Saturday, July 24, 2010

Inception

Has there ever been a film as hotly anticipated, as burdened with expectations, as Christopher Nolan's Inception?  It's certainly hard to think of one, nor to credit all the things that we thought, believed, or hoped that this film would accomplish.  It would rescue one of the dullest and most underperforming summer blockbuster seasons in recent memory.  It would combine the best qualities of all of last year's science fiction films--the stunning visuals of Avatar, the originality of District 9, the enthusiastic fannishness of Star Trek, the detail-oriented fannishness of Watchmen, the attention to character of Moon--into a single perfect storm of SFnal moviemaking.  It would prove, once and for all, that a film that both demonstrated intelligence and demanded it from its viewers could triumph at the box office.  It would put an end to the plague of sequels and remakes that has blighted Hollywood's blockbuster production for the better part of a decade.  It would bring balance to the Force, cure leprosy, and make peace in the Middle East.  The conventional wisdom is that when you walk into a movie theater with such high hopes--and to the barrage of uninformed and unrealistic expectations the film raised you could add, this last week, its near-universal critical acclaim--disappointment it almost inevitable, but though I walked out of Inception feeling less than enthusiastic, I don't see my reaction to the film as an inevitable come-down from unsustainable build-up.  That would result in a review much like the one I wrote for District 9, which took for granted the film's by-then much touted strengths and concentrated on its weaknesses.  My reaction to Inception is actually something much more fundamental, and much more negative--I genuinely can't see what anyone sees in this film.

Many of the reactions I've seen to Inception have kicked off by noting that the film is less a science fiction movie than a heist film in SFnal garb.  I assume that these writers are consciously trying to ape to consensus that quickly built around Nolan's previous film, The Dark Knight, that its superhero story trappings were merely set dressing on what was actually a crime story.  In reality, these reviewers are making the opposite sort of statement.  To say that Inception is a heist film is actually analogous to saying that the The Dark Knight is a superhero film.  It's trivially true--the film's plot revolves around the main character, Leonardo DiCaprio's Cobb, assembling a crew, planning a job, and carrying it out--but for the purposes of making a meaningful statement about the film and the things it tries to do, not at all useful, if for no other reason than because Inception is a supremely bad heist film.  It lacks anything like the flare and pizazz of Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, or Duplicity--is in fact an almost leaden experience, to the extent that when a thin joke turned up halfway through the film, the audience I was seeing it with broke out in relieved, almost hysterical laughter, glad for even the slightest leavening of tone.  It completely fails not only to establish the unique personalities of its characters, but to spell out their individual roles in the heist, to the extent that at least two of them, Ellen Page's Ariadne and Ken Watanabe's Saito, join in the fun merely because they want to, not because they have an integral role to play that extends past the job's planning stages (and I'm also not clear why Yusuf, the chemist played by Dileep Rao who concocts the compounds that allow the characters to enter another person's dreams, needed to come along for the job instead of monitoring the crew from reality, though Cobb insists that he does).  Most importantly, it doesn't deliver the heist film's classic reveal, the missing puzzle piece or palmed card that suddenly makes sense of the entire plot, which locks together like the gears of an intricate but perfectly functioning machine.

So no, Inception is not a heist film dressed up as a science fiction film.  It's a science fiction film dressed up as a heist film, and I'm using the term science fiction here in its most literary, perhaps even Campbell-ian, sense.  Though the McGuffin that allows the characters to manipulate others' dreams and, through that manipulation, to extract or plant ideas in their minds is so thoroughly handwaved away that Ariadne, the token newbie, can't even put up a token objection when the idea is suggested to her, the story that Inception tells is a quintessentially SFnal one--a story about learning the world, learning its rules, and learning how to use them to your advantage.  Which may be the reason why there's been so much talk about the cleverness and convolutedness of what is actually one of the most straightforward, linearly-presented films Nolan has ever made.  There is in Inception none of the playing around with timelines or plotlines that made Memento and The Prestige such twisty delights.  Instead, the plot proceeds quite regularly from past to future (with occasional and very clearly signposted flashbacks).  There is, of course, the shifting between different layers of dreams and dreams-within-dreams, but beyond the deliberately wrong-footing in media res opening, these are also very clearly differentiated.  But for the question that lingers over the entire film and remains unanswered at its end--did Cobb ever truly make it out of limbo, or is his reality just another layer of dream--we never mistake dream for reality, or the different layers of dream for one another.  It's complicated, but it's not clever, and the reason that Inception is so demanding isn't that it's asking us to piece its plot together, but that it's asking us to learn, on the fly and with only the barest consideration for our confusion, the rules of how dream manipulation works.  It's info-dumping--a film made up almost entirely of info-dumps, whose characters exist primarily to ask or answer questions in a manner that provides those info-dumps to the viewer.  The classic science fiction story, in other words, and one that viewers who don't have grounding in the genre may lack the protocols to properly parse and digest.

