Cinemalphabet: I is for Inception (2010)
After offering my own thoughts on Inception I decided to wander the internet in search of other opinions. What I found was not merely a variety of impassioned opinions, but folks demeaning opinions not in alignment with theirs. My own analysis of the film was less interested in the merits of the narrative or visual effects – which for the record I found satisfying – but the positioning of the film’s female characters and the film’s alienation of older viewers.
Please note: this entry DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY SPOILERS!!!
I am not a fangirl of any particularly franchise or genre. My status as a marginalized person conflicts with the sort of unexamined devotion I associate with fandom. I don’t have the luxury of such devotion, as benevolence is not usually assumed of marginalized folks, who must prove themselves in ways privileged folks do not. Moreover, being a fangirl involves a level of selective observation I am incapable of, specifically as it relates to film viewing. For better or worse, I tend to see the film in front of me rather than the film I am hoping to see. This ability works against me if a movie contains plot twists, which are vital to the enjoyment of the film; I can figure them out pretty quickly. I don’t have a problem with knowing the outcome; I have a problem with knowing the outcome and having to get to it the hard way – via a long, tedious, convoluted process. Part the reason I wasn’t especially thrilled by the Star Wars prequels was because the outcome was known – Anakin becomes Darth Vader – so the journey couldn’t merely be good (which it was) it had to be fantastic (which it wasn’t).
Inception is billed as a “sci-fi heist thriller” and this is utterly misleading. Look, sci-fi hybrids are no novelty. Blade Runner, I. Robot and Minority Report without their sci-fi bedzzling are basically police producedurals and are effective on that level. Stripped of its fantagical elements, I’m not sure the same could be said of Inception‘s heist aspirations. Nevertheless, the film is really freaking good. But unfortunately, it seems criticism of any aspect of Inception is immediately dismissed as uniformed hateration, which I find really irksome.
That said, critics have rushed to lavish praise on film, which seems completely unwarranted. Beyond drinking the Kool-aid, what seems to be a work is the same dynamic of someone being repeatedly hit upside the head with a brick who finds profound ecstasy in the moments of reprieve between strikes. Each movie release this summer has probably felt like another strike upside the head by a brick, given that critics have to see EVERYTHING and not merely the films which interest them. When viewed through this lens, it’s not surprising many of them have rewarded Inception with good reviews. In a summer with better films, it would be interesting to see how the film might fare. The term “original” is being bandied about in a gratuitous fashion. While it’s certainly true there is no source material for Inception, it’s a stretch to consider it original, given that Nolan himself stated the film takes draws inspiration from Bond films, though he leaves out all the other influences, which are fairly obvious to anyone who watches a lot of movies, which off the top of my head include:
- The Matrix
- La Jetée/ 12 Monkeys
- Eternal Sunshine
- Blade Runner
- Angel Heart
- The Italian Job (What do you think Caine is doing there?)
- Strange Days
- Vanilla Sky
- Any number of John Woo films
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- The Bourne Franchise
- Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video
Unlike Tarantino who actively encourages the audience’s recognition of his influences, it seems as though Nolan – via his fanbase – takes great pains to subvert any discussion of the influences which appear in his work. Noting these influences doesn’t devalue the inspired concept of the film, any more than noting the strong influences of The Big Sleep devalues The Big Lebowski. Speaking of Lebowski. When I saw the film – opening night – I knew little about it and enjoyed it tremendously. My friend who accompanied me, knew everything about it and enjoyed it tremendously. Critics, however, were mixed to negative – though there’s certainly been some revisionist film criticism on that front – partly because while I was viewing Lebowski, it seemed they were viewing a film that wasn’t there – Fargo. As the battle for Inception‘s soul continues it’ll be interesting to see whether distance will provide a bit of objectivity and an opportunity folks to engage with the film’s actuality and rather than the idealized version, which has captivated both critics, casual observers (like me) and fanboys, but in many cases for decidedly different reasons.
Leonardo Dicaprio was interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered and gave the impression his role as Dom Cobb in Inception was a departure for him. It’s not. He’s been perfecting this emotionally lightweight, technically masterful character since The Aviator. While drinking the Dicaprio Kool-aid is not a requirement, it certainly does help. Dicaprio, like Johnny Depp, is an actor I wished I loved as much as I am supposed to. Dicaprio’s involvement in a film does not typically get my butt to the theater, but when I do, I’m usually impressed by his highly developed acting abilities. The deciding factor in seeing Inception was Dicaprio’s brilliant performance in The Departed. (I have never seen Titanic!) That said, I kept wondering what Christian Bale, Daniel Dae Kim or Will Smith could have done with the role. (I believe the role required a bit more age and gravitas) Dicaprio’s perpetually youthful appearance (ditto for the glorious Ken Watanabe who it appears hasn’t aged in a decade) is not nearly as distracting as it was in films such as Gangs of New York or The Aviator. Dicaprio has wonderful body awareness, he moves beautifully and is fascinating to watch in Inception, saving the character in places where the script and plot fall short.
Inception is an intriguing, frustrating film, but ultimately satisfying. The paucity of marginalized folks, particularly women, makes the film difficult to embrace. As a heist flick, Inception is unsuccessful as it opts to eschew well-established tropes of the genre without offering inspired alternatives. As a character study, the production design and visuals overwhelm the human element; you’d do better to check out either version of Solaris for a nuanced examination of themes Inception attempts to explore. But as smart, sexy eye candy, Inception triumphs.