such stuff as dreams are made on

umbrella manI prefer the original “Inception” – the one starring Robert Englund.” –a FB friend

So, I saw Inception finally.   And you know, my friend’s observation above just about sums it up.  Damn near every psychology blog I read has devoted serious ink to discussing  this movie, so I thought I’d better see it.  Now that I have, I’m not entirely sure what all the hoopla is about.

Once upon a time Christopher Nolan made a pretty cool movie.  Memento is one of those rare films that actually does something different.  The end of the movie is not at all what you expect it will be at the beginning, perhaps because the ending is the beginning.  The director skillfully led viewers through one revelation after another, keeping us as confused about the reality of events as the protagonist, a man suffering from anterograde amnesia and looking for the man who murdered his wife.  If you haven’t seen it, go Netflix it.  It’s worth a watch.

Each of Nolan’s subsequent movies (The Prestige, the rebooted Batman franchise, Inception) has in some sense incorporated things that mess with our perception of reality, whether via dreams, hallucinogenic drugs, insomnia-induced neurosis, or magicians’ illusions.  Inception is pretty much more of the same, although despite rather a lot of smoke and mirrors it’s a fairly straightforward story.

[WATCH OUT!  SPOILERS DEAD AHEAD!]

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dom Cobb, a man who works in the somewhat shady business of stealing information from people’s dreams.    They never really explain how this works, other than that the dreamers share a dream world built from their mental projections.  Generally, the “extractors” use the dreams to access information.  However, following a disastrously failed job Dom and his team are hired to perform a more chancier “inception” job, in which they must implant an idea into someone’s mind.  This, as we are told repeatedly, is much harder than stealing information because people will recognize and reject ideas that are not their own.  Thus, the extractors must find a way to make the mark believe he came to the idea on his own (thus the term “inception” instead of “injection”, although I suspect the term was used because it just sounds so much cooler).  So begins the apparently convoluted but actually quite linear plot.

Aside from DiCaprio (who, let’s face it, I just don’t like), my biggest problem with the movie is that it is essentially empty.  The target of Dom’s team is a fairly likable young businessman with a real shit for a father.  The businessman who hires Dom and his…ummm…dream team (forgive me) is a shady competitor not above using a little high-tech corporate espionage to get an edge.  Dom keeps a mental projection of his dead wife in the basement of his subconscious; she, or more accurately his guilt over her death, wreaks havoc on all his best laid plans.   The movie is loud and full of explosions which mostly seem to occur to make the plot appear more complicated than it is.  Honestly, are your dreams ever that cacophonic and combustible?  Mine certainly aren’t, even when they are boldly surrealistic.   The symbolism in the movie is blunt and obvious.  The Architect (played by Ellen Page) designs the mazes the team uses in the dreams and is named Ariadne.   Dom’s treacherous dead wife is named Mal and she’s, well, French (look it up).    Dom can never see the faces of  his children, again hitting us over the head with the obvious fact that he can’t face them after the death of their mother.  At one point the movie actually has a freaking train crashing through part of it, no doubt in homage to the author of “The Interpretation of Dreams.”  Or maybe it’s just an excuse for a cool special effect.

Film-making in general is what’s good in this movie.  Despite a whole lot of angsty, guilt ridden acting from Leo, bucketfuls of pop psychology from Ellen Page, and a generally competent supporting cast, it’s nearly impossible to care about any of the characters.   The only one that’s really interesting is Cillian Murphy as the target of the inception.  As in most movies where lots of things blow up any character development is secondary to to the explosions.  So it’s a really good thing that the special effects are pretty decent and the editing is excellent, especially at the end when the editor has to meld four converging dream lines.  Nolan doesn’t particularly care about CGI and prefers to use real actors and effects when he can (and bless his heart, he also doesn’t shoot in 3D).   Reading about how he managed to make a movie about dreams using only a third of the computer-generated effects that most movies use today is quite interesting.  The handful of primarily VFX scenes that stand out are good, particularly the Escheresque folding of the streets of Paris and the glacier-based Limbo City, but it’s the stuff that’s not CGI that’s really cool.  The fight in zero-gravity?  That was shot in a 100 foot long rotating set with the actors on wires.  The van falling into water?  Shot numerous times in a month in LA, with the van being essentially shot out of a cannon over and over again.  The train crashing through the streets of LA in the rain (in movies it always rains in LA) was a mock train built on a truck chassis and the rain was provided by water cannons.

Much has been made on the tubes of the ending of the film.  I’m not really going to discuss it here, other than to note that how the film ends is not the point.  The filmmaker intended the ambiguity to stimulate our own ruminations, not only on the nature of reality but on its absolute value.    We are meant to leave the theater passionately arguing over whether or not Dom made the right choice, not where that choice took him.  I considered it a mildly interesting prospect but since the movie goes to great lengths to answer the question for us we already know what to think.   We are left with the far more mundane question of whether or not the top stops spinning.

Basically this is a typical summer movie.  It’s not particularly novel or clever and it suffers from lackluster characters and a plot that propels itself  from chase scene to explosion.  It tries to convince us it’s deep but it’s really  more toward the shallow end of the pool.  However, it is very well-made and despite the overabundance of Leonardo DiCaprio it’s a pretty enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.  It doesn’t actually suck, like oh…say…Avatar.

Score:  Meh.

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~ by gun street girl on August 11, 2010.

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