It's fashionable these days to look down on the Campbell-ian method of science fiction, and the fact that it prioritized imparting information to the reader over engaging them with plot and characters, and though I'm partial to the occasional Stephen Baxter novel I'm certainly glad that science fiction has discovered more and more complicated tools to tell its stories.  But that's not the reason that Inception left me so cold.  If I wanted to sum up my disappointment with the film in a few lines, they would be these: a lot of people are praising Inception for being a more cerebral version of The Matrix, another film whose main character has to learn how to manipulate a reality whose underlying laws are different from those of our reality, but I can't help but see it as a less rigorous version of Primer.  When it comes to translating Campbell-ian science fiction to the screen, Primer is the still undefeated title-holder.  Its characters speak pure and very nearly incomprehensible info-dump, their emotional motivations are either dimly explained or boring or both, and the film's emotional climax comes when one character, having been explained the rules of the method of time travel discovered by his friend, figures out a way to manipulate those rules and expand the technology's capablities.

Inception desperately wants to be Primer but lacks both the courage and the rigor to go all the way.  Instead of completely downplaying its characters' humanity it tacks on a trite and poorly realized romantic motivation for Cobb, who is trying to break free of his guilt over the death of his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard, the only castmember with anything like a vivid on-screen presence, mainly because she's given a lot of scenery to chew--a corrupted version of Cobb's wife driven by his feelings of responsibility for her death, she shrieks and threatens, and gets to be genuinely scary).  Even worse, the film's construction of its alternate reality and its rules lacks the elegance demonstrated by both Primer and The Matrix.  Early scenes make much of Ariadne's ability to manipulate the physics of the dream-world, and though these are visually stunning this ability plays no part in the actual heist.  There is only one sequence in which a character is seen to have fully imbibed the rules of the unreal reality--when Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), left behind in an intermediate dream level to guard his dreaming friends and wake them up when the time is right, finds himself in free-fall because in a higher dream-level, he is in a van that has just plunged off a bridge, and has to swim around, like an astronaut in a custom-tailored suit, dodging bullets from the protective manifestations of the heist target's subconscious while preparing the others to be woken up.

Worst of all, the rules of dream manipulation are self-contradictory and, eventually, just tacked on.  Early on we're told that if a person dies in the dream world they wake up in reality (or the next level up).  Then it's revealed that the compound the characters have taken in order to carry out the heist is too powerful, and that if they die they'll be thrust into limbo, an unconstructed dream state from which there is no escape, which will permanently scramble their brains, in part because they'll become incapable of telling reality from dream.  But when the characters do end up in limbo it seems like just another layer of dream, no more irrational and no less susceptible to their manipulation, than any other.  Most of them recognize that they are in limbo, and then it turns out that getting out of it is as simple as getting out of the other dream layers--you just need to die.  (For the record, all of these problems could have been resolved if the heist plot were better written.  Limbo only exists because Nolan needs something meaningful to threaten the characters with during the heist, having established that death will simply knock them out of the dream, but if each character had an integral role to play in the heist then their death, and disappearance from the dream world, would be a threat in its own right.)  Inception thus occupies a very unsatisfying middle ground--it is nowhere near clever enough to justify the scant attention it pays to the more traditional elements of storytelling such as character and plot.

What most interests me about my reaction to Inception is how little I care that it's been so well-received elsewhere.  Compared to my reactions to Avatar or Star Trek, films whose effusive reception came close to enraging me, I'm surprisingly sanguine about the praise that this film, which ultimately is so much less successful than either Avatar or Star Trek, has received.  I think the reason is that though I disagree with the praise that's been heaped upon it, there's still something satisfying in hearing that praise voiced.  People are praising Inception for being a science fiction film--not a Star Wars-esque fantasy in space, or a character drama that happens to take place in the future--and for doing SFnal things.  I think that it does these things badly, but it's still gratifying to see the effort lauded.  I don't know whether Inception is a sign of things to come--for Nolan, for summer blockbusters, for science fiction films--though in the latter two cases I suspect that it isn't, and in Nolan's case I hope not (and even if he does end up crawling up his own ass I can comfort myself with the knowledge that before he's free to do so, he has to make another Batman film), but the fact that in some small way, it has normalized some of the tools of science fiction in the minds of a much broader audience than the genre usually reaches is, I think, something to be celebrated.  Maybe some day someone will use those tools to make a blockbuster that is actually good.

