Friday, January 14, 2011

Film Friday: Inception (2010)

Inception is a well-made, thoroughly enjoyable movie, but it’s not a “great” film like so many people say. In fact, I suspect this is yet another in a long line of films that seemed special at the time, but will quickly be forgotten. The reason for this is that Inception offers nothing new and, ultimately, it makes no sense.

** heavy spoiler alert **

The Plot

Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) can enter dreams and extract information. He and his partner are caught entering the mind of a man named Saito, who makes them an offer they cannot refuse. If they agree to place an idea into the mind of a competitor, Saito will clear-up a murder charge which keeps Cobb from returning to the United States to see his children -- the murder charge is the result of his wife’s suicide, for which the police blame Cobb. The concept of planting an idea into a mind is called “inception,” and this is supposed to be impossible, except Cobb has already done it once. Saito wants Cobb to cause a competitor to break up his own corporation. And while this sounds rather undoable at first, they come up with a very plausible way of making this idea take hold.

To plant this idea, they drug the competitor and force him into a shared dream controlled by one of Cobb’s team members. Once inside the dream, the team causes him to enter a second dream state and then a third to disorient him. This also has the benefit of giving the team more time, as each additional dream state feels an order of magnitude longer than the prior. Thus, a minute in the first dream feels like five minutes in the second and days in the third. But there’s a catch. To create three dream states requires a sedative, which makes it nearly impossible for the team to wake themselves from the dream and will cause them to fall into a limbo state, should they die in the dream. In this limbo state, they would spend a lifetime all by themselves before they awake in their current bodies -- this happened to Cobb and his wife, who now intrudes into his subconscious and creates problems. Also inside the dream, the team will be chased by trained killers from the subject’s subconscious. Despite these challenges, the team completes the mission successfully. However, as the movie ends, questions are raised as to whether or not they succeeded or whether Cobb is actually stuck in a dream state.

Before I discuss the problems, let me be clear. I enjoyed Inception very much. I thought it was well written, well acted, and well directed. Director Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) does an excellent job of walking the tightrope between keeping the mystery alive and confusing the audience and he provides a compelling, fast-paced story that keeps you guessing what will happen next and what will happen at the end of the film. He found excellent locations and he made the smart decision to keep the special effects shots to a minimum; this film contains only 500 such shots compared to an average of around 2000 for other similar movies, which gives the film a strong sense of realism. The acting was also quite good. Indeed, I find DiCaprio to be an excellent actor and he again delivers a solid performance. The supporting cast did a great job as well, except for Ellen Page, who is miscast as anything more than a teenage girl. Thus, I happily recommend this film.

But there are problems, and these are the kinds of problems that prevent the film from being memorable over the long term.

There’s Nothing New Here
The first problem strikes you the moment the film ends: this film offers nothing new. The concept of a dream world within a dream world has already been done in films like The Thirteenth Floor and The Matrix. And while there is nothing wrong with repeating a concept, you need to offer something new to keep the concept fresh -- either a new twist or an examination of some new aspect. Inception doesn’t do that. In fact, it offers nothing that wasn’t already in The Thirteenth Floor.

Why does this matter? It matters because great films always spark the imagination. Inception offers nothing to make you think. Compare Inception to The Matrix, both of which deal with the concept that the “real world” is not “real.” Unlike Inception, The Matrix is packed with shocking twists, philosophical conundrums, and a fascinating religious analogy. Thus, when The Matrix ends, you are left with a massive puzzle with many layers, and you can spend hours contemplating how the ideas in the film relate to our world. That’s not the case with Inception. Inception leaves you with only a single question: “was Cobb dreaming.” Once you’ve answered that, the film offers little else. It doesn’t even delve into topics like exploring the nature of dreams or what this limbo state would really be like. It tried at times to talk about how a kernel of an idea can change a person, but that was never developed. And that makes Inception forgettable, except as an action movie.
The Film Makes No Sense
The second problem arises because the film’s central mystery makes no sense. There are three possible states for Cobb: (1) he succeeded in his mission and woke up, (2) he could not wake up from the mission and remains in a dream state, or (3) the entire movie was a dream. But none of these can be true.

