A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 306 – Inception

Inception – December 31st, 2010

This was, perhaps, not the best of plans for tonight. We bought it just before Christmas and held off on watching it what with the Christmas movies we had at the time. Then our schedules just didn’t accommodate a movie this long and then we found Hogfather and wanted to watch that before today. So it just got put off, and so we thought we’d watch it on New Year’s Eve. After all, we already watched our one New Year’s specific movie (Strange Days, watched way back at the beginning of the project), so we weren’t going to have something holiday themed for tonight. And then we decided to have dinner with my parents and things took a lot longer than we planned and here we are, watching the movie at my mother’s house because if we don’t start it now, we won’t finish by midnight.

The trouble here is that we’re rushed. Of course you can’t really literally rush a movie without putting it on fast forward, but it feels rushed. We’re starting before dinner, watching while we wait for things to cook. And before the movie is over we’ll pause it to eat, because by then it will be quite late indeed. And then we’ll watch more of it later. And this isn’t a movie I want to watch in pieces. It’s convoluted enough as it is, without complicating it with pauses. Oh well. We’ll just have to cope.

I love this movie, but I have to admit I have some issues with it. Or rather, not with the movie itself but with the fuss around it. See, a movie like this, with so much going on and so many twists and turns and secrets and metaphors, with the concept of multi-level dreaming and the questions of the nature of reality and the human mind? It is the stuff people love to analyze. This is a movie that invites prodding and poking and picking apart. But, well. I don’t want to poke it too much and end up breaking it in my own head. Because when I walked out of the theater after seeing it the first time I thought it was fantastic. And I loved all the layers and levels and questions. But I don’t really want to answer everything.

The plot is science fiction corporate espionage. In a world where it is possible to share dreams with other people, to design dreams other people will have, to sneak into other people’s heads via their subconscious dream-state, Extraction is the ultimate tool for corporate espionage. Dom Cobb is one of the best in the business and he is hired not to steal a concept, but to implant one. Inception, as it’s called, is thought to be nearly impossible, as planting an idea requires making the person it’s planted in believe they came up with it themselves. So Cobb has quite a job ahead of him. He puts together a team to work with him. There’s Arthur, his right hand man who deals with the technology that allows dreams to be shared and who does background research on their target. There’s Yusuf, a chemist who puts together a sedative that will keep the team asleep through the job. There’s Eames, a forger who will insert people into the dreams. There’s Ariadne, the architect who designs the various dream levels and teaches them to the others. There’s Saito, their employer who comes along to keep an eye on things. And then there’s Cobb. Who has secrets and guilt and far more experience with the deeper levels of dreams than he’s willing to talk about. All together they’re targeting Fischer, a young man who has just inherited his father’s corporate legacy.

The trouble is that Cobb’s secrets involve his late wife and the time they spent in the deepest level of dreams – limbo – together. Mal, his wife, shows up in his dreams, finding a way to sabotage everything whenever she finds him. And while the base story is about the team trying to plant an idea in Fisher’s head for Saito, the deeper story is about Cobb and the nature of reality. The nature of his reality. His guilt about Mal and his memories and his search for a way to get home. Cobb believes that he’s managed inception before, and that’s what caused Mal’s death. It permeates everything in his mind, which means it permeates the movie. That and the question of what is real? That is the plot of the movie.

It’s all told in layers. The whole story with Cobb’s wife isn’t revealed until you’re inside one of his dreams, and you only find out more details by going deeper and deeper into his head. And the deeper you go, the less clear reality becomes. The nature of the plot with Mal and Cobb calls into question whether Cobb is really aware of what reality is, and therefore it calls into question the movie’s whole setting. Is it all even really happening? There are clues and hints all over the place, from the top that doesn’t topple to the musical cues to Cobb’s wedding band. We’re meant to wonder about it all and try to figure it out.

The problem here is that I don’t think there are definitive answers. There’s opinion and analysis, but not concrete answers. This isn’t math. It’s English. So whether there are three or four or five dream layers going on is really up to interpretation and the viewer. Whether Cobb is asleep or awake isn’t something that ever has one right answer. Will the top keep spinning after the movie goes to credits or no? We don’t know. We’re not supposed to know. We’re supposed to wonder and interpret, much in the way we wonder about and interpret our own dreams.

One of the problems I had with my undergraduate major was that I truly felt there was no way to say “No, that cannot mean what you think it means.” So much of literary analysis is a melding of the outside world with the inner mind through the window of the work being analyzed. How do you say that what’s in someone else’s head is wrong? You might not agree with it, but that’s the nature of individual thought. So if some people want to argue one way for this movie, and others want to argue the opposite? I can live with that. Personally, I’m just pleased with the movie itself.

It is a fine work of art with a load of clever layers built in, right up to a potential meta layer that is the movie as a sort of dream, being experienced by the audience. I enjoy every performance in the movie, from Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb to the ubiquitous Michael Caine as his father-in-law. I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention the entire cast, in fact. Marion Cotillard as Mal, Ken Watanabe as Saito, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur (looking very snappy indeed, in his suit – and might I mention his awesome spinning-set action scene?), Tom Hardy as Eames, Dileep Rao as Yusuf, Ellen Page as Ariadne and Cillian Murphy as Fischer. And then there’s some smaller roles, with Tom Berenger and Pete Postlethwaite as people close to Fisher. The whole cast is excellent. And I love that. While it’s muchly a story of Cobb and Mal, the movie wouldn’t work without excellent performances from everyone else.