27 comments:

Martin said...

According to the film Ariadne does have a role in the heist, it is to keep an eye on Cobb and the manifestations of his wife. The reason Ariadne has to do it is because we are told that this is a secret from the rest of the team. But it obviously isn't; Arthur is well aware of Cobb's problems with "Mal". So the film does provide a reason, it is just - as with Yusuf - it doesn't really make any sense. (The reasoning for Saito's inclusion is even weaker and, as you say, amounts to "because he wanted to".)

Abigail Nussbaum said...

According to the film Ariadne does have a role in the heist, it is to keep an eye on Cobb and the manifestations of his wife.

Yes, but that's a self-imposed role. As the heist was planned, she was intended to stay behind, and only decides to go because she feels Cobb needs looking after. In a proper heist film, every member of the team has an integral job they need to be doing that's unrelated to the role they play in the lead's emotional journey. I'm also not sure what role, ultimately, Ariadne plays in keeping Cobb on the straight and narrow. She fails to persuade him to shoot Mal in the mountain fortress, and in limbo he's the one who finally realizes that he needs to let go of Mal, without much input from her.

-Peder said...

I think you're dead on that some of the enthusiasm for this movie is because of what it isn't. We're spared another sequel or (worse) talking sassy animals. Even with all of that I came in with low expectations because of many recent disappointments. And I enjoyed the hell out of 'Inception'!
No, it wasn't as focused as a typical heist film. That didn't bother me as much as it did you. I assumed that the dream invasion techniques were just not developed enough for defined roles to work. The reasons were somewhat arbitrary but not so much as to be unbelievable. As in dreams, only a patina of logic was needed.
Exactly since that's what I think most of the movie was. An attempt by Cobb's loved ones to rescue him from limbo. Or possibly an attempt of his own to escape from limbo into a more acceptable state.
The open ending is probably the big draw from this. I enjoyed the ride well enough on it's own but the post-movie discussion added to that. In contrast, the after movie talk from the latest Batman centered on the tacked on third act.

Jonathan Walker said...

SPOILERS!

I agree with Peder's interpretation.

I assumed that at least some of the illogical elements in the set-up were meant to draw our attention to the possibility that the base-line 'reality' of the first part of the film is already a dream, in which Cobb is being manipulated, and that the redundancy of Saito in particular is simply poor camoflauge on the part of whoever is creating this fictional world. The whole scenario that Cobb finds himself in makes no sense: he's on the run from a faceless corporation; suddenly we're in Mombassa, and in a version of Mombassa that is nonsensical spatially; why haven't his children aged?; why remove Lukas Haas anyway?; and how did Saito manipulate Cobb's initial employers into getting Cobb to fulfil his (Saito's) 'audition' scenario? All the 'real' versions of the characters are therefore self-consciously poorly-written, to tip us that they are all actors, even within the fictional world (except, presumably, Cobb and Mal).

The question is whether this is really clever, or rather a 'Get out of jail free' card that can be used to excuse any flaw in the screenplay's logic, and as such, something that fatally undermines its integrity.

I thought it was incredible as spectacle though. And the parts of it that can be made to yield sense on their own terms - like the zero-gravity fight - worked great, as did the triple time scale cross-cutting. I also enjoyed it as a puzzle, even if it doesn't have a solution in the same way that Memento and The Prestige do.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Peder, Jonathan:

Any person with a bit of grounding in science fiction will have guessed that Inception might be taking place entirely in Cobb's mind long before the film itself begins hinting, and finally outright stating, this possibility. And, as Martin points out in the comments to his post about the film, the ambivalent ending, which leaves this possibility open, is just as easy to predict. So I don't see much to celebrate in the film's open-endedness, nor do I think that reading Inception as Cobb's dream justifies its flaws. It may explain the fact that the characters are all so flat (though why is Cobb so one-note if he's a real person?) and the plot is full of holes, but it doesn't give me back the two hours of my life I spent watching those flat characters move through that swiss-cheesed plot.

