Grant Mitchell

In 1998’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” crazed drug-fueled antics mixed with surrealist observations into what the American dream has become pepper the plot for the Johnny Depp lead film. 

The polarizing film, directed by Terry Gilliam, centralizes its’ plot around sports journalist Raoul Duke, a known alias of the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Mr. Duke is set to follow a famed bike race in the desserts outside of Las Vegas. But the problem is, Mr. Duke is unsure of what is real and what is a hallucination due to the drugs pumping through his system.

Oddly enough, however, the film doesn’t feel like an addict’s story. There is no strife or struggle in Mr. Duke’s deciding to take the innumerable mind-altering substances. Rather, the film acts as a sort of journal for Hunter S. Thompson’s experiences in Las Vegas and the realizations he made while out there.

While the point of Mr. Duke’s journey out to Vegas becomes more and more blurred, he even begins to doubt there ever having been a real race at all, Raul Duke organically arrives at a new sense of purpose. Live with in reckless abandon on the streets of Las Vegas and learn about the new state of human identity and the moral dilemma this country faces having strayed so far away from the idea of universal morality and the idea of an American dream for all.

The result is a wild and absurd journey through the palaces of Las Vegas all the way down to the seedy underbelly. All along the way Raoul Duke experiences surreal and sometimes off-putting events. Such as when his traveling partner threatens a waitress at a late-night diner with a large bowie knife. In that scene the knife literally cuts through the light-hearted absurdist nature of the film and shows that there are real stakes in this film. People can really get hurt.

This is not lost on Raoul Duke; he continues to mentally document all of the goings on in his head and wait for the opportune time to write them all down.

 Until that point, however, all we know is that through all of the chaos and chemically altered reality, Raoul Duke never loses sight of the inner turmoil of the human condition. Often, we are given snippets of Raoul Duke’s perspectives and feelings regarding what Las Vegas is symbolic of.

Which is, the decay of the life that was promised to us. A decay in what is called the American dream. “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” may seem like a surrealist painting turned into film, but it isn’t. it’s a documentation of how far we have strayed from the ideology that we all can shoot for the stars and grab our own bits of glory as long as we work hard enough and abide by the written and unwritten rules.

But Vegas is in direct contrast to this set of ideals, and conflicts with everything we are told and taught to believe. Vegas is where all of the stark realities and the true state of the American dream have been shown for their true colors. That being, there is unequal opportunity for people in this country. There are true prejudices and limitations placed on people directly because of their race, ethnicity, set of beliefs, tax bracket, etcetera etcetera.

“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” may seem from start to finish like it is a fever dream, but it isn’t. It’s an insight into what the hopes we had and promises that were made by this country to us have become.

Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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