Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Inception (2010)

with 17 comments

Are you watching closely? Well, you don’t have to watch too closely because with Inception Christopher Nolan created an original film as accessible as his Batman films. Whereas Mememto and The Prestige are genuine puzzle pictures that make demands on the audience, Inception is simply an illusion, like the Penrose staircase which features in the film. In Memento, everything is one long reveal, a painful, painstaking drawing out of revelation which viewer and protagonist both struggle towards; in The Prestige, we are told the answer up front but through sleight of hand we are made to forget this; in Inception, we are merely talked through a series of (superbly) nested realities.

Am I complaining? No, not really. In terms of sophistication, it is a lesser film to the other two I have mentioned; however, as an achievement, creating an intelligent existential action thriller that is true summer blockbuster is a remarkable achievement. Basically, you couldn’t wish for a better director than Nolan to re-make The Matrix and he has done so with far greater style and wit. At the same time, I hope he manages to stay fresh. The tone, the construction, the score, the use of flashbacks, the playing with memory: this is all very familiar now. The denouement of all his films have been essentially the same. Nolan might be ploughing a unique furrow but how long before he gets stuck in a rut?

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Written by Martin

22 July 2010 at 11:55

Posted in films, sf

Tagged with ,

17 Responses

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  1. I thought this was fairly dreadful – turgid and monumentally humourless, with any hint of wit and playfulness (like Tom Hardy turning into different people or the Penrose staircase moment) rapidly jettisoned for numerous repetitive action scenes with zero jeopardy and anonymous characters.

    SPOILERS….

    I have read suggestions that the whole thing from beginning to end is a dream, which explains the various plot holes and inconsistencies and underwritten characters and total lack of emotional engagement etc. It certainly works as an explanation but it doesn’t make the film at all satisfying.

    It also explains the whole “making up the rules as you go along” aspect – like, in a dream when you die you wake up, oh no you don’t you go into ‘limbo’ which is a chaotic zone of horror, oh no it isn’t it’s a beach, then to get out of limbo you just have to die there, but not anywhere else etc etc. gah I just don’t care any more!!!

    then there is Marion Cotillard’s character. I thought she was called Moll, but apparently it is Mal (double plus marks for subtlety!!) who is basically a hateful shrew. She is depicted as such because she is an embodiment of Leo’s guilty conscious after he accidentally mind-raped her into committing suicide. She constantly appears to ruin things for Leo because, of cause, in the whole “being mind raped into committing suicide” scenario, Leo is clearly the victim. He goes on about how much he loved her etc etc (though we the audience only ever see her being crazy and spiteful) but can clearly only conceive of a happy dream at the end where she is dead and gone – not restored to sanity, etc. It all just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Finally it turns out that being lost in a consolatory dream is sad and pathetic if you’re a junky in Mombassa but not if you are a nice middle class person like Leo or Cillian Murphy etc. Or maybe it isn’t because Leo is an annoying sadsack anyway.

    Ambiguous or half-baked??? you be the judge!!

    I could rant about this film for ages…

    mark c

    22 July 2010 at 12:48

  2. turgid and monumentally humourless, without any hint of wit and playfulness

    There is definitely an element of this. Halfway through there is a scene where Arthur tricks Ariadne into kissing him which drew a big laugh from the audience. Partly this is because it a well-judged beat but I imagine it is also partly because they had had precious little outlet previous. This is pretty much the only time any of the characters interact for reasons outside of the plot. It is certainly the only laugh. At the same time, the film was already pretty long so Nolan obviously adopted a form of monomania and focussed solely on the core to keep it manageable. But yeah, you’re not wrong.

    It also explains the whole “making up the rules as you go along” aspect

    For me there was an important difference in that the rule were all announced in advance. There is no real dream technology so as long as I am told it operates in a certain way and it does then I am satisfied. the problem is when rules are just made up, post-fact, in order to surprise or sidestep the audience and I think Nolan avoids this.

