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Film thoughts: INCEPTION

I’m wary of calling this a “review”.

With a nearly-two-year-old at home, I don’t get to see many flicks in theaters. We’re pretty choosy, and we want to see films that warrant the big screen. Last night we saw Inception, which, according to my tweet stream over its opening weekend, was a film that nearly everyone I follow saw and loved, with the notable exception of my father, who tweeted, “INCEPTION is an insufferably smart-ass film. Watching it for 30 minutes was like doing penance but I’d rather be in purgatory so I left.”. (Yes, having my father tweet means I have a personal “shitmydadsays.”)

My dad is right that the first 30 minutes are quite weak — it takes a long time for the film to get going (did we really need that full scene with the original architect and the angry mob?). In fact, I felt that what Christopher Nolan (the writer-director) needed was an editor — not a film editor, but a story editor, someone who could have pared this down. This could have been a taut 90-minute mindfuck thriller, but instead it was a bloated 150-minute mindfuck thriller with an utterly unnecessary subplot having to do with a dead wife.

Which reminds me, I think “Cotillard” is French for “crazy chick.”

In terms of the response I’ve seen, I’m surprised that people found the movie perplexing, or warranting of additional viewing in order to understand it. Apart from the bloat, my other criticism of this film is that it was surprisingly literal and calculated. There is no mystery — everything is explained (and explained and explained, mostly to Ellen Page’s character, aka “The Audience Stand-in”). There’s one big supposed mystery (did I mention this would this post would have spoilers?) — “Was it all a dream?”, and it saddens me that most commentators I’ve found think that yes it is. I think they think that because it makes them feel clever, or at least, as clever as Nolan. The thing is, it doesn’t matter.

I know I’m coming across as harsh, but I basically enjoyed the film. It’s just that the enjoyable bits of the film aren’t as interesting to talk about — trippy dream states, fun action set pieces, some cerebrality to noodle on. I was surprised to find that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur character was my favorite in the film, and his scenes in the hotel without gravity were easily the most fun and spellbinding bits. In fact, he nearly steals the film from Leo’s rather unengaging Don Cobb, but he doesn’t have quite enough screen time.

Racking my brain, I think my favorite movie that largely takes place in dreams is still Nightmare on Elm Street. Which, if you haven’t seen, because you’re not a fan of horror, well, you’re missing out on some fun, inventive, and truly clever filmmaking.

  1. I watched Inception yesterday and can see why critics are leaving the theatres loudly debating whether or not “it was all a dream”.

    But to do so is to miss the point that all fictional works are dreams, constructed realities where the characters’ lives proceed on a deterministic basis. I felt that Christopher Nolan was alluding to this in the final scene, and with the name of Ellen Page’s character – a maze-builder called Ariadne smacks too much of designed reality, a bit like Nabokov’s butterflies!

    On the topic of films set in dreams, I highly recommend the British film Paperhouse from 1988. It’s not very well known but worth seeking out. At its release Roger Ebert described it as “a dream movie that uses images so real and so concrete, they seem more convincing than most real-life dramas” and gave it four stars out of four.

  2. Close, Brendan, but in point of fact, all fictional works are not dreams. Books are read by light and can provoke pauses of thought during their reading. They begin and end between covers. Dreams, however, as pointed out by Nolan’s main character, have no beginning or ending. They just start and stop with no apparent raison d’etre.

    You could, however, say that all motion pictures are dreamscapes. We sit ourselves down in a darkened auditorium, put our brains on cruise control and give ourselves up to elemental emotions stirred by the familiar, yet alien sights and sounds on the glowing, hypnotic screen.

    It is different now, but for most of movie history audiences entered the theaters and took their seats regardless of screen schedule. They sat in the dark, mouths agape, usually for the length of a double feature, with short subjects. Then, when a scene or two was recognized, they would rise from their seats with the ubiquitous comment, “This is where I came in.”

    This habit is still with us, though it has moved from the darkened movie theater to the dimmed living room. Usually in the later part of he evening. We surf through two or three hundred channels then suddenly stop at an image that captures us. Half asleep, we watch the rest of the movie and give ourselves up to the dream.

    Admittedly, I didn’t see enough of Indeception to comment on Nolan’s intentions but one thing I think you should know: it was just a movie.

  3. Again you seem a little surprised that everyone you know raved about a movie which turned out to be fine but unremarkable.

    There were lots of perfectly acceptable bits of formula in the movie, but I’m with you on the final question. No one making this movie cared about the answer. You just have to put that there so that people will talk about your movie. I mentally edited that part out.

    But Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character is what sells trailers — professionals cooling doing complicated jobs we don’t quite understand. Of course he was my favorite character too. And he had the only joke in the movie.

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