Saturday, July 31, 2010

Inception - Idea as Virus

After Thursday morning's shock knocked me into my own dream state, I went along to see Inception.

Though I don't remember how I got there. The suspicion I was dreaming confirmed by this exchange immediately after purchasing my ticket:

Kid: Any drinks or popcorn with that?
Me: Medium combo, thanks.
Kid: Want to upgrade that for an extra dollar?
Me: Nah, I can't eat that much popcorn
Kid: I'll upgrade the drink for free then.

Okay, that's a dead giveaway! A partial free upgrade... at a candy bar... at the cinemas? Yeah, right! (ps well done kid, I was impressed). That and the fact the lobby was deserted (other than the two of us). Definitely dreaming.

Into the cinema I go. Now, I'm kind of fussy about where I like to sit - centre/centre - half way up and dead in the middle. The sweet spot...

Available! And the immediate zone free of seat kickers, inane talkers, mobile phone wankers & sundry other distractions that usually bug the hell out of me.

I am clearly in a deeper level of dreaming as the ads and trailers seem to go for like 30 minutes (surely ludicrous). I accept I'm probably still sitting at my desk at work, stunned and time has slowed here.

Then the movie starts. Excitement abounds. The internet chatter and reviews have been excellent. My mind, desperate for some serious diversion, is about to be dazzled...

But instead, something strange happens --

Someone's brought me down to this level of dreaming to insert the idea that this film is a complex mind-fuck of a masterpiece. And I'm not buying it.

On the surface it appears outrageously inventive, gloriously shot, well acted and demanding of my full attention to comprehend its secrets. But then it seems a simple heist story told in a very complicated way. And I simply don't care.

As the corporate induction video plays before my eyes explaining the rules of extraction and the theory of inception - with some practical exercises thrown in to demonstrate the principles - I start to wonder if I am being conned ala The Prestige.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Christopher Nolan is an immense talent. I loved The Dark Knight (with a few quibbles), was astounded by Memento and think The Prestige is a handsomely crafted puzzle of a film... bar the ending. When I come to understand Nolan has pulled a magic trick on me... except the prestige doesn't have me on my feet applauding.

So now I'm thinking, this guy is smart and audacious, and he's trying to implant an idea in my mind with all these rules and pure exposition. Namely, that this is everything the hype says it is.

Why is my brain rejecting this carefully planned inception?

Well, I think it's because I don't really know who's doing what, why they are and what the actual stakes are. All I really know is that Cobb wants to go home and that Saito wants to fuck with his corporate rival. The latter feels like a pure McGuffin and therefore I am ambivalent about it. The Cobb-Mal thing seems underwhelming... he can't go back to the US because she killed herself but blamed him because... blah blah blah. I start having Shutter Island flashbacks.

As for everyone else - well, um, they are ... because they need to ... um? I dunno.

Then there's the whole mechanics of 'kicks' and sedatives and if you're killed you wake up, oh, except if you're [insert plot device explanation] in which case you go into 'limbo'. Which is a terrible, horrible, brain mulching place... that Cobb has been to before. Huh? So no real stakes then?

I have no idea what Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character was doing in zero-G other than he was doing "stuff". Related to some complicated timing issue re kicks? and gravity? No tension or suspense if it's not clear what his plan is. Just confusion.

The snow scenes - lots of people dressed the same shooting at each other. Okey-dokey. Then Cobb is back in limbo. Where we come to the ending... and the spinning totem... and the cut to black. Which only confirms that Nolan is fucking with me - was he still dreaming? You decide!

Sorry, No.

I can't be bothered because I don't care enough about the characters. Therefore I have no investment to work out the 'true meaning' of all the trickery no matter how apparently spectacular. I don't care about the internal logic and the kicks and the 'this and that' which has the internet groaning with theories and speculation.

I enjoyed the film as diverting entertainment that didn't treat me like a 12 year old. I didn't feel the running time so much which is a good sign. Most films these days being 20+ minutes over long. But the more I think about it, the idea that this is some modern masterpiece dissipates. Instead, a rogue idea - Nolan's 'puzzle films' make that other cinematic manipulator, M. Night Shyamalan's post The Sixth Sense films look amateurish.

So when I entered my own limbo - the queue at the IGA grocery store next door (surely limbo is waiting in a queue for the '12 items or less' checkout behind people who can't count) - I could feel the fingerprints of the master inceptor.

Perhaps I will watch it again when it comes out on DVD. Maybe I'll just sleep on it...


  1. I think you've become a tad hyper critical after writing so many reviews :P

    As for not caring about the characters, well perhaps going a little deeper into their back grounds, who they are and where they come from, would have been nice, and why he didn't was probably due to the issue of time.. plus the whole story really did only revolve around one character, and we got what we needed.. and I for one disagree with you and did actually care about his plight.

  2. Not so much critical as I just felt at arm's length to proceedings.