Friday, April 24, 2015

At the Movies: "Inception"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Christopher Nolan, 2010.

imbd score: 8.8 (imdb 250: #14)
Ebert: Four Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% Fresh

Inception is a movie made to be a middlebrow summer blockbuster. It's got the requisite gunplay, explosions, and computer-generated effects to pack in the crowds, but it also brings an intelligent script, strong acting, and strong art design to the table. Like Chistopher Nolan's earlier movie Memento, it has a nicely crafted non-linear narrative form. Both movies are a bit like puzzles, in that while watching them we have to perform a bit of mental work to figure out what is going on. Nolan has a gift for making the work involved just challenging enough to make the viewer feel pretty darn clever for being able to keep up, but simple enough that pretty much any dunce can follow along.

Among other virtues, Inception has a great beginning and a great ending. There are no opening titles; the action -- quite puzzling, at first -- simply begins. The opening few minutes establish that the lead characters are doing something, it's not clear quite what, in an exotic and highly ambiguous setting. Now, a couple of times later in the film, characters will distinguish between dreaming and waking life by saying that in waking life, you always know how you came to be where you are, but in dreams, you simply emerge into a situation. And the structure of Inception is such that, if you were to stop the film and bring up the lights at some random point, most viewers would probably have a tough time remembering how the movie started. So that's a neat trick. According to Inception's own definition, you emerge into it as into a dream.

The ending uses a striking visual device to create a simple but clever ambiguity, showing you that there are at least two ways to interpret all that has gone before. It's another neat trick.

Plot: So there's this technology that creates a virtual reality dreamspace, and guys who control it have apparently decided that its best and highest use is as a tool for industrial espionage. Their game is to, for instance, kidnap a powerful corporate dude, interact with him in a customized virtual reality environment, and trick his subconscious mind into spilling important corporate beans. Well, whatever. It is a premise that gives the filmmakers a great deal of latitude to create plot-friendly rules about how things work, and to knock themselves out with visual design, and they have cheerfully jumped at the opportunity. A few critics have attacked Inception for not creating an atmosphere that was more realistically dreamlike, but that's absurd. You can't say "no way, a virtual reality dreamspace wouldn't work like that," because there's no such thing as a virtual reality dreamspace.

Anyway, the plot of Inception involves an attempt to insert an new idea into a very rich young man's pretty little head. To do this, they hook him up to their dream machine and take off on adventures that involve complicated gun battles on city streets, complicated gun battles in a luxury hotel, and complicated gun battles in an isolated winter fortress. None of it really makes a heap of sense, but it holds together pretty well while you're watching it, and it's a lot of fun to look at.

Visuals: Inception is a real showcase of computer-generated special effects, in a good way. The scene where Paris is folded over on itself, the film's trademark image, is completely gratuitous. But it is also very impressive! It's a movie that is fun to watch.

Dialogue: Most of the dialog consists of characters rationing out the information we need to make sense of the special effects. But that's OK; the movie is stylish enough, and the actors strong enough, that it's easy to go along for the ride.

Prognosis: My opinion of Inception is necessarily dampened by the fact that, after watching it in 2010, I forgot all about it. When she saw that I had checked it out from the library a few weeks ago, Mrs.5000 told me we had watched it in the theater. "Really?" I said. Watching it now, in 2015, I knew that I had seen it before, but couldn't tell what was coming next. I think it may have blurred in my memory with two earlier movies that also experimented with narrative form and surrealist imagery, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Synecdoche, New York.

So, I've been nicely entertained by Inception twice, but I can't help think that if it was a truly great movie, I'd remember it a little better. Therefore:

Michael 5000's imdb rating: 7.

1 comment:

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

I remember thinking it was pretty cool, had some cool ideas, but like you, I don't care to see it a second time.