Cobb cannot be dreaming throughout the film because we can see what is happening to people who are not within sight of Cobb. Why does this matter? Because if this film was Cobb’s dream, then we are seeing what Cobb is dreaming, and he would know that he is dreaming because he can see plot points happening which he could not actually observe. But Cobb doesn’t realize he is dreaming, thus either Cobb can’t be dreaming or the story makes no sense. Yet, Cobb must be dreaming. Why? Because the film tell us he’s dreaming. The ending in particular indicates he’s dreaming. For example, he sees his children in the same poses and clothes he’s always seen them in throughout his dreams. They have not aged, despite the years he spent outside the country, and not a speck of dust has changed in his home since he fled it years before.

So maybe he’s only dreaming at the end, right? Except there are clues in every scene that Cobb is dreaming throughout the movie. For example, scenes start and stop suddenly, like in a dream, something Cobb himself notices. We are similarly told by numerous characters that his entire life has the quality of a dream, and it does -- faceless people try to kill him, people shoot at him at point blank range but somehow miss him, he has implausible run-ins with main characters like Saito in Mombasa, there are no transitions (bamo you’re in Paris, now you’re in Mombasa, now you're in Paris, now you’re in Sydney), and people act in ways that are entirely Cobb-centric (what exactly is his team being offered to do this? and doesn’t Saito have a company to run? and why would Cobb’s father in law pimp his illegal scheme to his best student?). These things only make sense if you accept that he is dreaming. Moreover, consider his children. When he calls them in the real world early in the film, the children are seen playing outside, again in the exact clothes and positions they exist in during his dreams, and again they haven’t aged. Secondly, who is the guy who gave him the ticket to escape the country? And why couldn’t he take his children with him? Or why can’t he be reunited with his children in another country? These are questions that can be overlooked in a dream, but not in reality, and they are overlooked here.

So he must be dreaming, but he can’t be dreaming, and that’s a contradiction which calls into question the entire storytelling technique. If he is dreaming, why are we shown things that can’t be part of the dream? But if he’s not dreaming, why does so much happen so conveniently, so impossibly, or so nonsensically? The answer is that we’re being tricked and manipulated to generate a mystery and that’s an unforgivable sin in this kind of storytelling. Manipulating the audience to hide the truth would be acceptable, because people see these kinds of stories as a mystery to be solved, i.e. they want to dig for the truth. But manipulating the audience to give two distinct impressions (dreaming/not dreaming), when neither is actually possible, is egregious. It would be like Agatha Christie giving you hints that Person A or Person B was the murderer and then concluding that the victim was murdered but no one could have killed him.

It is the nature of the insolvability of this story that will keep it from being remembered with other science fiction stories that have crossed into the “must see” category. Stories like The Matrix present us with mind-opening thoughts about reality. Stories like Blade Runner make us question what makes us who are. And to achieve that, they give us a genuine mystery to solve which requires us to question our own realities. Inception give us nothing of the sort. It offers nothing new and it never manages to call anything into question because the mystery is fake, we are simply being offered two choices, neither of which is real, in the hopes that we mistake the two choices as some sort of philosophical depth.

Thus, all we’re left with is an action movie. A good action movie, but an action movie nevertheless. Hence, while I enjoyed the film a good deal, I don’t see it having any significance nor do I see it lasting very long.

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47 comments:

ScottDS said...

I only saw this film once recently at a friend's house and I should probably see it again before I go into any kind of analysis. At the moment, I am ill-qualified to do so! In short, I got nothing. :-)

I do have to say that the exposition (such as it was) was handled much better than I was expecting. Many critics (including ones who loved it) complained about how 50% of the film is just setup and expository dialogue so I was expecting the worst. Thankfully, it wasn't too bad, but I still understand the criticism.

Fun fact: the hallway fight was shot in a real hallway set built to rotate, à la the sets in 2001. What I would give to have done something like that in film school! (Who am I kidding... we would've found a way to screw it up.) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I would say that the fact you saw it and have nothing to add is a pretty good indication that the film didn't make an impression on you.

I see the point about the exposition, almost all of the first half of the movie is the characters explaining what they are doing and what they are about to do and why. Still, as you note, they do a good job with it. Nolan manages to keep the pace moving quickly and you don't find yourself lost in the exposition or saying "just get on with it."

