Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Why Inception Didn't Save the Movies
Inception is not the savior of all cinema. It's a good movie. It's an even better action movie. But what else is it? Sure, as I stated in my five star review, it's intelligent and complex and we don't get that much in movies anymore, especially summer ones, but it kind of stops there. Maybe if people wouldn't have built it up as something to be compared to the second coming of Christ before they had even seen it than it would have had a deeper impact on me. When I'm looking for action and confronted with psychology, I'm intrigued. When I'm looking for psychology and confronted with action and fractured narrative, I'm entertained. See the difference? In fact, Inception may be, now upon thinking about it, the most self-reflexive movie I can think of that forecasts its own shortcomings. Like it's hero Cobb it breaks it's own rules and becomes the victim of it's own psychobabble. One of Cobb's musings within the film is that an idea is like a parasite that is impossible to kill. It will simply latch onto the brain and grow until it has consumed the person's entire life. It's funny then that the film itself wouldn't heed its own ponderings. The film is, narratively speaking, ultimately rendered too mechanical because it focuses on an idea that seems to consume the every aspect of its telling. The idea is that dreams can be entered and manipulated; that they have different layers and levels and such. The film's dialogue concentrates so heavily on talking about dreams and explaining different forms of dream logic, and discussing different waking mental states and philosophies about the nature between dream and reality and how it is possible for one to corrupt and consume the other, that by the time it is over we know everything about dreams but next to nothing about the characters in the film or what they are doing. As Jim Emerson and David Edlestein have rightly criticized, the entire film is more a narrative maze than an involving meditation of the division between dream and reality. It's ironic then that this hasn't been a problem with past Nolan films. In his two best films The Dark Knight and The Prestige Nolan also created films about ideas and such but the difference was that the ideas were represented by the characters as opposed to the characters being at the service of the idea. Thus, to understand the idea was to understand the character. So when Nolan drew in ponderings on Darwinian order in The Prestige or created the Joker as a Freudian study in the uncanny in The Dark Knight, that was a way in order to help us understand the character while also digging deeper into the overall thematic elements. The Joker was so scary because his ideas about society and chaos and evil were ultimately human and thus we understood the psychology of his character on a ground level and could relate to him as such. But once we understand the nature of dreams in Inception, what are we left with but a bunch of masterful action sequences and a trick ending? Interesting enough, Jim Emerson wrote yet another of his anti-Inception posts in which he starts the article off with an interesting quote from Stephanie Zacharek that states, "If the career of Christopher Nolan is any indication, we've entered an era in which movies can no longer be great. They can only be awesome, which isn't nearly the same thing." She's absolutely right, about Inception and Memento anyway. Inception is an awesome technical tour-de-force and that's what I awarded my five stars based on. As an action movie it's about as good as they come. However, as the saviour of cinema, Inception is a false prophet.