Weird Watch: ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’

Drew Dietsch

Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Batman, there is a Darkman. For every Star Wars, there is The Black Hole. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and TV shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas! (Last time: Lord of Illusions)

Hunter S. Thompson was one of America’s most vicious and manic public figures. He was also a mad genius in his own right. His political coverage of the 1972 campaign is a must-read for political junkies, but nothing has ever topped his intended coverage of the Mint 400 motorcycle race, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. When the time came to translate this fever dream to the big screen, Terry Gilliam, former Monty Python member and bona fide director in his own right, took the director’s chair. What he created could be described as a pure distillation of both the American Dream and the American Nightmare.

The film follows Raoul Duke and his Samoan attorney, Dr. Gonzo, as they blaze through Sin City in a whirlwind of drugs, violence, and potential kidnapping. The story is practically plotless but is carried on the backs of lead actors Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. The two make for a hell of a pair as they go absolutely bonkers. No other film has performances this deliberately sloppy and unhinged. But that’s part of the charm.

What Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas does well is explore the darker side of the psychedelic and hedonistic life. It works as a bittersweet swan song to the counterculture movement of the ‘6os. It also paints a picture of Las Vegas as a gaudy shrine to everything wrong with American culture. There is a moroseness underneath all the wacky behavior that Duke and Dr. Gonzo get into. As much as this film is remembered for being a crazy druggie good time, it’s far more gloomy than its frantic nature would lead you to believe.

There is hope at the end though. As Duke speeds across the desert back to Los Angeles, he leaves the glittering terror of Las Vegas in his rearview mirror. He welcomes the City of Angels with open arms. “Just another freak in the freak kingdom.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a mess of a film but it’s a mess with meaning. After the events of this week, it’s time to take a deep and disturbing look into the backwoods of America’s brainscape. The insanity of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas feels like the kind of mental breakdown we as a country could use. If only Hunter was here now. We sure could use him. This flick is a good entry point. After that, you’re own your own. “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

Check out our other Weird Watch articles here!

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch is an Entertainment Editor at FANDOM. He hosts a weekly film review podcast at his site, as well as the shark movies podcast Fin Flicks. If you need someone to talk about Jaws, RoboCop, horror movies, or why Batman Forever is highly underrated, Drew is your guy.
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