On the hallway, that's something I really appreciated. They used real sets and real locations to film this and a lot of the special effects were based on sets and stunts rather than CGI, and that really worked to make the movie feel real. As I note in the article, Nolan used about 1/4 of the normal CGI effects for a modern movie of this time, and I think that really pays off.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: A film with a similar theme still holds up well despite its lack of today's CGI special effects--Dreamscape. I was amazed how enjoyable the movie still is, and within the parameters of its own suspension of disbelief made sense. Since I like Leonardo DiCaprio about as much as oral surgery, I think I'll pass on this one.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, Dreamscape is a movie I'd forgotten about until they started showing it again a couple years ago and I was amazed how well it held up. It's very enjoyable and it definitely hit the issues in Inception long before Inception did -- plus it was more creative in it's intellectual premise.

Tennessee Jed said...

I appreciate your review, Andrew. I actually own this on Blu-Ray. Like Scott, I probably need to see it again. As I age, and with modern noise pollution and too many concerts under my belt, it is harder for me to hear dialogue that is spoken too softly (which occurs in most films.) As such, I had a difficult time following all the complexities.

You cleared up most of the confusion, and I can probably appreciate good and bad points better now as a result. My initial reaction was: interesting concept, neat special effects, somehow lacking.

Anonymous said...

Gosh Lawhawk, you beat me to it! I was going to suggest Dreamscape as well. I haven't seen it in a while, but I remember liking it a lot. Glad to hear it has held up well and I need to get my VHS copy out and watch it again. I'm not sure I will see Inception though; it just isn't on my "to see" list at the moment.

Good review Andrew. I look forward to these every Friday.

TJ

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Thanks! And you're welcome.

In terms of not hearing the dialog, my hearing is still quite good and I have major problems with that too. As I've said before, I think it's the sound mix. I often need to turn the film way up to the point that the music and explosions are obnoxiously loud just to hear the dialog.

I think "interesting concept, neat special effects, somehow lacking" is a good way to describe the film. On it's surface, this film appears to have everything it needs to be a huge hit. It has good effects, good action, great visuals, and a plot that fits right in with truly memorable and thoughtful science fiction. . . but it doesn't quite pay off.

When I was watching it, I really enjoyed it as it went, but I was fully expecting that there would still be a moment where the film all came together and made "the point". . . but that never came. Instead, the film just ended and offered up this "is he dreaming or not" question, which was a real disappointment. I was really hoping for something much deeper because they seemed to be setting something up throughout the film. But when I thought about it afterward, I realized that they were never really working toward anything interesting, they were just pretending to offer something deeper.

Still, I enjoyed the film as an action film.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks TJ! I'm glad you enjoy the reviews. I like writing them, though I don't always get the chance. If you have any movies you'd like to see reviewed, feel free to mention them. :-)

Dreamscape has indeed held up -- not the effects, but the film itself. It's got a very sold cast (I like Dennis Quaid a lot) and story, and it's just all around well done. The only thing I really didn't care for was the suggestion that Reagan was somehow haunted by nuclear war, but that was still a pretty benign message compared to what Hollywood would turn out later.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

I wanted to really like this film (it's already in the IMDB top 10), but as you said, it was lacking. It took me a good 45 minutes to even get into the film. And even though it's one of those films that could take several viewings to pick up on all the complexities, I find myself not wanting to bother with additional viewings. The multi-level dream concept, while clever, frequently felt like Star Trek-esque techno babble. And some of the action seemed gratuitous as if they thought they needed a certain amount to attract the "action movie" viewers. Am I the only one that thought I was suddenly watching a Bond movie during the snow scenes? Good review Andrew. You're much more kind than I would've been, but we're in complete agreement that this film is ultimately forgettable.

And Jed: I think there were sound issues! I found myself frequently adjusting the volume up so that I could hear the quiet dialogue, and then turning it down when the ear-splitting action scenes appeared. It was a constant up/down and became quite annoying.

ScottDS said...

I'm also glad to see this film raise the profile of actor Tom Hardy ("Eames"). After playing the ill-conceived villain in the ill-fated Star Trek: Nemesis, his career could've gone down the toilet. Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case.

CrispyRice said...

