Jul 19, 2010

REVIEW: Inception (dir. Nolan)

Movies are like butterflies: they can reach a certain level of size and complexity before they are unable to support their own wing-span. Nuzzling on the outer edge of that Darwinian buffer is Christopher Nolan's Inception, an exceedingly handsome piece of trick cinema. As you will all doubtless be aware by now, Leonardo Di Caprio plays a man who enters people's dreams to steal ideas or plant new ones. The plot involves the heir to a business empire played by Cillian Murphy. Di Caprio and his gang of dream-thieves must enter Murphy's dreams and plant the idea of breaking up his father's business empire. "How can we turn this business idea into an emotional concept?" asks one of Di Caprio's men in front of a blackboard, in a scene surely inspired by the brainstorming sessions for the script. Nolan is an ingenious puzzle-maker, cinema's answer to The Riddler, unabashed in his determination to turn movies into a distant cousin of the Rubik's Cube, but confront him with an emotion and he runs screaming from the room. There were many snorts of derision from my wife during these early, exposition-heavy scenes, but I sat there with my eyes peeled, ears cocked, determined not to be outsmarted. I'd heard all sorts of advance rumors about this movie's IQ levels, you see, and was determined to exorcise the childhood ghost of being reduced to a state of teary frustration by the geography of The Spy Who Loved Me ("why are they in Egypt?"). I sat through Inception nodding, absorbing, scribbling, brow knitted, slide rule at the ready. Here's the gist of it: You can't die in a dream, you just wake up, until such time as the screenwriters determine it would be more suspenseful otherwise (round about the beginning of Act II). You can have a dream within a dream, each running at different speeds, thus ensuring an Oscar nomination for your editor. Best of all, the dreams can have an effect on each other: a plummeting car in one means a sudden attack of zero gravity in another. Cool. Oh, and it's a collaborative effort, just like the movies: while Murphy dreams, Ellen Page designs the architecture, and Leo Di Caprio populates the place, which is bad news since his subconscious keeps getting gatecrashed by his ex-wife Marion Cottillard in a backless dress, making goo-goo eyes and attempting to lure him into a perpetual dream state. These guys are supposed to be professionals: you'd think they'd screen these dream-thieves to keep out the obvious basket cases, but no, somehow the guy with the huge guilt complex about his psycho ex-wife rose to the top of his profession. Di Caprio is the only one with any issues. The rest are blank slates, like the good supporting players they are. Maybe that's why the dreams look so anonymous — duluxe locations, men with guns, lots of shouted dialogue and broken glass, like a Bond movie folded in on itself. Mine tend to be more mundane, Mike Leighish affairs, with occasional touches of Bunuel: a tea party with Dick Cheney in attendance, for instance, or a state funeral for the British PM James Cameron (not David. That was an actual dream of mine: the Avatar director was prime minister of Great Britain). The dreams Christopher Nolan concocts are much swisher — cutting-edge, sleek, with lots of frosted glass and brushed steel. It's the unconscious as imagined by a literalist, a control freak's idea of chaos. It's not that the movie makes no sense: it makes too much sense. It's like a movie made by someone who has never had a dream himself but had had one described to him by an exceptionally bright child. Or as if surrealism never existed, although the exploding Parisian fruit market had a certain petrified beauty. Nolan has down the blockbuster high style all right — all heft and fight-fingered majesty, and he's clearly a keen student of Michael Mann's Heat, from which he has learned when to cut his action sequences scorelessly, and when to bring on Hans Zimmer, who delivers his best score, an amazing pulsing affair with some lovely John Barryish trombones that make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. The sights and sounds of this movie inspire something close to genuine awe. I'm just not convinced its dreams extend much beyond movies, more movies, and still more movies, in Escher-like regress. Maybe audiences are so cine-literate these days it doesn't matter: one of the reasons the film makes sense to people, I think, is because they intuitively realise that what Di Caprio is doing, essentially, is staging movies for people inside their head, with the help of a director (the dreamer), set designer (Page), a casting agent (Di Caprio), and so on. When we finally get down to the basement level of Murphy's unconscious, where all the loamy, primal stuff about his father lies waiting, it looks exactly the pristine snow-scape from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. That's an Englishman for you: negotiate the mazy depths of his psyche, penetrate the innermost sanctums of his being, crack open his deepest, darkest secrets, and what do you get? Bloody Bond. B+

In a blog post for the Daily Telegraph, I expanded on the film's thematic similarities to James Cameron's Avatar:—

Unlike previous romances between the representatives of two civilizations who part ways sorrowfully in the final reel, Avatar ends with Sully going native in his new body and leaving his earthly existence behind entirely. And now we have Inception, in which Leonardo Di Caprio spends the majority of his time plumbing new depths of dream consciousness, like Orpheus in the Underworld, only to encounter his very own Eurydice in form of his ex-wife, played by Marion Cotillard, who does her best to persuade him to enter a perpetual dream state. The audience I saw the movie with, in the air-conditioned sanctuary of Brooklyn multiplex, the temperatures outside close to 103 degrees, seemed to shift in their seats with anticipation at the very thought. Maybe it says a lot about American reality at the moment, but with two wars on the go that don’t look like letting up, unemployment numbers in the double digits and the Gulf of Mexico fouled beyond recognition, Cotillard’s offer to skip town and dream the rest of their lives away, seemed an inticing one indeed; and for a moment, a hundred heads hummed with hesitation. They would come back, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they?

5 comments:

  1. Nice review, although "piffle" seems a bit harsh. You make excellent points about Nolan's controlling vision being at odds with the surrealism one would expect from a dream movie. I enjoyed Blockbuster a few weeks ago, and it leaves me wondering. How does Inception stack up next to the blockbusters that you analyze there? Doesn't Nolan reinvent the form given Inception's ambiguous ending which hints that Dom may still be in limbo, its unusual narrative structure, and its hints of Escher, etc.? Isn't Inception both a crass bit of Bond-esque action and an attempt to do something more complex for adults, something unusual amongst blockbusters?

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  2. You said it very well yourself. If I was writing a longer piece I'd compare it to Avatar with its fantasy of a permanently altered state — both films tempt their heroes with the idea of going native in their dreams and simply never returning to reality. And audiences seem to be basically okay with that. We seem to have reached some sort of agreement: fantasy isn't just a holiday from reality any more. It's home base. We want to live in Oz permanently.

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  3. cool action movie ^^. Like this!

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  4. Nice review. I love to read reviews about the movies. Its an awesome action movie, I have watched it 2 times.

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  5. You leave so useful information,I will share this info with my friends.

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