Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Inception

Spoilers Note: Normally I wouldn’t care at all about spoilers, but after finishing this and looking back through it, I noticed that it was conveniently devoid of anything that would significantly ruin the film for someone (but it's also not something that will be completely comprehensible to one who hasn't seen the film yet either), so you’re safe on that count.

I’ve spent perhaps the past few weeks going through review after review of Christopher Nolan’s recently released Inception. What I came away with was not something I was proud of in any sense of the word. I’ve perused more than most would too, ranging from nobodies with obsequious opinions to wildly delusional contrarians that are only useful as forces to be completely ignored. I decided to write this because I haven’t done anything else here in a few weeks (and the other projects I’m working on will require more time than I initially thought). After reading some dude fly off on an idiotic tangent about how Paprika was a wildly superior film to Inception, I decided to put up something else up for people to read---because trust me, the people that actually get paid for their opinions have failed immensely this time (that fucking Paprika blowjob was simply the last straw). So, the most definitive answer to my liking or detesting of Inception is thus, it was more than good enough to be first film I've decided to solely put up here.

To begin with, I suppose I can let the reckless assertives amongst you pigeon-hole me as a Nolan-nite if you must. Though I’ve only personally 'loved' about three or four of his films at most (and I’ve seen all of them sans Following), I’m still of the mindset that he’s one of the few directors that's CONSISTENTLY doing anything worthwhile in the realm of film these days.


Being the thoughtful person I am, I’m not going to waste your time with multiple paragraphs blithely introducing you to the movie’s premise, which I’ll assume you’re smart enough to wrap your head around by watching any of the goddamn trailers. Instead, I’ll jump right into the merits and maladies this movie siphoned from me individually.


First of all, if we look at Inception as a science-fiction film first, we're doomed and we’ve already failed by looking directly into the sun, as the movie is first and foremost, a heist-thriller; the science fiction elements are simply a vehicle to which we’re led from points A to B. Hell, even Nolan himself admits to having done no research beforehand; he wrote this movie directly from his mind, so I blame the marketing and stupid fans/audiences for over-tagging the movie with that label. At no point is the audience even given detailed/tangible information about the process of dream submergence (or even the equipment for that matter), merely a few touchstones in terms of its effects. In my book, the speculative-science bar has to be raised a bit higher for me to even consider this film as something remotely resembling science-fiction. The only real science-fiction theme this movie deals with extensively and is worth discussing is one of perception. This is mainly depicted through the relationship between Cobb and his wife, Mal (which culminates into the dual takeaway the audience is supposed to be left with in the last shot).

The first real criticism I’d make of Inception is one I’ve always made of Nolan, and this is how he writes his women. Ariadne (Ellen Page) and Mal (Marion Cotillard), the two lead females, are merely ‘used’ in this film rather than illusorily acting on their 'own will'. The audience can easily accept Cobb’s, Arthur’s, Eames’s, and Yusuf’s roles, but once the young architect shows up, she ends up with what most have rightfully called foul on in terms of being an exposition machine. This isn’t to say that neither Page or Cotillard didn’t do well in their roles, because they did for the most part (though I’d criticize Page far more than I would Cotillard). However, the film is inherently structured around both girls, yet the audience is fooled into thinking otherwise (mostly because the film rather brashly becomes a really focused story about Dom).

My personal take on Mal in particular is one of instability, as she’s not really a character in the traditional sense at all, she’s quite aptly portrayed as her marketed alias suggests, the shadow. She’s only the result of Cobb’s subconscious and the only time we actually see ‘her’ on screen is during a flashback depicting Cobb’s memories. This is quite simply the biggest ‘theme’ of Inception at large as well. Mal’s ‘reality’ is the cause of what gives rise to the character of Dom; what he saw in her, did to her, and came away with afterwards is meant to be a key idea that plays into the film’s own name, inception.

Ariadne however, is a little more confusing to me, as even being the newbie to the team, she began questioning Dom’s every single move, at every single point. Indeed this is reasonable for her character, given what turns out with Cobb’s suppression of his shadow, but she becomes far too willing to engage him and his motives early on. It happens so fast, that one has to draw into question the nature of their relationship as a whole. She almost flies from tangents of complete distrust to analytical sympathy in terms of relating to him. In short, it just doesn’t feel organic. By the time ‘the big job’ has begun, Ariadne could have been following Dom around with a cliché psychiatrist-couch in tow and it would have been completely plausible by the movie’s own pacing.

