Sunday, February 19, 2012

Brief Thoughts on Inception

Finally watched Christopher Nolan's Inception last night after only, y'know, about two years since it came out. And as my dad said afterward, "Just because a plot gets more and more complicated as it goes along doesn't automatically make it mind-blowing." Have to say I agree.

Not that it wasn't an effective movie. The performances were all quite good, the score was unique and powerful for all its pounding insistency, and yeah, the special effects were amazing--but we've come to the point in moviemaking where I, at least, am not that bowled over by amazing special effects anymore. Compared to the days of stop-animation and the hyper-stylized architecture of expressionism, computers make something like floating around a hotel room and skyscrapers disobeying the laws of physics fairly easy to accomplish.

But it's really that plot that gets me. Man. Frankly, the greatest stories are those with simple foundations, where the twists and turns don't grow from twists and turns already embedded in the storyline. By the time the movie was over, I felt far more exhausted than impressed. Maybe my brain was just too feeble to properly appreciate the profound beauty of it all, or something. But Nolan kept the pace so bullet-fast, which admittedly made the 2 hours and something minutes go by relatively quickly and also captured that skitterish free-falling nature we sometimes have in dreams, but it lacked that opposite feeling we sometimes experience in dreams--something almost primitive and deep, where time doesn't exist at all.

Nolan tries for that eerie sensation in the scenes with Mal and Cobb, but here the quick pace works against him, since we never for one moment feel like the subconscious is stretching out to a blissful 50 years--a period of time that some film-makers like Wim Wenders can indeed capture (not that I'm a huge fan of it when Wenders does it). Instead, the pacing in Inception reduces these flashbacks to nothing more in our imagination than what we see onscreen, which is Leonardo DiCaprio quickly telling Ellen Page about it while some special effects rapidly fill in his and Mal's world for us while he talks.

And Nolan is also a little too much in love with the plot at expense of the characters. Despite the good performances, we're so constantly having the plot explained to us that even Cobb's tragic past with Mal isn't enough to make him or anyone else all that likable or relatable. That might not always be necessary in an action film of this nature, but if making the characters recognizable human beings wasn't Nolan's intention, why add Mal at all? Her scenes certainly tugged at the heart-strings, but never enough to make us forget that Cobb's ensemble is doing some pretty shallow, messed up things to poor Fischer. Thus I ended up dismissing the Cobbs as pretty self-centered, delusional people, even outside Mal's madness. Certainly Nolan was trying to paint them both as flawed, but his attempt to make them redeemable through their great love for each other never really struck home with me.

Maybe that's what the ambiguous, "is it all a dream" ending was for--perhaps Cobb doesn't get off scot-free after duping a grieving man with only the assurance from a robber baron that it was "the right thing to do." And hell, maybe Cobb deserves to be trapped in a phony paradise of his own making. But again, by the end, all the effort I put into pretending I knew what was going on in the ever-expanding, ever-verbose plot sapped me of any interest in his character, or anyone else's.

Was it a bad movie? No, not really. Inception was competently made, acted, and slickly stylish. But its ludicrous self-seriousness never hit me in that internal, nightmarish place where many film-goers long to be hit when watching material like this.

But man, I really did like that score.

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