Go with a smile!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


A friend of mine complained that “Inception” didn’t make you feel a lot of emotions. That is true, and it is a complaint that I’ve had of Christopher Nolan films in general.

I’m not at all surprised to find that he wrote the whole thing himself. It is a great exercise of the imagination – well a part of the imagination. But he had to lay down so many rules, that I felt that the first half of the movie was a video game demo, and the second half, the video game itself. To some people it could have been confusing, but I understood most of it. In the grand tradition of “Seven Samurai” and “Ocean’s 11” this is a film about a commando unit made up of a few specialists.

I liked the actors in this movie. Maybe not so much DiCaprio himself, but Gordon-Levitt did a great job in “500 days of Summer”. Here he is the security specialist, and his permanently worried look of a man on a dangerous mission suits him fine. Marion Cotillard, I was a fan of hers ever since “Love Me if You Dare”. (I don’t know if the choice of “Non, je ne regrette rien” as the wake up song is a nod to her previous turn in an Edith Piaf biopic). Her English is improving (watch “Big Fish” to see why she doesn’t have a lot of lines). Her bazongas are as lovely as they always were. Her role is limited, though because she’s basically a computer virus. Ken Watanabe is likeable enough. Ellen Page, as usual is her smart and offbeat self.

There is a lot of strange physics in the movie, like zero gravity, buildings appearing from nowhere, strange loops, MC Escher stuff. But not very much we haven’t already seen in “Labyrinth”.

In a way I would criticise the film for being too distracted. It’s as though every great idea from his feverish imagination had to make at least one appearance. The movie – if you follow it carefully, is not confusing. In fact it is possible to call it not confusing enough. For a movie about a series of dreams, everything is too rigorously logical. As AO Scott says in the New York Times: “But though there is a lot to see in “Inception,” there is nothing that counts as genuine vision. Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness — the risk of real confusion, of delirium, of ineffable ambiguity — that this subject requires.”

Yeh. Because when you put this movie alongside a Bergman, a Hitchcock, a Kubrick, or maybe even the recent “Vanilla Sky”, the psychological impact of the imagery is pretty tame. People wander through dreamscapes in a waking state – that’s not really dreaming at all. In a way it’s a good old fashioned action movie, where most of the actions take place in a dreamscape, rather than reality. Does Nolan dream of video games?

The problem is with the love story that forms the emotional core of the film. It is a distraction in more ways than one. Within the plot, Cotillard is more or less a computer virus which screws up his dreamscape and endangers the safety of the mission. The fact is that love scenes and action movies sit very uneasily side by side, unless they are both integrated into the same scenes. The main example I can think of is “Casino Royale” (the recent one) where even as James Bond and Vesper Lynd are partners in the action, there’s a parallel sexual tension going on between them. Or a bit further back, when you have Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in “Notorious”, the sexual undercurrent spices up the murder mystery. Whereas Leo is pining for somebody who’s off-screen. It is about as fun as watching somebody get the lube and start jerking off. A lot of things happen in action movies, and if you have to take screen time away from that to develop the DiCaprio-Cotillard angle, it takes away from the action.

The big problem about this movie is that what was supposed to be the emotional centre of the movie – the former lover haunting as a ghost – is over here relegated to a technical problem that needs to be solved. You don’t see that in Tarkovsky’s “Solaris”, you don’t see that in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, or even “Basic Instinct”. The obsession is usually front and centre, just like the male appendage.

Nolan’s focus has always been on the cleverness of the puzzles and the plot twists, rather than the emotional impact. This was always true of “Prestige”, “Batman Begins”, and “Insomnia”. Well I honestly can’t say very much of “Batman Begins” because I can’t remember anything about it. “Memento”, though, remains his greatest film becaue

And at the same time, it doesn’t make any economic sense, when you’ve sunk in so much moolah into CGI and special effects, to not put the action right in the middle. That is the conundrum of all the post “Jaws” movies, whatever movie you have that has a big budget. And it reminds me why I greatly admire Pixar: because it still somehow has the organisational discipline to put the story first, in spite of everything.

That said, it’s still a pretty good movie, because it surpasses most of the excuses for movies today in terms of richness of imagination. But that’s not saying much. It comes highly recommended but given the incredible things that people have been saying about this movie, it falls somewhat short of greatness.



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