Well, you thought about this movie much more than I cared to, LOL! I found myself somewhat bored with it, feeling like it was just a rip-off. And gimmicky - "Ooooh, look of new way we can change time and now we can fight on the ceiling, aren't we cool?"

That probably could've been entertaining enough, but they had to keep hammering the sappy "my poor dead wife that I can't let go" junk. Over and over and over...

Is it an action flick? Or is it a weepy chick flick? It can't decide and it bogged down enough that I didn't really care to think about it at the level you did.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, very good review as always. Inception was one of the only movies I considered going back to the theater to watch a second time, just in hopes of understanding what in the world was going on. I didn't, but I thought about it, which is unusual for me.

As for the problems you point out, I agree that to the extent the entire movie turns around whether or not Cobb was dreaming, its vision was somewhat limited. In the short term, though, I don't think this is too much of a problem, because that's the real word-of-mouth about the movie. When those of us who saw it told others who hadn't about it, we warned them that it was like solving a puzzle: you had to pay attention from beginning to end. I think this may have been what Nolan was going for all along: a variation of sorts on the old "whodunit" theme. Once you see that ending scene with the top, the whole movie suddenly enters the mystery genre: one character's mystery, of course, but a captivating mystery nonetheless.

(cont)

T_Rav said...

(cont)

The cleverness of this is that it makes the ambiguous scenes from earlier in the movie interesting to the viewer, rather than simply confusing--okay, well to some viewers they were interesting, including me. For example, I think it could very easily be argued that not only was Cobb in a dream at the end, he had been in one the entire time, and had been so since his wife "died." Remember, she said after they "woke up" that what seemed to be reality was only another dream level, and the only way she could get back to true reality was by killing herself in the dream world. Since this was apparently in accordance with the rules the movie laid down, one theory is that she was right all along, she did escape into the real world, and her presence in Cobb's "subconscious" was actually her trying to convince him he was still in the dream and that he needed to come back with her. In fact, it may have been that his entire mission was really one long con, perpetrated by everyone else in the movie, to pull him out.

I don't know whether this is true or not. But I do think it shows that Nolan knew what he was doing; he knew that the ending would make people question everything they'd seen up to that point, and have to start going back through and examining the evidence from multiple points of view. (Of course, this would also drive up ticket and later DVD sales, which I'm sure was not a consideration at all.)

T_Rav said...

Bleah, thingy ate up the first half of my post. Let me know if I need to re-post it (or both halves, for that matter).

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, On the sound issues, that's so common for me that I think it's intentional at this point, not a mistake.

I absolutely thought about James Bond during the snow scene. I realize it was a dream, but it felt so out of place compared to the rest of the film.

And I agree that much of the action was gratuitous, like they were trying to attract the action crowd. I also think they were mimicking The Matrix to a large degree, so they decided they needed violence of some sort.

In terms of wanting to like the film, I had the same reaction. Everyone said, "this isn't like the other stuff out there, this is really special," so I wanted to like the film and I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt over and over. In fact, I think the reason I didn't worry about the inconsistencies throughout was that I assumed this would all tie together at the end and that we would find out he was dreaming (or something). But that didn't work out.

In terms of the techno-babble, I actually liked the technical parts, BUT. . . BUT it's not a good substitute for depth, and I would have preferred it if they had tried to work in something deeper. For example, they kept saying "a kernel of an idea can grow to change a person." It would have been more interesting if they had developed that instead of spending time just telling us how the drugs worked. For example, it would have been a whole lot more interesting if we had watched Leonardo change over time, and then it was revealed that he was the real target of the inception.

Or they could have explored this idea of the limbo, which was very undeveloped. They said "this is what happens when you fall out of a dream and all that you find there is a horrible place where you are left with fragments of the last person who was there." But that really doesn't make any sense. So they either should have explained the concept much better, or they should have used it better to show what lurks inside Leo's subconscious. Instead, we just got buildings and an angry dead wife.

It struck me that these avenues were where the better movie lay, but they didn't go there for some reason, and the techno-babble (which I liked as such) was wrongly used as a substitute.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, It's back -- it's the spam filter. I don't know why it hates you?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I thought Hardy was great. I also thought Joseph Gordon-Levitt continued to show a lot of potential -- which I never would have thought based on his sit-com start with Third Rock.

