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Inception (2010)

I’m Getting Sleeeeepy!

"I’ve got my feet on the ground, and I don’t go to sleep to dream.”

--Fiona Apple

As with director Christopher Nolan’s last film, The Dark Knight, I find myself in the unenviable position of being on the wrong side of the hype machine.  Inception is not very good.

Hell, I’ll go further and call it terrible.

But it’s a qualified terrible, and I can see why so many people have allowed Nolan to skate by on his pedigree.  The film looks great; the acting is consistent, and it’s got a sprawling plot that introduces a lot of cool ideas.  And if you’re okay with surface slickness, across-the-board catatonia from the cast, and the dumping of great ideas in favor of explosions and generic-spy-thriller action scenes, you may like Inception just fine.

If you’re like me, however, and you respect your brain enough to not tolerate movies that invite you to turn it off, sitting through two-and-a-half-hours of set decorator masturbation may not cut it for you.

Here’s the litmus test.  Please read the ten statements below.  If you agree with any of them, please, rush out to the theatre and watch this movie.  If not, stay home and rent either Dark City, Memento, or The Prestige (the latter two are films Nolan made before he turned his delicious brand of brain food into Cap’n Crunch).

1. I can ignore the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio played a variation on the same character five months ago in Shutter Island, complete with the haunted-by-his-dead-wife sub-plot; a mystery surrounding his kids; and an ever-shifting reality that propelled him further into madness.

2. I love Ellen Page, and will tolerate her shrill, nasal delivery and slouched, over-it posture. I know plenty of brilliant university students studying in Paris who look and act like twelve-year-old boys.

3. I think it’s cool when nearly every actor in a film performs with the same half-lidded lack of enthusiasm that lets me know they’re bad-ass and have seen it all before.  I find it helps punch up their delivery of dense, circular exposition—and in no way sound like the ramblings of a junior-college sci-fi writer that have been cut up into sides to create the illusion of dialogue.

4. I prefer American movies where very important lines are given to Japanese actors to deliver.  I find charming the idea that Ken Watanabe has enough trouble pronouncing “airplane” that he steps on his own joke.  In fact, I find melodic the sound of other audience members constantly asking each other, “Seriously, what the fuck is he saying?”

5. I ignore inconsistencies in films well enough to not be bothered by the following: At the beginning of the movie, when it’s established that the characters are operating inside a collapsing dream world, DiCaprio’s character checks his watch and notices that the face reads backwards; distorted text is a common theme in dreams, and is a great touchstone for the audience; however, this is the only time in the rest of the movie in which anything reads backwards—leading me to believe that either this insert was a mistake, or that Nolan wants me to believe the rest of the movie takes place in a real world of folding cityscapes and Matrix-y hallway battles.

6. I pay so little attention to themes in film that I will be unable to guess the closing shot of Inception—even after the introduction of a very important totem early on.  I will also be unable to guess what that totem will be doing in the shot.

7. I find any kind of well-done special effect to be exciting and mind-blowing, and take exception to the idea that because movie studios can now, literally, make anything happen on-screen it is a filmmaker’s duty to use his or tools to their greatest potential (and, yes, I consider a train driving down a city street to be about as wild as it gets).

8. My dreams are so mundane that I can instantly relate to a film that purports to be about the endless possibilities of the mind, yet which features no horror imagery; no dazzling costumes; no space aliens or hardly any people of color; no bizarre architecture or challenging landscapes.  The cities I create with my own mind tend to have skylines that look like rows of gray, spray-painted shoe boxes and downtowns that could suspiciously double for Ontario.

9.  I have no problem with a director making a movie about dreams and deciding to make it about the dreams of rich white people.  The most interesting story I could hope to see in such a film would center on a team of dream police trying to plant an idea in the head of an energy company heir that would prevent him from breaking up his emotionally unavailable father’s corporation after his death.  In fact, I prefer my escapism to feature machine guns; ski slopes; private jets; and emotional territory and plot devices that were handled far more convincingly in Citizen Kane (according to some elitist film critics who don’t play video games).

