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Inception (USA, 2010)

Inception is a big budget sci-fi film by Christopher Nolan who did The Dark Knight recently. It’s getting quite some acclaim. I saw it on Saturday with the other moose, the knifeman, and the enigmatic B. We spanned the whole range of opinions: one liked it, one didn’t like it, one thought it was okay, and one was unable to decide.

Here are some bullet points.

  • I was the one who liked it. I did. About halfway through I realized I was having a good time.
  • I’ve had several conversations about Neuromancer in the last week. Inception felt like that – dense, global, informed by Noir, a heist story that turns on the specific nature and limitations of a distinctive technology.
  • But not really that dense. It felt very straightforward to me – if you keep up with the technology explanations, then the whole thing runs with no real deviations or surprises.
  • (If you keep up with the technology – and here let’s pause and acknowledge the most extreme case of infodumping I’ve seen in any medium for quite a long time. Characters keep stopping and explaining at length this or that aspect of the tech. Not even remotely elegant.)
  • Some viewers have constructed elaborate theories about what was really going on, analysing looks between characters and specific cuts halfway through the film to argue this or that theory. That’s cool if you like that stuff, but I don’t think there was anything in the film that demands it. The straightforward explanation is never undermined or challenged. There’s no reason to think that it’s anything but exactly what it seems to be.
  • It’s a heist movie with nearly the entire focus on the procedural aspects of the job. It was a bit like CSI crossed with the A-Team. I enjoyed it for that reason, I think.
  • The zero-g stuff was wonderful.
  • The psychology stuff – not so wonderful. Inception, the process of putting an idea into someone’s head so they think it’s their own? Far from being an ultimate, feared challenge requiring future!tech and extreme risk-taking by our band of outlaws, inception is performed on all of us every day by advertisers. Dude.

I liked it. Don’t think I’ll watch it ever again, though. I’ll give it about a 3.5 out of 5, which is pretty good really, but not at all a classic.

Enthusiasts might want to read the preview comic, written by Chris Nolan.

{ 10 } Comments

  1. Gator | August 9, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    I thought it relied on the weakest story-telling device ever: and then I woke up, and it was all a dream!

    I didn’t like it generally, but the zero-g stuff was nice indeed.

  2. Jack | August 9, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed it. I thought it was actually a fairly conventional heist movie, but it played around with the genre conventions a bit. The closest analogue I’d argue is movies like the Ocean’s 11 series – basically a crime procedural, with the constant theme of deception and mind games (a metaphor which Inception literalised).

    I agree that it’s not as deep as it’s being made out: I thought one of its strengths was the way that it was actually extremely straightforward, and the constant cutting between dream timelines meant that you were always aware of exactly what was happening at each level. The only real area of ambiguity was the final shot. A fun movie, though.

  3. Jarratt | August 9, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I think the “I don’t think I’d watch it again” really sums it up for me.

    I thought it was really clever, possibly too clever for it’s own good. The characters are deliberately shallow, we never really get to know them or their backstory. The cinematography never sets up the scene, just plunges you right in as if it were a dream. The whole thing is built around the concept of a dream, right down to the characters, scripting and way it is shot. This is really clever, and Nolan does do it masterfully.

    However this is also where the film falls down. Because I don’t care about the characters except that Ariadne is really Juno and Arther is the guy from Brick, I’m in no rush to ever watch it again, nor does it become a classic in any sense.

    Weirdly I think I feel the same about Memento. I’ve got it sitting on my shelf but I’ve only ever watched it once. At the cinema no less. Did I really need the DVD.

    And for a heist movie Inception was at its worst when a heist movie is usually at its best, during the explanation and build up of how to do the heist. This was when Inception slowed down a lot and became a bit boring. I think Inception is better viewed as an action movie because all the action and tension is pretty strong especially as things build toward the end.

    It was good enough for me to buy the blu-ray but not to get in my top 10. Still I think Nolan has firmly established himself as a director whose work is worth seeing.