I don’t want to poke this movie too hard or with too sharp a stick. I love it for the strange and beautiful thing that it is. I’ve heard people questioning its logic and unraveling its layers, peeling them apart and trying to find fault with them. I’ve read bits and pieces of criticism that deconstructs the movie in a way that ignores how it was constructed in the first place. And while I do love knowing how a trick works, I also love seeing it in motion, and this movie in motion is wonderful. Stopping it to pick it apart just doesn’t work for me. It’s probably for the same reason I don’t try to analyze my dreams. They’re dreams. Maybe they mean something. Maybe not. In that case and in this, I’d rather just enjoy.

December 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Inception

December 31, 2010

Inception

For our last movie of 2010 we wanted a really great one. With typical lack of forethought we watched our only New Year’s movie (Strange Days) many months ago, so we had to just pick from what we had available. Thankfully we had purchased Inception a few days before Christmas while we were shopping for presents for my nieces, so we had this to look forward to.

When we first decided to review Inception, a few days ago, I dreamed about the movie. Or rather, I dreamed that I was part of the movie. I was an extractor inside a dream setting traps and playing tricks and generally being badass. This movie means a lot to me because I have always held dreams in high regard. I love dreaming, because in my dreams I am always a super hero or a god or just generally the center of the world. My dreams are epic adventures. A reoccurring theme of my night-time wanderings is that I discover wondrous treasures in the mundane surroundings of my real life. There are hidden secret passages behind the walls of my grandparents’ home. My digital pocket watch has a secret series of button presses that unlocks a vast quantity of previously undiscovered video games. And of course I can usually fly. So a movie about people entering each other’s dreams and having adventures there is bound to pique my interest.

Then again, this is only nominally a movie about dreams. The dreams portrayed here are fairly rigid, with clearly delineated rules. Nobody has super powers. The thing about dreams is that they don’t actually make sense. Every once in a while I’ll have a dream that seems to have a relatively sane narrative thread, but when I recall it in the light of day it never quite holds up. It’s not just that dreams are constantly filled with strange juxtapositions of disparate memories (which is, I believe, their defining feature and actually their purpose) but that they involve creations that almost cannot be defined by the waking mind. It’s easy to cope with a dream that involves unfamiliar places or events, but then there are the truly deep and moving dreams (for me at least) that involve entire artificial memories. You are in a place, caught up in some epic struggle, and your mind provides you with the whole mythology and background that is involved. I don’t think you ever “live out” this background in your dream – it is simply there. A whole alternate world contained in your dream-memories. How can something like that ever possibly be captured on film?

No, after much consideration I think that the dreams portrayed in this movie are not actually dreams at all. The movie is actually about ideas. It’s right there in Leonardo DeCaprio’s first dialog as Cobb. An idea is an insidious thing like a virus. It can worm its way into your brain and come to define who you are.

There are a whole lot of stories going on here. There’s the whole notion of trying to plant an idea deep enough into some body’s mind that they think they came up with it on their own. There’s Cobb with his guilt over his wife’s death. There’s the whole notion that it can be almost impossible for a dreamer to tell that he or she is dreaming at all (a frequent occurrence for me since I often find it amazing that I should have suddenly discovered the secret to flight or something else unbelievable – so I wonder if I am actually dreaming, only to dismiss this because it feels too real. Right until I wake up.) There’s a heist film with a crew coming together to pull of an amazing feat against insurmountable odds and pulling it off even when all appears to be lost. And what’s amazing is that every level of the film really works.

This is Christopher Nolan at his most impossibly talented. He has a great crew of actors who can do deep drama and impressive action and blend it all seamlessly together. He playfully flips through the multiple levels of dreams as the action climax last fully half of the whole movie. He has action set pieces combined with emotional revelations and very Nolanesque brain twisters as well. How can the same movie contain both the visually stunning rolling corridor fight scene and Cobb’s painful struggle with the literal embodiment of his unresolved guilt regarding his wife?

The funny thing for me is that the whole movie seems to me to be a blueprint for inserting an idea into an audience’s mind, but there is no idea to place. The best way to plant the seed of an idea is to make it part of a story. A story we want to believe about ourselves or the world we live in. Nolan understands this. The dreams his characters use for extraction or inception are not very dreamlike, but they are very much narrative devices. They are stories built to entrap people so that something can be done to their psyche. And, really, isn’t that what all the best stories do? They touch us and in some way they change us. But like dreams within dreams there’s a recursion to this movie. It’s a story about stories. And maybe that’s what it’s meant to be. It makes you question your own reality and your own beliefs, which is a healthy thing I think. Perhaps by saying that people can implant the seed of an idea in your mind Christopher Nolan is trying to make us look harder at the roots of what we have come to accept to be true. maybe this movie is not so much an inception as an inoculation.

Of course like any dream, or like the infamous last shot in this movie, all of this is very much open to personal interpretation. I fully accept that what is deeply personal and undeniably true for me might well make no sense to somebody else. That’s the curse and blessing of individuality after all.

December 31, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment