Saturday, July 17, 2010
Inception is the summer’s great disappointment, largely because it's been hyped—because, not (as you’d expect) in spite, of its secrecy—as the summer’s great hope. Setting aside its utter disinterest in any subject—obsession, ethics, and above all, dreams—it’s actually a decent and staunch action flick checking off genre tropes like a score of boilerplate bombast and repetitious rhythms and a dependence on explosions as spectacle, though we’re always one explosion away from taking the next overlong twoandahalfhours to get a few dreams in ourselves. Once the film gets going (halfway through—after the A-team has been assembled and the dream invasions begin), it’s a pretty fun ride, though director Christopher Nolan edits between the dreams with almost no grace. What levity made it through the self-serious filter that Nolan applies to his films like a fetish artist is forced—witness out-of-nowhere hijinks between the otherwise great Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who gets a whole dream world to himself for a while that I'd watch for days) and Tom Hardy (a character in search of a spinoff)—but there remains some accidental comedy, or chuckles, well, one or two anyway, because a cast this good can’t be entirely drained of life, though apparently Leonardo DiCaprio, playing his character from Shutter Island, can, or more likely, DiCaprio's greatness, unleashed in the Scorsese, is prisoner to Nolan’s dialogue, resulting in a pale facsimile of real life, only less interesting, so his emotional arc—the only one in the film aside from Cillian Murphy’s paint-by-numbers psychology—doesn't quite pass your bullshit detector. In fact, there isn’t much feeling at all, though by the cascading ending, you’ll be too involved to notice, which I count as a win for Nolan.
But the point is that most of the film is so cold as to be inhuman and definitely undreamlike. Despite this terrific exposition—oh, and exposition is, like, the whole film, I suppose because dreams are so very literal and explicable; that was irony, and this is meta irony; layers beneath layers—where Leonardo DiCaprio, er, Cobb, because people in this movie are named things like Ariadne and Cobb—which should be the giveaway that it’s all a dream, not that it is, mind you, but if you don’t go into a dream movie expecting that it’s all a dream, or a con movie thinking the whole thing’s a con, or an asylum movie thinking he’s crazy, well you’ll probably have more fun than I did—where Cobb explains that dreams are weird but you don’t notice until you wake up and where Ellen Page remarks that dreams are more about feeling than the visuals, yes, despite this promise, the film immediately forgets these two guiding principles of dream. Those tenets certainly jibe with my experience of dreams. The film? Not so much. Objective, static universes are built, absolutely devoid of out-of-place elements, and they are extensive to the point that a man can dream himself dreaming himself dreaming himself despite real-world reports of haziness and ambiguity and, most importantly, sudden story breaks, as when you’re driving a car with friends and then you’re running through a park. Or maybe you’re flying, or fantasizing if you catch my drift. Not in Inception! In Inception, at your most imaginative, you’re probably assaulting a fortress or shooting people or otherwise subordinating your creativity to the nearest first-person shooter, and the whole time you’re completely asexual and, while we’re at it, probably a little misogynistic in that you can never seem to cast a movie with more than one or two women. Pity the fool that dreams like Chris Nolan.
If you'd like to be woken up, get thee to Alain Resnais' 1968 masterpiece Je t'aime, je t'aime, an expertly crafted tale of sleep-travel, memory, mystery, and tragic romance. If I didn't know better, I'd think the beach in Inception were an homage.