  4. morgue | August 9, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Gator: or the other most-used trope – “It was all a dream… OR WAS IT?” I kinda forgive it though since that was almost the point. But should avoid spoilers I guess.

    Jack: yeah, that’s something it deserves kudos for – making clear what is happening is harder than it looks. Imagine what Michael Bay would have done with this exact script – it would be incomprehensible.

    Jarratt: yes! The planning section was lumpy and leaden, and it shoulda been zippy. I think that’s because the characters weren’t there – that section is where the characters and the plot-cleverness support each other in a good heist film, but here the characters weren’t up to the job. (Great actors though.)

  5. Vaughan | August 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Normally I see films like this the weekend they open but with Inception….I just kind of got burned out with the hype and by the time it arrived I just didn’t care. And I loved The Dark Knight, so it should have been a must see. Comparisons to the ludicrously overrated Matrix don’t help……

  6. Pearce | August 9, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I was the one who didn’t like it, btw. I thought it was utterly predictable and shallow. A bunch of cyphers chase a dull MacGuffin around a warmed-over Philip K. Dick ripoff.

    I thought that the zero-g stuff, much like the rest of the movie, was better in concept than execution. And does everything Chris Nolan does have to be so damned heavy-handed and self-serious?

  7. Jack | August 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    If you’re going to go for deeply involved interpretations of the movie, you can’t go past this: http://lazenby.tumblr.com/post/891007064/in-praise-of-inception

  8. Pearce | August 10, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Jack – interesting analysis. Taken this way, the movie strongly implies something that I took from it in my own way:

    Christopher Nolan can’t be trusted to come up with a story on his own and needs either somebody else’s source material or a co-writer.

  9. Kate | August 11, 2010 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    I didn’t really like it either, mainly because I didn’t care about any of the characters (I’m a chick like that). I was kinda looking for clever stuff in the background, cause I gave Nolan enough credit that it couldn’t all be as straight-forward as it appeared. I had gone into it expecting something really complex that I’d have to get my head around…. but it really wasn’t…. It was pretty straight-forward.

    I might watch the DVD if it has a director’s commentary… just to see if there was stuff there. But I think making a film where the plot and characters are undeveloped to the point where it takes away from the film is too clever for its own good (even if it is tied into some dream-state concept). Pan’s Labyrinth had intentionally two-dimensional characters, but I still enjoyed that (different genre, so it was probably easier to do well).

  10. Pearce | August 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Mild spoilers.

    Inception didn’t even have two-dimensional characters! At first I was quite pleased that for once Chris Nolan included a female character who was not there just to be a wife or a girlfriend (hey The Prestige – your female characters really suck), until I realised that there were actually no relationships at all between the characters (except between the male lead and his already-dead wife, which was more of a cliche-motivator than an actual relationship – it’s not like we actually know what they were like as a couple or anything, and as usual for Nolan she was ‘wife’ not ‘character’).

    So Ellen Page, a talented actor, ended up just being “person who the plot is explained to so the audience gets to hear what’s going on”. Other talented actors got to play characters whose entire identity was “person who drives a van” or “person who puts up the money then gets shot” or “person who can fight in zero-g” or “person whose mind needs to be changed, though we won’t bother giving you a good reason why you should care about that”.

    Seriously man, if the whole movie is about convincing one guy to do something, and the dialogue tells us that they need to get deep into this guy’s head to change his mind, wouldn’t it be a good idea to actually give us some idea of what kind of person he is? Instead we get more of that “Wahhhh my daddy didn’t love me enough (though he did give me lots and lots of money)” crap, which is something I’m really goddamned sick of seeing in movies as being some kind of prime motivator. Lots of us have absent fathers – very few of us spend our entire f–king lives stressing out about it.

    All the subtext in the world can’t save a movie when the text is so goddamned superficial.

    Boy, I’m really getting angry about this movie. 🙂