And I've liked Cillian Murphy ever since 28 Days Later. All in all, I thought the cast was great, except for Ellen Page, who I think was miscast here -- she didn't have the gravitas to play an expert or someone who could balance out Cobb's dark side.

AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I think the dead wife bit was mishandled. First, I think there was too much inconsistency in DiCaprio's character. At times, he acted like he was obsessed with her, and that this was what motivated him. But then he'd turn around and be cool and flirty and seemingly completely indifferent to his dead wife. It would have been better if they had decided which way to write the character and then adjust the story accordingly.

In fact, that seems to be a problem with much of the film: was it a thoughtful science fiction or action? It ended up being a little bit of both and effectively neither. Was it a dream and was it reality? Everything was a little of both. And if the point had been to blur them, then that would be fine, except they never followed through with it. Was his team professional thieves or were they scientists exploring their craft? There was too much in this film that tried to be a little of everything, and the wife's story fell victim to that too.

Secondly, I don't think they could decide if the dead wife was needy or angry. And, consequently, Leo couldn't decide if he was afraid or upset.

(continued)

T_Rav said...

Andrew, it doesn't surprise me too much; I link here through BH, and they've been having bugs in the system all afternoon, which may account for some of it. Or maybe I did something to the spam filter in a past life. Who knows.

Anyway, back on target--to sum up, I agree there are problems with the movie, but I think Nolan also designed it that way, and if you look at it as a mystery, "Inception" holds together pretty well, in my opinion.

AndrewPrice said...

(continued)
Third, it seemed rather gimmicky. On the one hand they tell us that she can invade his subconscious from deeper in his subconscious. But then she only shows up a couple times. So was she really a problem or was she just a plot lengthener?

I think if they would have resolved these questions, then they could have done a better job of writing how she should have acted and how he should have responded. But they didn't. So they just mixed in a bit of horror film with a bit of weepy chick flick, and came up with something that just didn't fit the movie all that well.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, A couple points in response.

First, you're absolutely right about the short term benefit. So long as people left the theater thinking, "wow, that was cool," then he would get the word of mouth that would bring in more people. In the longer term, it takes a better constructed film, but in the short term, the confusion masquerading as a mystery is enough to get people into the theaters.

To get long term success, though, a film needs to offer something that people can keep thinking about. Take The Matrix, that's a film that gave us a million things to wonder about -- specifically, what is reality. You can think about that today, tomorrow or in a year, because the question is still relevant.

Moreover, because it is based loosely on things we are learning about how our brains creates our perceptions of reality, it seems timely in that we keep running into things that cause us to call into question what is real and what isn't.

And even outside of the science fiction genre, you still often get these kinds of questions in the better films. For example, consider a site favorite -- Gone With The Wind, even in a straightforward film like that, you're still left to wonder if the characters could have avoided their fates, could they have been happy, could they have been better off if they had different traits, etc.

It's these kinds of questions which keep people thinking about films over the long-term and which keep them coming back to re-emerge themselves into these film worlds.

(continued)

AndrewPrice said...

(continued)
I suspect that ultimately the writer believed that Cobb was dreaming throughout, that the wife was right and she had returned to the real world. There is a good deal of proof for that. But then, you have the problem that none of this make sense as a dream. Not only do you have the problem that he would know he's dreaming, but the whole plot then becomes pretty meaningless as the only thing that's real is that he's asleep and he either wakes or not -- all the rest become filler.

The problem for me, is that none of the choices they leave you with are good choices. It's like they made the story without ever deciding if or when Cobb's actually dreaming and they just decided to throw in some hints now and then in either direction. That's how very bad mysteries are written.

What they should have done is to decide what is real and what isn't and then make sure to define the rules of each world. This would have helped strengthen the mystery and might have made the story a good deal more interesting as they couldn't have cheated.

I also think, as an aside, that the movie would have been better if it had turned out either that he was the subject of the inception or that his wife was trying to reach him. Either of those "twists" would have given the story significantly more meaning than the way they left it.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I agree that Nolan designed it that way, but I don't think it holds together. I think it appears to hold together until you start thinking about it, which is why I don't think this film will last over the long term.

By the way, I am a big fan of Nolan's, and I think this is a rare "storytelling failure" on his part.