10.  I am incapable of piecing together a film’s central mystery by simply paying attention to the story unfolding in front of me.

Despite what you may think, I’m not being contrarian simply to be different.  I genuinely disliked Inception because I don’t think it’s smart enough or deep enough to engage anyone other than a casual filmgoer.  I can even accept that Nolan wanted to tell the most boring story ever, but couldn’t he at least have shown some visual flair?  The Cell is a great example of a visually satisfying dream movie with a crappy script.  Am I to believe that Christopher Nolan couldn’t make a more compelling dream movie than The Cell?

Perhaps it’s this dismal summer movie season that we’ve barely survived; the disappointments and drastically lowered expectations are my only rational explanation for why Inception is resonating with audiences.  I’d wager that this film will be gone in a few weeks, and probably not even talked about in five years.

I’m kind of heartbroken here, as this was my last hope for a thrilling cinematic experience. Qualitatively speaking, Inception is as shiny and as devoid of imagination as The Last Airbender.  And for all the talk of a “mind-blowing” story, it’s less about the mind and more about the blowing.

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Reader Comments (5)

Haha... couldn't agree with you more. This move was ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE on all levels. And just because a movie makes no sense, that doesn't mean it's good. Apparently, everybody thinks it's great just because they don't understand it. I HATED this film. Nolan should stick to directing movies that other people have written.

July 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott Rose

"I'm not alone? Thank God! I thought I was alone!!!"
--Bill Hicks

Thanks, and welcome to the new site, Scott! I'm honored to have you post the first comment!

July 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIan Simmons

Ian -- Michael Kreuser here. I figured you would have an interesting take on this movie, so I sought out and came across your new site here. Looks terrific! Nice work. I wish you much success with the site.

I wasn't quite as hard on the movie as you were....but definitely appreciate your observations. I saw it on Monday night up in Evanston. It was nearly a full house and I will say it got some applause (which doesn't happen all that often in the Chicago area) and seemed to have everyone abuzz. My beefs were mostly that it just labored on a little too long and could have been tightened up a bit to keep things moving. I think there was enough going on that they could have cut down the Leo personal issues a little bit. It's been years since I have seen it, but I still hold Memento in pretty high regard as a totally out of the box, never seen it before movie. Maybe it's a little nostalgia and wouldn't hold up as well if I saw it again, but I didn't think that this movie rose to that level. But overall, I though it was fun and better than your average summer fare. Just my humble opinion of course!

My wife did point out one inconsistency. At one point towards the end, we see a shot of Leo and his wife walking as an old couple.....but yet, on the day that they put their heads on the tracks, they were a young couple, which should have occurred while they were an old couple. Not sure if I should have added a spoiler alert there or not, but there's so much going on in this movie that it would be pretty hard to spoil anything.

Hope you guys are doing great!!

July 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Kreuser

My wife and i saw this movie on a late stormy night last summer and we both really liked it. I have to admit that I found the time structure of the dream world a bit confusing but all in all my favorite part about it was the inception story itself. Can me a wuss or whatever I just thought the the story behind the corporate father and they way the group tied in the object concealed in the safe was really awesome! I agree that the emotional story behind Leo was too much. I really liked the inception part itself. I also found the part of the story that followed his kids was really interesting but the movie could have done without the wife. In a world in which I never need to buy a movie since their is always a new one that I could watch either on DVD, Netflix or the Theater I would watch this movie again because I found certain parts touching in this action thriller.

September 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Gee

Just caught it at Ogden 6. Watched the first five minutes and spent the next 2:15 waiting for the end. Seriously, I checked my watch six times. The movie is excruciatingly slow, the ski slope assault dream was pure bleech (but hey, they need some cool action), and the finale was a total giveaway. Really, if you couldn't guess the ending, Forrest Gump has thirty points on you...

It was a waste of time and a train wreck of boredom. At least Vanilla Sky had the redemption at the end where he decided to leave his dream. This ranks up there with St. Elsewhere ending as the imagination of the retarded son of the hospital construction foreman. Stupid!

November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

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