Jeff Carroll said...

My wife and I just returned from viewing Inception. Abigial was perceptive, as always, in her observations. I enjoyed discussing the film on the way home with my wife, walking through the puzzle, and appreciating the effort taken to bring a film such as this to a mass audience.

But I don't feel the need to watch it again,

I was always aware, while watching Inception, that I was watching a movie, and since I was never lost within the story, I was only aware of the attempts to bamboozle me. Partialy through the movie, I began to wonder if that was the intent--for me to feel the superior movie watcher because I suspected that this was all still a dream of Cobb's. Could this actually be a dream of Mal's? Had Cobb, and perhaps her children, died, and this projection of Cobb was merely the aspect of her that felt guilty over being a survivor. Was that the secret that she held back from "Cobb," and even from herself? Is that why it was her talisman that traveled between the first layer of the dream and limbo? In our dreams, we are not often the protagonist like Cobb, but the powerless observer. Would they reveal that it was a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream at the end, then tack on another dream just at the moment we felt smug?

I admit. That was fun. Possibly because my smugness felt well protected;-P But it was the puzzle that engaged me, and now, a few hours away from the film, the characters are falling away and hard to remember.

Wait, what if that was the intent???

Jonathan Walker said...

Yes, it is a trope (not only from science fiction in general, but from previous Nolan films!), and yes, it was immediately obvious that that was where the film was going, right from the start. But as I was watching it, I was still interested to see how exactly it was going to play out. The ending was therefore a disappointment. I like Jeff's interpretation though.

-Peder said...

I'm with Jonathan here, in that it wasn't exactly a surprise that a movie about multiple and confusing levels of reality would end on some kind of question as to what reality is. But I found the journey interesting. Especially the bit with the nested time elements.

Michael Grosberg said...

I have a very simple criterion for judging a movie. While I'm in the cinema, an I riveted to the screen? Do I lose myself in the story, or the action, or even just the visuals? Do I forget myself and lose track of time?

None of that happened during Inception. The plot unfolded in its complicated but expected manner, and then I was out of the cinema. I could analyze it all day but happily you did it for me. Truth be told, that movie was just not very memorable.

Martin said...

suddenly we're in Mombassa, and in a version of Mombassa that is nonsensical spatially

We aren't suddenly in Mombassa. They say they are going to Mombassa, we then have an aerial establishing shot of the city, then they are in Mombassa. There is both internal logic and standard film-making vocabulary to this. It is very different to the scene earlier in the film where Cobb points out to Ariadne that she entered the scene mid-conversation.

As for the city being nonsensical spatially, I don't see how this is any different to any other chase scene in a city (or indeed the representation of real world geography in pretty much every single film). I don't think you can just put down standard film-making techniques as evidence that it is a dream. If you do then the canon of films that are actually dreams becomes vast.

I've yet to see any argument that it is all a dream that explains why Nolan would want to make a film where everything is just a dream.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

The most persuasive argument I've seen for the notion that Mombassa is a dream (assuming that the entire film isn't a dream) is that the scene in which Cobb escapes his pursuers by squeezing into an alley that gets narrower and narrower is a classic dream image. Which is nice, and makes me want to track down other such images in the film though none spring to mind.

I've yet to see any argument that it is all a dream that explains why Nolan would want to make a film where everything is just a dream.

This actually covers all of the explanations I've seen (the most recent, and most imaginative - Saito is a policeman interrogating Cobb in his dream, trying to find out what happened to Mal). It's easy enough to come up with elaborate explanations that don't contradict anything in the film (though most of them require assuming things that we don't see and have no evidence of), but none of them turn Inception into a successful, meaningful work with something to say.

Brian Slattery said...

Hey there,

Abigail, I feel sort of as you do about the movie. I enjoyed it, but I didn't think the movie was terribly difficult to follow (definitely easier than Memento, or The Prestige) and had trouble understanding what all the fuss was about in that regard. Also, it kind of bothered me that the zero-gravity thing didn't extend all the way into the dreams-within-dreams--another example of the holes you describe, and as you can imagine based on my own books, I am willing to forgive a *lot* of plot holes. (Thank you for reading them, by the way. You are awesome.) Also, the segments on the snowy mountainside were far too uninteresting. I would much rather have watched people float and fight around hotel hallways for another twenty-five minutes. Or had the movie be shorter.

