Saturday, December 4, 2010

Dreaming a little dream: thoughts on the second viewing of Inception.

Seeing Inception for the second time, the line that keeps coming back to me is the one that caps the trailer, where Tom Hardy admonishes Joseph Gorden-Levitt and tells him "One mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling" before whipping out a rocket launcher. As great as much of Inception is, how I wish that Chris Nolan hadn't been afraid to really explore the nature of dreaming for more than just superior action sequences and overly-complicated heist-film plot mechanics. There is a fantastic documentary on the Blu Ray set, arguably the only feature in the slim supplemental package worth a damn, that deals with the science and speculation of dreams and how they work. Watching this before viewing the second viewing of said feature, one realizes how Nolan barely scratched the surface of the rich storytelling possibilities that the dream world has to offer. It may not be fair to criticize Inception for not being the definitive action-thriller about the dreamworld, but one cannot deny that the dreamworld envisioned by Chris Nolan (car chases, gunfights, explosions!) lacks a certain amount of imagination.

Ironically, Inception suffers (just a bit) from the same problem as (the still very intelligent and entertaining) The Social Network. Neither is really about its subject matter so much as it uses its alleged gimmick to create relevance and alleged profoundity for a somewhat generic narrative. The Social Network, as Aaron Sorkin has admitted, isn't really about the creation of Facebook so much as it's a generic 'tale of invention' story. Had said film been about the inventor of a popular cooking device, the film would have played pretty much the same. Inception isn't really about dreams, so much as it uses the idea of entering the subconscious to prettify a pretty generic caper picture. The film would have played pretty much the same had the film taken place inside a giant video game, which of course is how it feels for much of the second and third acts anyway.

On its own merits, Inception remains a top-notch piece of genre entertainment. The technical and special effects work is all splendid and every actor is at the top of his or her game. The writing and plotting are intelligent and engaging, and the film actually more or less makes perfect sense if you're paying even a token amount of attention. Most filmmakers would distinguish themselves by making a film as good as Inception. But that's the trap of being as accomplished as Christopher Nolan. When you're arguably the best director currently working in big-budget Hollywood, you mustn't be afraid to dream just a little bigger.

Scott Mendelson

6 comments:

Matthew Shedd said...

I agree with your overall take on the action sequences in the subconscious. They felt generic and over-wrought.
One thing I've been thinking about writing about is the dialogue of drug addiction in the film. There are so many thinly veiled references to dreams that could easily be referencing drugs. When Leo's character knows that she'll come back because once you create an alternate reality for yourself, "there's no going back" or something in the same arena of that cliche. The very idea of creating a reality for oneself seems to specifically address addiction and substance abuse. Leo's habit is the only way he can access his deceased wife. And the film questions which reality is "better" or if you can you distinguish between a constructed reality and reality at all.
What seems to complicate this though his wife's reference to Kierkegaard, telling him to "take a leap of faith." Is the leap into an illusion. Is this somehow associating our fantasies, which may or may not coincide with drug addiction, with religion. Certainly Nolan had to know he was alluding to Kierkegaard. Anyway, I just wanted to hear somebody else's thoughts on these things if you have the time.

Anonymous said...

I believe that your second viewing missed Nolan's overall objective. Whether or not one outcome or another actually is true for the main character(s), what has happened by the end of the film is that 2 inceptions have taken place, one for Leo's character and one for the audience member. Leo has implanted the idea of reality into himself, and Nolan has implanted the idea of "is this a dream? or is this reality?" into you, the viewer.

After all, 'what is the most infectious thing in the world?'

Scott Mendelson said...

That's actually what I took from the film on my first viewing. I also took the film as a metaphor/commentary on how we have real emotional reactions to things (like movies) that we know are not real. IE - I know Toy Story 3 is a fictional entertainment, but I cried at the end anyway. Inception is not by any-means a stupid film, but just didn't work as well for me the second time around. No harm in that.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you were able to take from your first viewing the overall metaphor. But I would still argue that Nolan's objective is on something different.

Honestly, I don't know if Nolan is capable of the emotional depth of a Spielberg or Ridley Scott film, for example. I'm not really invested in a lot of Nolan's characters... but I think Nolan is really good at what he is trying to do, like one of those famous molecular gastronomy obsessed chefs, where you order a mac and cheese and you get a plate with orange powder in a clear soup. You ask yourself what it is but once you actually taste it, it's the most delicious mac and cheese you've tasted, tightly executed in some other form.

Even though you might still be hungry afterwards (much more than you would be from, say, a Pixar film, which is packed full of emotional cheese and character macaroni), you will still be kind of amazed at what you've just tasted/experienced after a Nolan flick. And yes, I must admit I am less impressed after the first viewing (or tasting).

Scott Mendelson said...

That's where we differ. I was quite invested by and moved by the characters and the emotional arcs in Nolan's previous pictures. Memento holds up as an emotional forward journey in the midst of a backwards story arc. The Batman pictures are emotionally compelling (Bruce Wayne's arc in Batman Begins and Gary Oldman's rise and fall in The Dark Knight), and The Prestige was moving as well. I've never bought the line that Nolan was a cold and mechanical filmmaker, but Inception was easily his coldest film yet.

Matthew Shedd said...

I agree with your overall take on the action sequences in the subconscious. They felt generic and over-wrought.
One thing I've been thinking about writing about is the dialogue of drug addiction in the film. There are so many thinly veiled references to dreams that could easily be referencing drugs. When Leo's character knows that she'll come back because once you create an alternate reality for yourself, "there's no going back" or something in the same arena of that cliche. The very idea of creating a reality for oneself seems to specifically address addiction and substance abuse. Leo's habit is the only way he can access his deceased wife. And the film questions which reality is "better" or if you can you distinguish between a constructed reality and reality at all.
What seems to complicate this though his wife's reference to Kierkegaard, telling him to "take a leap of faith." Is the leap into an illusion. Is this somehow associating our fantasies, which may or may not coincide with drug addiction, with religion. Certainly Nolan had to know he was alluding to Kierkegaard. Anyway, I just wanted to hear somebody else's thoughts on these things if you have the time.

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Labels