*Warning some spoiler alerts if you haven’t watched them before…
Fear and loathing in Las Vegas is actually an adaptation from a book called ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream’. It is an autobiographical story that follows its main protagonist, a journalist called ‘Raoul Duke’ and his attorney ‘Dr Gonzo’ as they descend to Las Vegas to chase the American dream, through a drug induced haze. The film lacks a clear narrative and frequently delves into the surreal, never quite distinguishing between what is real and what is only imagined by the characters. The purpose of there visit to Las Vegas was to attend a ‘mint 400 motorcycle race’ because Duke has been assigned by a magazine to write an article on it. However, they soon become sidetracked and use the trip as a chance to purchase a large amount of drugs and rent a Cadillac convertible on a wacky road-trip. This leads to a series of bizarre hallucinogenic trips, during which they destroy hotel rooms, wreck cars and have weird psychedelic illusions.
In this film semiotics is used greatly to enhance the narrative of the story, but to also give the audience some information about the story and the meaning. Throughout Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the protagonists go out of their way to degrade, abuse, and destroy symbols of American consumerism and excess, while Las Vegas symbolises the coarse ugliness of mainstream American culture. The highway they are going along represents the journey that they are both going through, with not only literally, but also with the drug abuse. The drug taking represents the social constricts of modern day society and the breaking down of boundaries, the fact they are doing whatever they want. At the start of the film Duke says that the adventure that they were about to undertake was going to be a ‘gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country’ as they go in chase of the ‘American dream’.
The film that i’m going to compare Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with is Delicatessen, a French black comedy film set in post-apocalyptic France of an ambiguous time period.
The film focuses on a landlord of an apartment building who occasionally prepares a ‘delicacy’ for his odd tenants in their desperate bids to survive. Among these characters are Louison who has recently arrived to replace a deceased tenant, we as an audience are at this point unaware of how he died. The landlord of the apartment is also the butcher who strives to keep everyone under control and keep balance amongst the tenants in the apartment building. The film focuses on each of the tenants own idiosyncrasies and the relationships between them. Later on in the film we realise the purpose of the advert in the newspaper asking for tenants, as food is in short supply the landlord lures tenants to the apartment before killing them off and then using their meat to sell off to the starving remaining tenants. However, Louison falls in love with the landlords daughter which makes him reluctant to kill him off putting the rest of the tenants on edge. They decide that if he isn’t going to do it then they will. Understanding her fathers motives the daughter gets help from an underground vegetarian group called Troglodistes. Attacks follow resulting in the daughter and Louison fleeing and flooding themselves in the bathroom to prevent the rest of the tenants getting to him, but when the landlord bursts through the door he inadvertently stabs himself with Louison’s knife killing himself. This satisfies the rest of the tenants who now finally have meat to eat. The film ends with the landlords daughter and Louison playing music together on the roof of the apartment.
Like ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ Delicatessen uses a lot of semiotics to add to the atmosphere of the film. The lighting in the film is very dark to represent and show the dark times of the country, which is in a post-apocalyptic state. The film also has a lot of red in it which can represent the danger that Louison is facing from the landlords/butchers motives. It can also represent the tenants feelings, who are also on edge wondering where their next meal is going to come from and also when Louison is not being killed the fact that they might be next to go. It also represents the blood that is being shed around them and the colour of meat, which is the main point of focus in the film.
Both ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘Delicatessen’ greatly use semiotics in the films. The use of semiotics adds to the atmosphere of the film, greatly enhances the narrative and also gives the audience more information so that they can understand the story and meaning more. Both films used semiotics very well and in a different contexts showing the versatility of semiotics and how it can applied differently. For anyone into the art of film making, these two films are a must watch.
First published: February 22, 2012