That said, I ultimately liked it more than you did. What actually drove the movie for me was the idea that the whole dream-manipulation thing was just a big metaphor for the process of making movies and showing them to an audience (which shows up in a bunch of reviews, too), so that what Dom is doing to Cillian Murphy's character (whose name I can't recall, or be bothered to look up, because I am lazy) is analogous to what Christopher Nolan is attempting to do to us.

This idea saves the ending somwwhat from being a lame Twilight Zone ending--you know, the "it was all just a dream, man!" thing that teenagers like to talk about when they've been sitting around listening to Jethro Tull under the blacklight posters--because then it doesn't really matter for the purposes of comprehending the movie whether it was a dream or not. The ambiguity of the ending is just Nolan's way of attempting to perform inception on us: as they say about inception in the movie itself, manipulatively planting questions in our head in an effort to change us.

Granted, if Nolan is trying to implant the idea that maybe our own lives are just dreams, then probably most people are immune to his manipulation, having already thought of it themselves (see above re: fourteen-year-olds, Tull. See also the lyrics to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."). If we're not immune, and if you took the inception concept seriously, you could argue that Nolan is being irresponsible, since the idea drove one of his characters to suicide. But that argument is silly.

In short, what I'm saying is that I don't think the ending is *that* devoid of meaning. It's not mind-blowing, either. But it's neat that an action/heist/SF/whatever it is movie also bothers to raise some questions about the ability of movies to manipulate us. Sure, the ground's been covered. But it's also fertile--I don't mind if filmmakers return to it again and again to put their own spin on the familiar queries, and get their audiences to say something more than "well, that was fun. What's for dessert?"

Brian Slattery said...

Sorry--I meant to say "action/heist/SF/whatever is is movie that is aiming to be, first and foremost, popular entertainment, also bothers to raise some questions..."

I certainly don't mean to imply that action/heist/SF/whatever usually don't bother to be smart (particularly SF, of course). That's crazy talk, and even if I believed it, I don't see nearly enough movies these days to back it up. What I'm saying is that it's neat how Nolan has taken a page from Hitchcock, in making movies that succeed as entertainment but also provoke some thought. It's a good gig, and as Hitchcock showed, a nice recipe for both a long and interesting career in Hollywood and a nice artistic afterlife.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Hi Brian,

I've seen the suggestion that the film is an allegory for storytelling or filmmaking floating around, and though it certainly works better for me than any of the more literal-minded attempts to explain the film, I still find it unsatisfying. For one thing, because films about the creative process and the influence that art has on its consumers tend to fall on their faces when it comes to depicting that art (for example, Stranger than Fiction, a delightful and not unintelligent film about storytelling, argues with a straight face that Emma Thompson's character is one of the most important novelists in the English language when the novels she writes sound barely more literate than Dick and Jane), and Inception, with its anemic dreamscapes all directed towards a trite scene of psychological healing, is no exception (though this reading goes some way towards explaining why the dreams in Inception are so literal and unimaginative - the equivalence between dreams and storytelling is, after all, a bit strained).

More importantly, I'm not sure just what Inception has to say about storytelling, and in fact the film seems to avoid the implications of the parallels between it and inception. There's no discussion of what it means to be able to manipulate someone's mind so effectively, even though the in-film parallel to storytelling is so much more powerful, and more intimate, than storytelling itself. To put it another way, if the concept of inception is a metaphor for storytelling, then what idea is Nolan trying to, um, incept in us? Is it just the notion that inception is analogous to storytelling? It seems strange, not to mention circular, to tell a story that's trying to plant in our heads the idea that stories can plant ideas in our heads.

All that said, I wouldn't be surprised if you're closer to what Nolan is aiming at than the 'it was all a dream!' brigade. Not so sure I agree that it's better to make a stab at an interesting concept than to just make entertainment, if only because my reaction to Inception was precisely 'that was OK, what's for dessert?' whereas trashier fare (Avatar and Star Trek, for example) will often get the wheels in my head spinning even if in so doing I'm expending more thought on the films than their creators probably have. I still have high hopes for Nolan, but I can't help but wonder if he's better off being reigned in by someone else's source material (The Prestige, The Dark Knight), or by budgetary limitations (Memento).

Brian Slattery said...

Hey,

I totally hear what you're saying, and pretty much agree with you.