On the glitch, it's a blogger thing. They've forced a spam filter on everyone which they know doesn't work and they are planning to use the reactions of millions of bloggers to help them define what is spam and what isn't. A lot of people are very upset by this.

AndrewPrice said...

By the way....

Ken Watanabe, who plays Saito, starred in my favorite Japanese film: Tampopo.

If you ever get the chance to see it, don't miss it.

Writer X said...

I saw this several weeks ago. I thought it was good, but not as good as its hype. I thought the premise was clever and the acting was good (although Ellen Page is so typecast; she always plays the "I'm smarter than everyone else in the world" role.). Where the film lost me was when they entered the 908th dream dimension. I didn't know if they were in Dream 1, 6, or 87. It also felt very much like DiCaprio's last big film, the name which escapes me. In other words, it felt very deja vu. Been there, done that. Please, Hollywood, new storylines.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I agree, I enjoyed the film, but nowhere near as much as the hype said I should.

I think the film was well done, but it didn't come anywhere near it's potential. That actually surprises me a good deal because Nolan has always turned out very creative and solid movies. I kind of wonder if he had the chance to tinker with it now, what he would change?

T_Rav said...

Andrew, you may be right. I guess we'll have to wait a few years and see how well the movie's remembered then.

As for what you said about the whole movie being essentially pointless, though, I think it depends on how much you become invested in Cobb's character. Because while I do think there's a pretty good argument to be made that he was dreaming the whole time, the movie never actually comes down on that side, and you don't think about it much until the end. I think this was intentional. Remember, Cobb's wife may have thought they were still dreaming, but Cobb didn't--he thought they had woken up, and when his wife "committed suicide," he was trying to convince her that she was doing just that, because they weren't dreaming any more. This makes his actions more important, I think, because he is someone who is trying to get back to his kids, and for him his struggles are real; they mean something tangible. Because of this, I think it is possible for people to become invested in the movie over the long term, because if he is still stuck in the dream, it means his reunion with his kids is a lie, a particularly bitter one given his happiness. To the degree you actively sympathize with the character, it does give you a reason to go back and think about the movie and what happened in it long after you first watched it. I'm not saying that will actually happen, but I do think it's possible for Inception to muster that kind of interest.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I hate to disagree, but I doubt that very many people will think about his relationship with his kids after they leave the theater. For one thing, the kids are presented as a sideshow to the story, and that makes it hard for people to focus. Moreover, I'm not sure they managed to give anyone a real connection with the kids because the kids were never real enough -- not to mention that Leo was too happy and flippant in his daily dealing for us to feel his griefs too deeply.

More importantly though, the story actually undercuts the sympathy factor because there really isn't any harm here. Let's assume he was asleep and is now trapped in the limbo state again. What happens? He will live a long and happy life with what he thinks are his kids... and then he'll wake up to realize that the kids weren't real. But so what? He's still had a happy life with them.

He will then realize that his wife is there waiting for him, young and healthy, as she's just woken up, and he'll have a whole new life to live with her. Essentially, he ends up getting to live 3 happy lives with only a small moment of angst while he's in the dream world that we saw on film. Not really something that will inspire sympathy.

(continued)

AndrewPrice said...

(continued)
When I said that the story becomes meaningless, what I meant was the story we were watching. Assuming we enjoyed the film, then we became invested in his team and their struggles to pull this off. But if he's dreaming, then none of those people are real and there were no real struggles, no heroics, no moments of brilliance or courage, no nothing -- it was all for show.

In fact, that's one of the problems I saw often in this film -- they often undercut things they were doing. For example, they told us that the limbo state was a horror, but then we learn that he and his wife lived happily together. They tell us that you live in it alone, except that Saito has staff when Leo arrives. They tell us that no one has ever gone into three levels of dreams, but then they do it easily. They tell us no one can do inception, except that Cobb has already done it.

At almost every turn, Nolan sets up a risk, only to play it down moments later.

DUQ said...

Great review. I like your reviews too. I saw the film and I had no idea what the hype was about. People were talking about this film like it was the next Star Wars or something and it just bored me.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks DUQ. Apparently, a lot of people did not like this film, which kind of goes against the hype. I guess we'll see how long the film survives in the public consciousness?

Doc Whoa said...

