Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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"He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man."
Dr. Samuel Johnson, as quoted at the beginning of the book, the film and the audio drama.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold...
—The first line of the book

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a legendarily insane book written in 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson, loosely based on two trips to Las Vegas he took "in search of the American Dream". The book was made into a film by Terry Gilliam in 1998 starring Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro.

It starts at the line above and goes downhill from there. The story involves a mad journalist (Raoul Duke, based on Thompson) and his Samoan attorney (Dr. Gonzo, based on Chicano attorney/activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, with nationality changed to protect the innocent guilty) traveling to Las Vegas to chronicle the Mint 400 desert bike race for Sports Illustrated, consuming many, many illegal drugs in the process; in actuality, both were glad to have an excuse to get out of L.A. because Acosta's radical friends thought that he was spending too much time with Thompson, whom they suspected of being a police agent (not at all an unrealistic suspicion in 1970). When this falls through, in part due to their severe drug saturation, Raoul attempts to return to Los Angeles, but gets called back into Vegas by Rolling Stone for the National District Attorneys Association's Conference on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He accepts largely out of irony.

A plot summary cannot cover the radically unique feel of the book. Largely written in a stream of consciousness, the book covers the tail end and self-destruction of the '60s freedom and drug culture and the beginning of the increasing tightness of the 1970s.

Also contains a famous line about Goddamned Bats, though they are not used in the book or film themselves.


Tropes used in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas include:

Duke: There I was...mother of god, there I am! Holy fuck--?! Clearly I was a victim of the drug explosion...a natural street freak just eating whatever came by.

"What the fuck are these people talking about?" my attorney whispered. "You'd have to be crazy on acid to think a joint looked like a goddamn cockroach!"

  • Deadpan Snarker: Raoul Duke.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud? (Duke's musings(?) about what to do with the hitchhiker should he discover the truth about him and Dr. Gonzo; complete with Lampshade Hanging)
  • Drink Order (Either rum or Wild Turkey 101 for Duke--as with the real Thompson--although he's not averse to tequila.)
  • Electrified Bathtub: On a bad trip, Dr. Gonzo demands this. Duke fakes it by unplugging the machine and hurling a grapefruit into the tub.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys
  • Funny Background Event: Pay attention to Raoul's behavior when Gonzo's talking to other people, because you're going to laugh. One in particular, when the both of them wants to see a Debbie Reynold's show, Gonzo just bust out the locked entrance and take out the security belt, starting to talk with the doorman. Raoul's just acting out, high on a bunch of drugs, while playing with the security belt, even struggling with a lady that wanted to take the belt out.
  • Genre Busting: This is a movie that must be seen at least twice, since the first time you watch it, you will not understand what kind of movie you just watched. Was it a comedy? Was it a political movie? Was it meant to be serious? Was it meant to just make you laugh? What the hell happened in the last third of the movie?
  • I'm a Humanitarian: "He offered me human blood as payment, said it would take me higher than cocaine. But I settled for some of this instead."
  • Immune to Drugs (Duke and Gonzo take enough drugs to kill the Third Marines, though this doesn't stop the effect they experience.)
  • Kick the Dog: Excuse me, there's a waitress in Las Vegas who's still crying under utter panic.
    • Duke abuses a dwarf by making him crawl for change in a flashback at the beginning of the movie.
      • Name one waiter they do not abuse. Scratch that, name ANYTHING they don't abuse.
      • In Hunter Thompson's commentary track, he angrily insists that Depp improvised throwing coins at the dwarf, and that in real life he would never have done something so demeaning. He felt it was a deeply inaccurate moment.
      • Depp also does it later when he's trying to escape from the Mint Hotel. Although, in his defense, the valet was being extremely obnoxious, and Duke was freaking out trying to get out of there. Falls more under Comedic Sociopathy here.
    • What about the hitchhiker? Duke was planning on killing him in a drug-induced paranoia.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: In the book, Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo repeatedly visit the Circus Circus casino; in the movie, it becomes Bazooko's Circus.
  • Long List: The drugs in the trunk of the car.

