauty in an elevator (played in a cameo by Cameron Diaz) and threatening her boyfriend with a knife, Del Toro's character tells Duke, "She fell in love with me, man; eye contact, man," claiming she was flirting. While the first two comments may have been sarcastic, the latter was a clear sign of euphoric recall, which causes the addict to view everything he says or does in a self-favoring light (which, as I explain in my book "Drunks, Drugs & Debits: How to Recognize Addicts and Avoid Financial Abuse," leads to the massive ego-inflation of the typical early-stage addict).
They also consistently display a "rules don't apply to me" attitude. I explain in "Get Out of the Way! How to Identify and Avoid a Driver Under the Influence," my book on detecting DUIs before they become tragically obvious, that parking wherever someone pleases is a telltale sign of alcoholism and likely DUI. They do exactly this as they arrive at a Debbie Reynolds show, which they are quickly thrown out of after talking their way in without paying (no doubt, using alcoholic charm, which I discuss at length in my other books). And one astute point is made when Duke talks about leaving, with Gonzo wielding his hunting knife: "One of the things you learn after years of dealing with drug people is that you can turn your back on a person, but never turn your back on a drug. Especially when it's waving a razor-sharp hunting knife in your eye." Note his use of the term "it," suggesting that even Thompson, in a rare moment of total honesty, knew he was dealing not with a real person but, instead, with an addict, and that the problem is not the person or the drug, but rather the person on the drug.
The movie was directed by Monty Python's Terry Gilliam ("Life of Brian") and was billed as a comedy. While for the addiction-aware it's more of a tragi-comedy with a decent-enough portrayal of poly-drug addicts, I must admit to laughing out loud at several scenes, particularly the check-in scene at the hotel where Depp's character is hallucinating. In addition to Diaz's cameo, Gary Busey plays an enabling cop, and you will also find Tobey Maguire and Chris Meloni of "Law and Order: SVU," in amusing cameo roles.
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