Good film? Yes. Nolan’s masterpiece? No.
Christopher Nolan has done his it again; he has people talking. As critics and film fans rave over Nolan’s seventh feature film, he is helping to redefine the vision of summer blockbusters from obtrusion to introspection.
While “Inception” does bring to mind some of the imagery of “Dark City,” along with a number of impressions from “The Matrix” it is an undeniably one of a kind movie; there is nothing quite like it. Nolan weaves the viewer through a maze of ideas, in a world of special effects and distinctively captured scenes, in multi-layered sequences that reflect up to five different levels of corresponding time passing at outwardly different velocities.
Like Nolan’s “Memento” and “The Prestige,” no one is going to completely grasp this film on one viewing alone. Like most great directors he is far too intelligent to solve the puzzle for you; further viewings of this film will reward our investigation.
It seems only fair for me to go see the film again in the next few weeks, and I promise to report back with more thoughts. “Inception” is worth the extra survey; I’m not buying “The Usual Supsects” argument that says in the end this film is a piece of crap because nothing really mattered in the first place. Everything matters, everything is very defined and very tidy.
“Inception” centers on one of the more brilliant schemes that a modern film is capable of proposing; it implies that life is all about the way we perceive it individually. That is to say, that we cannot transplant ideas into others psyche. People have to make decisions about life on their own terms. So, in essence our mind can be our own worst enemy; it is the only thing truly capable of destroying or manipulating us in the end. This is a singular idea that may be the perfect thing to examine within any source of art, it’s the one question that we’re all striving to answer; how do we escape from our life into a dream? How do we ebb into a world that seems more real to us?
In the world which we live, we form perceptions, and, if we’re really cognizant of things, it does feel kind of artificial since many of us steal ideas or form notions via others. So, while it would be nice to escape that world entirely, living in an external dream is not only infeasible but also unrewarding to our surrounding world in the end.
Stanley Kubrick’s name has come up a lot in the praise of Nolan’s film this past week, so much to the point where one reviewer even went so far as to write an article titled “Christopher Nolan delivers Kubrickian masterpiece.” This is where the line is drawn on how ‘extraordinary’ this film is; unfortunately for Nolan there is a certain expectation within Hollywood nowadays for how a large-scale film is supposed to look; explosions, chases and seemingly epic vision through a Computer Generated lens. Nolan’s movie is filled with skillfully shot sequences, like one in a long hallway where a character’s center of gravity shifts based on the movements of his body in another, yet still related time continuum. The dreamlike work of writers and directors like Kubrick (“2001: A Space Odyssey,” and “The Shining”) Federico Fellini (“8 ½”), and Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Synecdoche New York”) is executed with beautiful subtlety and an even greater attention to detail then “Inception.”
It’s unfortunate for someone as bright as Nolan that the film experience has shifted so drastically that we’re stuck in a CG vision that does little justice to ideas and vision. It almost seems like great visualization is solely dependent on the story a film wishes to tell; if a movie has any level of fantasy associated with its plot, the sights are often doomed unless you’re willing to use CG as carefully and correctly as Peter Jackson did on his “Lord of the Rings” films. It’s almost impossible for Nolan to execute a film with the grace and technical brilliance of someone like Terrence Malick, because let’s face it…almost no one is going to see a summer blockbuster centered on nuances and delicacy. It seems like Hans Zimmer’s score was playing throughout every waking moment of the movie; there was no room for silence or reflection.
Thus “Inception” is incapable of executing its design with the same magnificence as a Kubrick or a Malick film. It is art, but the definition of art has changed over time into a gaudy world of CG. For me it is more a question of how good “Inception” could have been; if only it had the futuristic realism of “Blade Runner” or “2001.”
There is some conflict within Dom Cobb (Leonardo Dicaprio), but his character along with many of the other people in the film feel like they’re lacking in the human element. This is why I’m not buying Dicaprio’s comparison to “8 ½.” For those who aren’t familiar, “8 ½” is regularly considered one of the greatest films of all time by critics and especially by directors in it’s examination of the chaos of filmmaking. Others may disagree with my assertion (such as this guy’s article on it’s supposed connection with 8 1/2), but there is very little about Dicaprio’s performance that borders on the psychosis of Marcello Mastroianni’s portrayal of “8 ½” protagonist Guido Anselmi.
“Inception” incorporates a vision that is more fascinating then “Dark City” and “Waking Life,” and it seems like a magnum opus when compared to the bogus fantasy of “Avatar” from this past year, but ultimately it doesn’t have the same humanity and realism as “The Matrix” or “Being John Malkovich.” Films like “Blade Runner” and “2001” are still in an entirely different realm of art.
Nolan’s potential at 39 years old is matched only by that of Paul Thomas Anderson today in Hollywood, but as a whole “Inception” is probably the fifth strongest of his six films I’ve seen to date. His strongest film “Memento” is very similar to “Inception” in its writing and ideas, but unlike Nolan’s latest piece, it is a masterpiece doesn’t have to be showy in its execution of a reverie world. “The Prestige” is another thought filled Nolan film that is arguably better because it focuses on the intricacy of its mystery with a period based focus. While “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” do require more thought than meets the eye, they’re better films than “Inception” because of the way that their story and characters operate as a whole. Maybe now that Nolan is being hailed as a king, he will be so respected and so well known by the masses that he can single-handedly change the face of Hollywood by drawing a larger than normal crowd out to see films that are centered more on subtlety (yet still including A-list stars and his Dark Knight/Inception name tagged to advertising) than seemingly epic modern digital effects. How cool would that be to see him shift back towards the simplicity of “Memento” with an even greater understanding of classic cinematic art; he is capable, here’s to hoping that he eventually embraces this initiative.
Typically I differ greatly from New York Times writer A.O. Scott’s evaluation of film, but I really appreciated his review that I was reading today in which he said “Mr. Nolan’s idea of the mind is too literal, too logical, too rule-bound to allow the full measure of madness.” This is a spot on assertion, when you compare the world of “Inception” up against the world of madness that Hitchock, Kubrick, Fellini, Coppola, Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Kaufman have created in so many of their worlds of anarchy. This orderly logic is a curious change from the chaos of “Memento,” “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” which all painted a near-perfect picture of the cold and dark side of humanity. I concurred with my brother’s assertion that “it’s too clean, there’s no real ambiguity, there’s no beauty in the gaps, there’s not enough left to the imagination.” If you closely watch the final sequences of “Inception” you’ll find a few intriguing queries, whereas if you watch the last scene of “2001” or “Blade Runner” the audience is asked to engage in an almost infinite amount of questions.
Hopefully my love/hate relationship with this film will be even further stimulated upon another viewing. With all of its ideas, thoughts and dreams I deeply wish that “Inception” could have had the beauty of a Kubrick or Malick film, and the character emphasis of a Coppola or Coen film; maybe that’s too much to ask in Hollywood today though. “Inception” is a celebration of ideas, not a celebration of cinema in the classic sense. Terrence Malick’s forthcoming film “The Tree of Life” may be our best insight into the real imagination of film.
***Written on 7/16 and re-edited on 7/25