Raoul Duke: We had two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers... and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of beer, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

  • New Age Retro Hippie: Subverted hard.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Subverted by the first editions of the book, despite the best efforts of the publishers. When publication of the book was still being negotiated, the lawyers of the publishers tried to get Thompson to delete the references to his attorney engaging in criminal acts, since; even as depicted through an expy, could have badly damaged his reputation and been considered libelous. Thompson reached out to Oscar Zeta Acosta; the real life model for the fictional Dr. Gonzo, and asked him to sign a release. Acosta however initially refused. Not because he was concerned over libelous content, but because he took offense at being portrayed by a fictional version of himself. He would only sign the release on the condition that he be explicitly named as the basis for Gonzo on the book's cover. In other words, he insisted on taking full credit for the very criminal behavior the lawyers feared would harm and or offend him.
  • Noodle Incident: Lampshaded: Flash Forward and back again to the aftermath of the second hotel-room trashing and vandalism spree, including a mini-riot that ensues when they're caught vandalizing their own car (a brand-new Cadillac), an ape assault, dried ketchup stains that look like blood, a burned out mattress, and an entirely flooded room filled with a pyramid of TV screens. And Duke wakes up wearing a strap-on alligator tail with a microphone taped to his face. (Some of these incidents are recounted first-hand in the book, however.)

Dimly remembered flashback: You people voted for Hubert Humphrey. And you killed Jesus!

We need some of that. Extract of pineal... or maybe just a fresh gland... to chew on.

    • The man on the phone while Duke is waiting to check in is talking about some gang murder on a girl and says they were after her pineal gland. This comes from a scene in the book (the movie leaves it out) in which Gonzo and Duke make the story up to terrify a flyover-country D.A. whom they meet in the hotel bar.
  • Rebellious Spirit (Raoul Duke)
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Gonzo and Duke
  • Refuge in Audacity (How the heroes get away with anything and everything)

"It was all over now. We'd abused every rule that Vegas lived by. Burning the locals, abusing the tourists, terrifying the help. The only chance now, I felt, was the possibility that we'd gone to such excess that nobody in the position to bring the hammer down on us could possibly believe it."

Raoul: "Somebody's been giving booze to those goddamn things!"

  • Road Movie
  • Running Gag: Each hotel room Duke and Gonzo check into gets consecutively more and more trashed.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance
  • Serial Escalation: You might cringe at the amount of drugs they take.
    • Or some of the drugs themselves.
    • Or the degree to which they can trash a hotel room.
    • In the commentary, Depp describes what Thompson told him being high on ether felt like: "It felt sort of like guzzling about 23 bottles of wine in about 5 seconds."
  • Stoner Flick
  • Take Our Word for It: Both hotel rooms are progressively trashed offscreen.
  • Thirsty Desert: Mojave Desert
  • Totally Radical: The District Attorney's Conference is shown to be far behind the times.
  • Trademark Favorite Food (Dr. Gonzo announces that he has "a powerful lust for red salmon.") [1]
    • In the book, grapefruit is mentioned something like 5 times every chapter.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment From Hell: "My attorney had made a fool of himself."
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Thompson called the book a failed attempt at gonzo journalism because of the liberties he had to take to make it even slightly readable. There's some time compression and a lot of background stuff missing. For instance, the main reason that Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta went to Las Vegas in the first place was to discuss the incidents that eventually formed the substance of Thompson's "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan;" they needed to get out of Los Angeles because Acosta was a big-time civil rights attorney and his bodyguards were very zealous and very suspicious of gringos.
    • The biggest change to the plot is that in real life the Mint 400 race and the drug conference took place on two separate trips, about a month apart. In the book/movie they happen almost back to back.
  • Viva Las Vegas
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Dr. Gonzo gets one in both The Movie and one of the book's illustrations.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The scene with the waitress in the diner; Duke calls Gonzo out on it and realizes their time in Vegas is up.
    • Duke gets a few of these as well, although his are more just him saying horrible things, such as his plans for Lucy: "These cops will go fifty bucks a head to beat her into submission and then gang-fuck her. We can set her up in one of these back-street motels, hang pictures of Jesus all over the room, then turn these fucking pigs loose on her."
      • Although in this case, Duke was making a very pointed joke to Gonzo about the world of legal trouble in which he was in danger of landing them both by bringing Lucy with him.
      • Exactly. This was fear-mongering to convince Gonzo to get rid of Lucy (since he was in some kind of wannabe relationship with her and she would most likely freak out when she came down off the drugs).
    • Also his mocking of Dr. Gonzo about the reporter they met in the elevator: "Shit. Think he sodomized her? He's probably gluing her eyes shut right now, man."

The question is, as always: Now?