07 October 2011


A.  Thoughts on last year's mega-hit Inception.
  1. Christopher Nolan's brother went to my high school.
  2. Nolan does epic film very well.  He's a master at tone setting.
  3. This may have something to do with his consistent use of weirdly minimalist music.
  4. Inception is obviously well-made from a purely technical standpoint.  All the stunts and special effects are completely convincing and even aesthetically pleasing.  The sets are interesting, the characters (even that girl from Juno) do a pretty good job acting, the pacing is good and I don't remember anything less than perfect about the camera work and cinematography.
  5. So the main question is whether it's got a good plot concept, whether the concept is developed and executed effectively, and ultimately whether the movie has something to say that's worth hearing.
  6. I think the plot concept is excellent.  It's simple and accessible, but with far-reaching implications and the potential for a lot of development.  E.g. one could easily make an extended series just out of the idea of a world in which this dream-intrusion technology existed.  It's like a reverse Matrix without the dystopian thing.
  7. The concept is mostly developed well.  There are some mild plot holes and questions (rules which are given for the relations between the dream worlds don't quite hold up, and the idea of the lowest level as "pure subconscious" does not at all match with what happens there).  The way time is dilated in progressively lower levels captures something about real dreams, while introducing a fantastic complication for the story.  In a way, the Freudian undertones of the whole thing work well, and are necessary for the inception-driven plot.  However, they give the movie some of the weaknesses of Freud.  Random dream people being expressions of your subconscious anxiety doesn't really seem that compelling.  It would have been more interesting to play on the idea of dream architecture and the connection between environmental forms and levels of consciousness.  The simple idea of a man and wife alone together in a universe over which they had total creative control gives you an incredible chance to explore fundamental moral questions about the ultimate objects of human desire, the last end, and how relationships work.
  8. So, a lot of credit has to be given to the writers for developing the concept so effectively, even if they could have taken it further or been more consistent.  It's an impressive thing they've created.
  9. Finally, the question of what's being said.  The core issue in the film is the wife's insanity and suicide over her doubts about the reality of the ordinary world.  The universal claims we can draw from this are all good: that dwelling in a solipsistic dream-world will drive one insane; that skepticism about the reality of ordinary life constitutes a kind of suicide which renders relationships with others meaningless; that raw human creativity, even shorn of all physical constraints, is not enough to sustain a person in eternity; that, likewise, another person, even your beloved spouse, cannot provide life with a final meaning or coherence. 
  10. There are more conclusions we could draw.  What has already been said is good enough to establish Inception (4) as a very good movie.  Much as Solaris (5) emphasizes the importance of human nature against the weird vision of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (2???), Inception can be thought of as a more psychological, less violent rendition of The Matrix (5).  In fact, Inception enriches The Matrix by pointing out new lines of interpretation, which reveal the peculiarities (and faults) of the Wachowskis' vision.