    Regarding Mal, I think it is important to seperate the real Mal (who we don’t see) from the guilt embodiment Mal (who we do) and I think you are waivering between the two.

    She constantly appears to ruin things for Leo because, of cause, in the whole “being mind raped into committing suicide” scenario, Leo is clearly the victim.

    Presumably this is because Cobb is seeking to punish himself, not because he sees himself as the victim. As you’ve said, this Mal isn’t a real person, merely the manifestation of his guilt. She intervenes to thwart him because he himself does not want to be happy.

    He goes on about how much he loved her etc etc (though we the audience only ever see her being crazy and spiteful) but can clearly only conceive of a happy dream at the end where she is dead and gone – not restored to sanity, etc.

    I think it is made quite clear that he can’t restore her sanity because she doesn’t exist. We don’t only ever see her crazy and spiteful, we never see her at all. The real Mal committed suicide and is dead; there is no way round that. The false Mal is a psychological tumour that needs to be excised.

    Finally it turns out that being lost in a consolatory dream is sad and pathetic if you’re a junky in Mombassa but not if you are a nice middle class person like Leo or Cillian Murphy etc.

    I’m not sure this is true either. I think a direct line of equivalence is drawn between Cobb and the opium den in Mombassa. After all, it is after that scene that we start to get Ariadne checking up on him in his office at night.

    Martin

    22 July 2010 at 13:51

  3. (Spoilers of course)

    I liked the top thing spinning on and on at the end – and it was a shame they didn’t cut out before it began to wobble a little. It gave a feeling of horror to the happy voices from the garden.

    OTOH I think he could have freed up a lot of time and story-space by cutting back on the boring action sequences, particularly the Alpine James Bond stuff.

    Alison

    22 July 2010 at 15:34

  4. I liked the top thing spinning on and on at the end – and it was a shame they didn’t cut out before it began to wobble a little.

    To be honest, I never thought it was going to do anything other than fall so I found it a bit cheap. As soon as the dream technology is revealed, there was always the possibility that what we thought was the base layer of reality was in fact another dream (this is even explicitly mentioned). That would be too obvious though and certainly wouldn’t have been earnt by the film. So rather than adding a tinge of horror to the happy ending, it seemed to me to pointlessly undermine the emotional resolution that the film had strived so hard for. It is possible that Nolan wants us to leave the film in a state of quantum indeterminancy but in that case he should have had the nerve not to add the wobble. For me though, the top will always fall.

    Martin

    22 July 2010 at 15:45

  5. My problem was that I was fairly sure, from Mombasa, that it was a dream.

    The bit where he goes from being followed by a single, subtle, tail, to being chased by hordes of gunmen with infinite ammo, only to be rescued by someone who wasn’t even known to be in the city – that felt like dream logic to me. As did the bit where he runs down an alley, only to have it get smaller and smaller as he reaches the end. Almost a cliche of dreams.

    So I was waiting for the reveal that it was all a dream, and then to have an actual, decent, coda that gave us closure. Something like the rest of his team actually being police agents sent in to find out if he killed his wife or not.

    Which I’d have been vastly happier with as an ending than what we got.

    Andrew Ducker

    22 July 2010 at 17:19

  6. Mombasa does have a dream logic feel to it, particularly the narrowing gap (and the film itself acknowledges this later). However, for it to be a dream from Mombassa, it has to be a second dream inside an initial dream that started prior to the film and which, in turn, already contained another double dream on the bullet train. So I never entertained it as a serious possibility.

    Martin

    22 July 2010 at 17:48

  7. Well, exactly.

    We start the movie in a dream and pull back to “reality”, only to discover that that’s a dream too.

    The obvious way to take the film at that point is that we’re still in a dream, and that this will be revealed later. You don’t start off a film going “Look! You can be in a dream, wake up, and still be dreaming!” unless you plan to use that later on.