I don't think the movie "avoids the implications of the parallels between [storytelling] and inception," though--it's just that the parallels aren't in the plot and the dialogue. Rather, they're in the way that Nolan puts the movie together and the way he plays with cinematic conventions to get us to notice them and question them.

I liked, for example, the conceit that time slows down, and slows down, and slows down again with various dream levels, because it meant that the use of slow motion throughout the movie carried (potentially) narrative weight. The agonizingly long slo-mo shot of the van falling off the bridge--an image we've seen plenty (probably every episode of The A-Team had such a shot)--was actually slo-mo for a reason having to do with the plot.

But now think about the final scene, when Cobb is leaving the airport. First, there's the plot ambiguity. Is it ridiculous that everyone's in baggage claim, exchanging meaningful glances, and then that Michael Caine's character (again, I am too lazy to look up the character's name) is waiting to pick him up--so ridiculous that it has to be a dream? Or is it just the standard way so many movies end? This ambiguity is mirrored in the technique. In Inception, by the end, we've grown accustomed to slo-mo as evidence that we're in a dream. Does the use of slo-mo there mean he's dreaming? Or is it standard movie vocabulary? (Think of how much slo-mo there was at the end of The Return of the King, just for dramatic effect.) These aren't rhetorical questions: When we left the theater and talked about it on the way home, my wife had assumed the former, and I had assumed the latter. I think that ambiguity points to a certain amount of clever filmmaking on Nolan's part.

And, as the conversation between Jonathan Walker and Martin shows, Nolan gets some similar ambiguities to happen with standard film editing. To Jonathan Walker, we are "suddenly in Mombassa," and it's evidence that maybe that segment's a dream. To Martin, we are in Mombassa using standard film vocabulary, where we're expected to fill in the blanks. That's not evidence of a dream; it's just how movies tell their stories. Again, I think the ambiguity is intentional.

I'm not saying it's all that profound. But it is pretty clever. Unless I just made all that up, and Christopher Nolan, were he to read this, would be like, "no, you have it all wrong," like that awesome scene with Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall.

But whatevs. I really pretty much agree with you. Also, I totally share your annoyance with movies about the creative process: The movies themselves might be pretty good (I liked Stranger than Fiction, too) but every time they show the product, it's kind of disappointing. Which is why, among movies about creativity, my favorite is actually Henry Fool, which I watched randomly in graduate school one afternoon because my punk-musician roommates were out and there was nothing in the living room of the apartment but a plush chair, a TV-VHS combo on the floor, and a crate full of VHS tapes. (I also saw To Die For that way, and watched The Salton Sea one night with them, sitting on the floor because the singer/guitarist roomate, as opposed to the drummer roomate, already had the chair. But I'm digressing.) Henry Fool is definitely a really uneven movie, and full of a bunch of (artless? Or just low-budget?) arthouse tics that can be kind of grating. But to me, it utterly sells the idea that one of the characters is a literary genius. This is because you never hear the poetry; you only see what it does to people when they read it.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

By implications I meant the moral implications of inception. You've got Robert, who is allegedly being healed by the crew, but really they're just doing it for money and who knows what the consequences down the line will be, and you've got Mal, whom Cobb violated and, ultimately, destroyed by performing inception on her. Both of these points are touched on very lightly in the film, but if inception is a metaphor for storytelling, than what is Nolan saying about storytelling?

You're right, of course, about the various ways that film calls attention to its storyness, though I can't help but compare them to House's second season finale, which uses the same trope - the conventions and contractions of filmed storytelling are noticed by the main character, who realizes that he is dreaming - to much better effect.

Martin said...

The question of morality is an interesting one. As you say, the film is structured as a heist and within this structure Fisher is the mark. So I don't think the viewer is supposed to take any suggestion Fisher is healed seriously. What they are doing to him is grossly immoral and although the film doesn't shout this, I don't think it actively tries to deny it. What it doesn't explain is what motivates the characters to violate him in this way.

The characters aren't set up as loveable rogues - well, maybe Eames is - and the heist unusually personalises the faceless corporation so Nolan really needed to say something. For Cobb it is clear: his priority is to be re-united with his kids and that over-writes his moral compass. We might find this repellent but at least we can understand it. What of Arthur though? What of Ariadne? There is no motivation presented.