Now the dream sequences themselves were mostly well-done and surprisingly easy to follow. Speaking in oneirological terms however, they may not have been very accurate, but I haven’t seen one movie that has done them to any degree with which I’d go ‘wow’ (melodramatic and random gestures of quirkiness simply don’t count for me). Most people like to drudge up the concepts of surreality and profess the illogical nature of dreaming, but these are not strictly speaking, inherent elements to dreams at all, even in a general sense. Inception can get away with nearly all its depictions in the end and still be a fantastic dream movie. This arena leads me to admire a strength of the film, the main job.

Like all good heist films, the main job doesn’t exactly go as expected. Inception is no deviant from that rule, suffering almost critical botches in the first phase. What the film does do here however, is maintain its pace in ‘real-time’ (which I ironically complained about above) and it also stubbornly adheres to its own rules (which works in its favor here). The most prominent examples of this being the depictions of time-relation and sensory-stimulation. To simply lay it out, the job occurs across three levels of ‘reality’ (four if you count the real world). Each level functions in terms of 'depth' according to the movie and between them is a specific lengthening of time (e.g. an hour in the dream world correlates to five minutes in the real world). The job is complex in that the team is required to use these ‘dreams within dreams’ to accomplish their primary goal: make Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy) come to the conclusion that he’s achieved an idea of his own accord. As the botch happens, the heist team concludes that jumping to deeper levels is the best way to proceed.


As this happens however, the time levels shift and the context between dreams affect each other respectively. It’s at this point that I’ll agree somewhat that the movie perhaps gets a bit too logical for its own good, but it’s not a huge suspension of belief I’m being asked for either, thus it becomes the zenith of the film for me. The editing between Cobb’s penetration of Fischer at the third level, Arthur’s defense of their bodies at the second level, and Yusuf driving the van at the first becomes the film’s most worthwhile spectacle. Arthur’s sequence in particular threads them all together because the weight that Levitt and his character are juggling in that instance (all Yusuf had to do was drive a damn van). However, it’s also at this level that things take a turn to which the movie suffers, it switches back to Dom and focuses on him in an almost hyper-extensive way.

Going back to Fischer for a second however, would have me dipping my toes in criticism again, as the film becomes weakest when the audience even superficially ponders Fisher’s purpose (and by partial extension, Dom’s desperation to ‘return home’). What the team was doing I got, I understood, I even really enjoyed it. Yet it’s purpose? That’s never really for the audience to feel and I ended up taking a slightly cheated meaning from that (this is despite the fact that it’s a heist movie and we shouldn’t let morality complicate our judgment call there). The entire movie could be meant to convey the message that we as an audience were only meant to focus on the means, not the ends. The film itself kind of douses white-out on this error by putting an emotional torment on its own concept of inception. What I mean by this is pretty much what Fischer’s character took from the limbo level and also what Dom and Mal’s relationship totals out as.

The ending is essentially worthless to me, even though most will argue about it for months to come. It’s all a perception trick in my opinion and which of the two conclusions we’re meant to come away from with from the last shot is more of a reflection on the viewer. It’s not some overly-deep message Nolan’s trying to communicate here (you'll notice that I'm leaving which ending I thought happened out of this).

In the end, Inception was the movie that I got everything I wanted from (and a little bit more). It certainly isn’t Nolan’s best, but it’s far from his worst. That 'little bit more' was simply watching people overblow the film’s impact over the past week. Professionals and friends alike barely knew what the film was, still don’t know what it is, and are angry because of those two facts and their own inability to move past them at the rate they want to. People will go on to pointlessly relate Nolan’s latest to The Matrix, The Dark Knight, and curiously enough, Kubrick’s films.
To close with, I’ll give you a pocket field guide to spotting a worthwhile Inception impression from one that you’re honestly better without. If a review or an opinion is rife with any two of the following, simply walk away:

  • A focus on peripheral aspects of the film that allow subjective over-rationalization towards negating everything else about the film (i.e. ‘Zimmer’s score was obnoxious, FILM FAIL’).

  • Any reference towards prior Nolan films past a simple mention. The Dark Knight is the film I’ve personally seen the most of here, next of course, would be Memento. Anything that allows a person to irrelevantly link two totally unrelated worlds under the guise of critique should be disregarded immeditately.

  • Useless comparisons are a common factor as well. This is a pet peeve of mine. Inception has spawned relations from people ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey (simply because Nolan merely said he was a Kubrick fan no doubt) and The Matrix (I assume because Cobb’s team constantly enters an overly organized and stylized world while dressed nice too). Let us not forget Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind either, as apparently ANYTHING about a goddamn dream must be held to that flame at all costs.

With all of that said, try and actually go out into the world and enjoy this film without all the “Overrated!” & “Brilliant!” connotations involved, you might actually see something (anything!) you genuinely like.