I may be in the minority by I liked the film. I agree with your review, but I still liked it.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, I guess if you looked that far into the future, that's a reasonable point to make. But Cobb himself made it clear that that wasn't the kind of life he wanted, to be living a lie even if he didn't know he was. After all, every time he appeared to have come out of a dream, he immediately used his totem to see if he'd really come out--even though this really didn't work (and was a plot hole in my opinion). But the point is that this isn't a pointless struggle to him: which might, I think, have the potential to carry some philosophical issues with it. If the ultimate outcome of your situation is the same regardless of what you do--that is, you'll eventually wake up from the dream--does that mean all your struggles are in vain? Does nothing you do or attempt to do matter? I think that's a question well worth asking, even if the movie might have done a better job with it.

I've gotten into some very off-the-wall stuff here so I should probably stop. Point is, I certainly agree that Inception had some flaws, but I did still think of it as a strong movie with the potential to last.

Tennessee Jed said...

Some more thoughts on this: I had high hopes for this, in part, because I have been a real fan of Christopher Nolan. Not all of his movies have been home runs, of course, but I have enjoyed them all with particular favorites being unexpected gems such as "The Prestige" and "Momento" and even "Insomnia." I had read that Nolan had kicked around the idea of dream robbers for the last decade before finally running with it. Sometimes, I think high expectations can lead to a little let down and disappointment since it is so hard to meet the expectations. I agree Ellen Paige seemed mis-cast. One could argue that certainly a team like this could be made up of conventional members, but if we both noticed it, then it has to be at least a little distracting.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I enjoyed it, but I didn't see it as anything all that special, that's all. I think it could have been much better.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I think that one of the best aspects of science fiction is that it lets you ask those kinds of questions. And I don't dispute that you can get those kinds of issues out of Inception, though I personally don't think it was intended to be there. It's still fun to talk about though.

In terms of lasting, we won't know for some time. But did you see what John Nolte said today about why he did not include Pleasantville on his list of top leftist films? Beside the fact he didn't think it was a good movie, he made the point that it's no longer in rotation on television. I actually think that's an excellent way to determined "survivability" in films and that's the measure I use -- "do people still watch it and how often."

I've found this actually tracks pretty well with how people rate films a few years down the road -- as compared to when the hype is high. A great many films were declared the best of all times right out of the gates, made a ton of money in the theaters, and then vanished into the mist once people realized they'd been sucked in by the hype. I'm very sure that Avatar will be one of those. We'll see about Inception -- I think it will continue modestly for a while, but won't be a big hit. But who knows?

Out of curiosity, why did you think the top was a plot hole? I actually had the same thought, but there was no room to discuss that in the review. What are you thinking on that?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Expectations can be a huge problem. If you judge a film against what you were hoping it would be rather than judging it on it's own merits, it's very easy to be disappointed. I try not to fall for that, but I'm sure I'm susceptible.

Strangely, in this case, it may have actually worked in the film's favor. Since I am a fan of Nolan, and I think he's done some genius (and quirky) work, I overlooked all the little inconsistencies and problems while I was watching it because I assumed they would all be wrapped up in the end. My disappointment didn't come until the very end, when it all kind of stopped without really delivering.

On Ellen Page, I agree that the team could easily be quirky, and I think they were. My problems with her was that she was given a role that was too large for the image she projects. First, she does not come across as a savant of any sort, she comes across as rather bland, and she certainly doesn't have the kind of near mania that seems to accompany genius. Secondly, she's far too meek to have stood up to a personality as forceful as Cobb's. I'm not saying that Page couldn't have done it, but she really would have needed to act very differently than she did -- much more confidence. Instead, she played a relatively pleasant and meek teenage girl, which just didn't work for me. To pull off the role she was given, she really needed to be more of a female version of Eames.

Doc Whoa said...

I agree with that. A lot of people did think it was something special, but I never saw that. I just thought it was a pretty good movie, but nothing special. I did like the concept though, though it sounds like it wasn't as unique as I thought it was. I haven't seen Thirteenth Floor or Dreamscape.

Ed said...