    Andrew Ducker

    22 July 2010 at 17:51

  8. Pulling back from one dream into another is the classic way to open a film like this about nesting levels of reality. I don’t think it is at all obvious that this inevitably sets it up for another pull back. As for not using it later on, that is the whole of what the rest of the film is about! We start with two levels and then move on to three.

    As I said, I never considered it for a minute. For starters, it would be a ludicrously complicated and necessary way to discover something about Cobb. They could have solved the question of his wife’s death in minutes. Even if we allowed for such a convoluted plot (because, admittedly, the Fisher plot is pretty convoluted), I’m not sure such a reading is possible. For the film to function as a film, the rules we are told about dreams have to be true. Cobb’s top has to actually tell him what is reality and what is a dream, otherwise the film has no point. There is also the question of the other characters and the fact they exist outside of Cobb’s imagination. If they are all therefore agents (in the same way the team is to Fisher) why do they never discuss their mission when Cobb is not there?

    Martin

    22 July 2010 at 18:32

  9. It’s probably evidence that I’m shallow, but I was surprised that they demonstrated that dream physics could be manipulated in quite spectacular ways and then never used that later on. I expected there to be a sequence with the dream collapsing and the team becoming so desperate that they began furiously manipulating the structure of the dream world and its rules. This left the actual action scenes a little underwhelming.

    Rich

    22 July 2010 at 19:38

  10. Yeah, I sort of agree. You can understand why since they set it up in the film: they need Ariadne’s maps to be stable so they a) fool Fisher and b) don’t attract antibody elements of the subconscious. However, like you say, when they are really up against it and desperate, it seems a plausible last resort. You certainly can’t imagine the Wachowskis leaving that card unplayed.

    I found the alpine action scenes much more tolerable than Marco and Alison but it is true they are underwhelming. Again, I think a lot of this is deliberate – a generic dream-like echoing of James Bond and other filmic memories – but knowning this doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the viewer.

    Martin

    23 July 2010 at 09:20

  11. Our subconscious is surely inhabited by archetypal urges like James Bond – but how much better that could have been expressed. If they had done it right it could have been magnificent.

    Alison

    23 July 2010 at 11:09

  12. Halfway through there is a scene where Arthur tricks Ariadne into kissing him which drew a big laugh from the audience. Partly this is because it a well-judged beat but I imagine it is also partly because they had had precious little outlet previous.

    It’s interesting that you should say this, because there was a similar reaction in the theater where I watched the film, but not for this scene. It was Saito’s line that he’d bought the airline (“it seemed simpler”) that drew a laugh. Exact same feeling as you describe, though – more as if we all needed a break from the film’s dourness than that it was such a good joke.

    Abigail

    24 July 2010 at 13:49

  13. Our subconscious is surely inhabited by archetypal urges like James Bond – but how much better that could have been expressed.

    Regarding this and Rich’s comment above, I spent a lot of time on the bus yesterday so saw a lot of posters for the film. They all depict Photoshopped mash ups of Ariadne’s folded Paris and the assembled team in action mode from the rain soaked NYC dream. The designers have obviously chosen this because it instantly conveys to the viewer everything you need to know about the the film. Yet at the same time, they had to invent the scene because nothing remotely like it actually happens in the film.

    Martin

    26 July 2010 at 09:49

  14. [...] right for me, and I enjoyed watching the tumblers of the various dreams click into alignment. Like Martin Lewis, I’d say Inception is lesser Nolan, if only because it doesn’t push as far as it could, but [...]

  15. [...] there is much good to be found in our books. And quite right too, it’s all part of the fun. Here are a few interesting chesty-thump [...]

  16. [...] 3 comments Back when everyone was discussing Inception, the conversation over at Asking The Wrong Questions strayed onto The Cell, Tarsem Singh’s [...]

  17. [...] this hope. Moon won the Hugo last year; I doubt Monsters will do the same and instead it will go to Inception, a blockbuster which, for all its undoubted flaws, had brains. Then there is next year’s [...]


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