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Entries in Inception [2010] (1)

Monday
Jul192010

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.