I saw your review yesterday and I wanted to see the film before I read the review, so I rented it. What a stinker. It started out really cool with a lot of promise, but it never went anywhere. It's like they spent half the movie trying to justify the second half of the movie, and then the ending hits you like it belongs in some other film. Thanks for the review.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I think you'll like both Dreamscape and Thirteenth Floor, though I neither is going to be the next Star Wars, so don't go in expecting the greatest movies of all time.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I enjoyed it a good deal more than you did, apparently, but I do think the criticisms you raise are valid. A lot of people felt it had too much exposition and the ending does seem kind of detached from the rest of the film. Still, I enjoyed the film for what it was.

Ed said...

Maybe the issue was expectations. Everyone said this was great (and I didn't read your review first) so I went in expecting something really super.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That could be. We were talking about expectations up thread and it certainly can be true that expectation affect how much you enjoy a film.

T_Rav said...

Andrew, sorry for the delay, I've been a mite under the weather this weekend but I'm doing better now.

The use of the top is, I think, a plot hole because it didn't actually belong to Cobb, it belonged to his wife; yet he told Ellen Page's character that the totem you used could not be touched by anyone else, because then they would have enough sensory knowledge of it to deceive you as to what is and is not reality. Whether Cobb was in a dream this whole time or not, he was obviously violating his own rules by using another person's totem. Maybe it can be explained by stuff I'm forgetting at the moment, but I think it's too much of a gap.

I did see (and liked) Nolte's point the other day about what you see as reruns on TV. In general, I think that's true, and I'm glad "Pleasantville," which I did not like, ran afoul of it. On the other hand, the fact that you can frequently find "Doom" on TNT at midnight proves there are exceptions to this rule. (I know, I know, more stuff flies late at night, but come on.)

By the way, since I notice a lot of people knocking Ellen Page's performance, I would add that one criticism of Nolan I do agree with is that he either can't or won't write good roles for women. This was obvious in "Inception," though I didn't think either her or the wife was terrible, as well as in the Batman movies, though not so much in "The Prestige." It's not something that bothers me much when I watch his movies, but it is noticeable and it is something that needs improving.

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I had a similar thought about the top. Cobb said that you can't let anyone else touch the top, but he took it from his wife. If this was a dream, then he took an item from a dream and used it to determined if he was in a dream. In effect, he used unreality to judge whether or not he was experiencing reality, which is further proof that he was in a dream state the whole time. In fact, we never get evidence that the top was ever real.

In terms of female characters, I actually think that's a huge problem in Hollywood. Female roles in Hollywood seem to fall into very small set of simple stereotypes: the "fantasy girl", the "dominatrix", the "perfect wife", the "bitch" and the "girl next door." It's a rare movie that ventures beyond this and which gives a multifaceted female character.

Doom falls into the category of guilty pleasures, which are movies that seem to have something that keeps pulling people in even though the movie is horrible. Scott wants me to write a Top 25 of guilty pleasures and I do keep meaning to do that, but I haven't had the time to sort them all out.

El Gordo said...

I liked Inception very much, but The Prestige is still Nolan´s best.

Many good points here, a few remarks: When Cobb calls his children, the woman answering the phone is his mother in law, the French wife of Michael Caine´s character. In Paris, I think Caine mentioned that he was going to the US soon, so him being there is not totally implausible.

The top Cobb was using was taken from the hotel room when his wife killed herself (he stepped on it, remember)? Cobb didn´t take it from a dream and since she is dead, the top is as good a totem as anything else. That is, unless his wife was right all the time.

According to Nolan, the snow fortress is a deliberate homage to On Her Majesty´s Secret Service.

Andrew - agree on Tampopo, it is hilarious.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who liked Tampopo! Very entertaining movie!

Thanks for clarifying some of the facts. On the top, I thought he took it from the safe he found in the house she grew up in while they were in the lowest dream level.

That's good to know that the snow fortress was intentionally James Bond-like because it really seemed like it came straight out of a Bond film.

I'll have to check the voices again when the woman answers the phone regarding the kids. But even if it's the mother-in-law, the children still haven't grown and are still in the same poses. I suppose we could be looking through his memory at that point, but it still strikes me he's dreaming.

I know they've asked Nolan if he was dreaming and Nolan refused to answer, as I guess he should have -- but it would have made things easier to figure out.

My favorite Nolan film is Memento though I've been told to check out Following, which I haven't seen yet.

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