Skip to main content

Inception: Dreaming a dream within a dream


From Blogger
After seeing a film, I turn to film critics to aid in my mental digestion of what I've seen, as immediately after I am often at a loss as to what I really thought. Instead of concrete, coherent thoughts on a film, I instead experience an emotion, but this may or may not have anything to do with the experience of the film, but instead may have more to do with my own baggage that I brought to the cinema that day. So I ruminate, read what others thought and finally I am able to put into words what value I found in the film.

Saturday morning was spent reading the critics that I get the most value from their writings to aid in this process. I visited Roger Ebert, the New York Times' film critics, and my favorite place for fascinating discussion on film criticism, Jim Emerson's Scanners blog. There what I read has left me stunned and considering how much what we expect to see when we go to the theater impacts the critique of the film. Don't get me wrong; I'm not put off by dissenting opinion. But what I've been amazed by is the number of critics that disliked Inception because what they experienced on the screen was nothing like their experience of dreaming. And I believe that misses the point. Inception is not a film about dreams or dreaming, but instead is a heist movie set in a dream.

Inception is a carefully constructed maze of a heist film, where the team of thieves is a group of experts on navigating the subconscious of the chosen mark. Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires the troubled Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) to implant an idea in the mind of Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy). The pay for this, if successful, is that Cobb can return home to his children since being exiled after the death of his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard). Like any heist film, much of the pleasure is derived from the assembling of the team and the preparation, which is all methodically calculated.

The set-up is rather slick. In Cobb's search for an architect (i.e. dream designer) for the mission, he selects a newcomer to the underground world of dream infiltration, Ariadne (Ellen Page). Acting as teacher allows the necessary exposition essential to understanding the logic of Nolan's dream world to flow effortlessly. In fact, one of the greatest moments in the film is when Ariadne approaches her shared dreamscape with Cobb and tests the limits of this inner world by folding the streets of Paris into a M.C. Esheresque landscape. Ariadne's playful spirit while learning Cobb's dream rules is among the only light and playful moments. Does Nolan do playful?



What Nolan does well is construct intricate, smart, and wholly novel films. Inception, unlike some of Nolan's other films, follows a well worn heist movie structure into the totally novel territory of dream theft. The result is stunning as stairways transform into closed loops and skyscrapers crumble. Probably the most breathtaking spectacle are the action sequences that occur in zero gravity. One cannot help but to be reminded of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but with fighting. My complaints about Christopher Nolan's lack of ability to film a coherent and suspenseful action sequence are corrected in this film. While he still refuses to consistently use wide angle, steady shots to film action, they are much better than previous attempts and attempted to keep tabs on the geography of the scene. Nolan's weaknesses are his characters. He keeps the viewer at an academic distance from the characters and as a result, they are little more than the role they play in the heist; the mark, the architect, the forger, the chemist. We even remain at an emotional distance from the character most central to the film, Cobb. The most real character in the film is Cobb's deceased wife, Mal, but this might be part of the film's design.

But what I enjoy most about Christopher Nolan's cinema is just how smart they are. Nolan does enjoy constructing puzzle-box films. After the closing scene, I want to see the film again in an attempt to piece together what version of reality, or rather who's dream, this film takes place in. Knowing the answer to that question is certainly not necessary to enjoy the film, but the final image leaves so many lingering questions. I have my own theory, but I'm certain that Inception will reward repeat viewings with clues as to the intended meaning of the final scene.

Some interesting reading (contains spoilers):

The closed loop

Inception: Has Christopher Nolan forgotten how to dream?

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhastan

Right after seeing Sacha Baron Cohen's film, Borat, I was disappointed. I didn't laugh nearly as hard as I had hoped and it wasn't quite as outrageous as I had expected. But in retrospect, I have to admit the comic brilliance of Borat. Sacha Baron Cohen has adeptly created a film about a fictional man, Borat, from a fictionalized Kazakhastan and used this creation to show the hipocracy of America. Using tactics pioneered by reality television shows, Borat travels across America on a quest to find his true love, Pamela Anderson. On this journey, he meets numerous people who share their thoughts about a multitude of things, exposing the way some Americans really believe about race, class, homosexuality and the other sex. It is a very interesting film. Sure, it gets laughs from ambushing Pamela Anderson with a wedding bag, traveling with a bear, and a bit of naked wrestling, but this film is also very smart in its sly portrayal of the wealth of prejudices that are ali

Horror?

From Blogger I apparently have no clue what a horror movie is. Or at least, when the challenge rolls around and I take the leap and attempt to watch 31 horror movies, I suddenly feel as if I have no idea what that means. There are times when it is obvious that a movie is horror; Friday the 13th, Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre . Once I dive into the challenge, I begin to question whether the movies I'm seeing really count. This year, I've seen Buried, Carrie, Clean, Shaven, Nosferatu (1922), Scanners, Sisters , and I sell the Dead . Nate protested Sisters, saying DePalma's movie about a pair of disturbed Siamese twins isn't a horror movie. And he has a point, but how is one supposed to choose movies without having seen them before to really know whether they are horror? Especially since I'm only using the challenge to catch up on movies that I should see because they are classics and to re-watch a few others that need to be revisited. But picking the

My attempt at Filmspotting's Top 5 List

I just finished listening to Filmspotting podcast, episode #296, and I've been inspired to begin a small project. My concept of great cinema has changed now that I live in a place with so many choices. When I lived in Anchorage, I primarily saw movies at the local Art House, Capri Cinema. Rand, being an out gay man, tended to show a lot of GLBT cinema as well as the better known independent/art house films. The years I lived in Columbia, I watched more mainstream film and really, just about everything that came to town that sounded at all interesting. But in Seattle, the choices are overwhelming by comparison. Sometimes I'll see a classic film, or a film with a lot of buzz, and there are a lot of foreign language films, because of the wide variety of cinema I have access to, I am now a very devoted fan of Asian cinema. The filmmakers in Hong Kong, Korea, China, Japan, Thailand are incredible. And this isn't at all limited to the genre films that have made Asian film