Regarding Cobb's use of inception on Mal, I'm not sure I really do regard that as a violation. I know lots of people see it as mind rape but what is the alternative? She is in a dream but is not aware of this, Cobb is aware of this so can't stay. If Cobb leaves with out her she is abandoned to limbo and Cobb must strap her body to a life support machine whilst she is essentially dead to him and her children. It is a situation that demands radical action and I think the well known analogy is that we shouldn't go round cutting peopel but sometimes we have to to perform surgery.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I don't think the viewer is supposed to take any suggestion Fisher is healed seriously

I think given that his catharsis at his father's bedside is one of the film's emotional highlights (or, to put it another way, one of the few scenes in which the film even bothers to address emotion) that we're meant to view the process he undergoes as a positive one, though obviously we never find out what its long-term consequences, psychological or financial, are, and we do have Mal's example to tell us that even the best-intended inceptions can scramble their subjects' brains.

Good point about the other characters' complete lack of feeling about the heist, particularly Ariadne. You could spin the others' apathy as the result of their greater immersion in the world of dream manipulation, and their desire to pull off an impossible feat, but what's her excuse? It goes further - there's a scene early on in which Cobb tells Ariadne that the job he's offering her is illegal, and she has zero response to this, neither fear nor excitement.

I can see your point about Cobb's inception of Mal, but it still leaves me feeling uncomfortable. You could certainly have an interesting discussion about the issue, however, and wouldn't it have been nice if the film had done so?

Brian Slattery said...

Hello again!

Sorry, I misread you previously. Yeah, I see what you're saying.

Re: House: Whoa. I should watch more House.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I wouldn't want to oversell the episode (or the show, which would be rather forgettable if it weren't for the lead performance), but that scene - House is talking to his fellows in his hospital room (he's been shot), and then you see them walking up a flight of stairs as he continues to talk; he stops, looks around, and asks "How did I get here? I was just in my room" and realizes that he must be in a coma - was generally acknowledged to be a moment of pure neatness. What works in a 30-second scene, though, is a bit much to hang a two hour movie on, especially if it's five years later.

Raz Greenberg said...

I pretty much agree with you (Abigail), but with most of the other replies too - no, "Inception" isn't the great intellectual experienced it promised (?) to be, but it is an enjoyable film nonetheless. Yes, the plot is completely linear and holds few surprises if any, but watching it unfold is still fun. True, the characters all have cardboard personalities, but the actors' presence is pleasant enough. I agree that at its heart, "Inception" is a 100% popcorn affair - but it's a much better popcorn affair than most of what we usually get, especially when it comes to summer genre blockbusters, even more so when it comes to those based on original scripts (a rarity these days) - it's a much, much better film, in both concept and execution, than either "District 9" and "Avatar".
Perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for me in the film was that Nolan seems to have finally learned how to direct an action scene properly - in both his Batman films, the action would often turn into an incomprehensible mess. Here, he handles the action very well, and it generates a lot of the excitement that makes the film worth watching.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

at its heart, "Inception" is a 100% popcorn affair - but it's a much better popcorn affair than most of what we usually get

I think I disagree with both parts of this sentence. I don't think Inception was intended as 100% or even 70-80% popcorn (as opposed, for example, to Nolan's Batman films, which surely were), and I don't think it works well as popcorn either - certainly not better than District 9 or even Avatar. Despite its standout sequence (Joseph Gordon-Levitt in zero G), it's one of the most inert films I've ever seen.

hanum said...

cool action movie ^^. Like this!

davelin said...

One thing I didn't quite understand, why did Cobb have to incept the idea of the dreamworld to Mal? Instead of convincing her to commit dual-suicide, why not just "kill" her in limbo in order to waker her up?

Martin said...

I think we just have to accept that to get out of limbo you have to commit suicide. We are told that you just have to be killed in a dream to wake up but we are also told that limbo is different to being in a dream. So you have to take the suicide thing on faith but I think it is consistent with the rules Nolan sets up (and the way he depicts them on screen). It makes sense that to get out of limbo you need to make a conscious decision to escape. It is quite possible someone can't kill you in limbo.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Except that Ariadne kills Fischer in order to get him out of limbo. From what I gathered, the difficulty in getting someone out of limbo isn't how you kill them, but convincing them that they're still dreaming so that they stop being afraid of death.

davelin said...

That was my thought as well - just being killed wasn't enough, you had to "know" that being killed in Limbo would wake you up. However that brings up the question - what is beyond Limbo? I ask because in order to incept Mal, Cobb would have to go deeper.

Post a Comment