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Dork vs. Dork: Inception
If this is a dream then why do I have pants on?

07/15/10
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com



Glenn: If you want to see a truly great film regarding dream invasion, get yourself a copy of the George Wendt, Christopher Plummer, Dennis Quaid psychic espionage and giant snake-man flick Dreamscape. When it comes to dream-skipping action intrigue that’s the best of them, and frankly, it ain’t much. The notion of delving into another mind to root around its id for MacGuffins isn’t an intrinsically bad one as sci-fi plots go, but it does present something of a problem for director Christopher Nolan.Dreams, apparently, aren’t just excuses for CGI wizardry, and while last night I was playing ice hockey on my kitchen ceiling with the cast of Reno 911, there are deep troubling emotional reasons for that, not just a blank check written out to Double Negative Visual Effects.

Dream treasure extractor Cobb is grieving from the loss of his ex-wife (hrmm I wonder if that will show up in a dream somehow) and his estrangement from his two children but, as in every heist film, he’s in it for one last job. Fine. The problem here is that the pulpy setup, the hurt and want of Nolan’s protagonist, has had all its emotional ballast chained to a concrete block in the shape of DiCaprio. Nolan has an unblemished track record for choosing emotionally shallow leads (Guy Peirce in Memento, Christian Bale in the Batmans, Bale/Hugh Jackman in The Prestige) who are great at projecting anger and confusion, but not so adept at making any of us feel a whit. If you think that emotional resonance and empathy can be beamed from the screen with a head tilt, a paused breath and an increasingly doughy squint, then Leo’s got your ticket. If you like having exposition and smarmy half-splanation of techno-babble ladled to you in the blank alterna-skull of Ellen Page, then by all means line up.

Inception is a big-budget stroke to Nolan’s impression of how deep and clever he can be. He’s reaching for Kubrick but has mistaken twist, complexity and snappy pacing for motivation and the disquieting depths of human emotion. Inception’s rabid grope for mind-bending awe will rest on its filigree of set pieces and the heist narrative’s inclination toward conspiracy and beguilement. But leveling a firing squad of confusion at the viewer doesn’t put the target in a state of reverence for the gunners; it just makes us wish we had taken the blindfold and cigarette.

DAN Responds
Dreamscape, huh? That’s the one with Kate Capshaw, right? You forgot to mention that. I left that one off my dream list; it’s interesting that you hold it in regard. Frankly, I would like to see you playing hockey on your kitchen ceiling with the cast of Reno 911. (Particularly Thomas Lennon, who is hi-larious!) It’s madness to dismiss the dream world as a legitimate movie universe.
Nolan’s steely style will make the emotional murk of a dream world all the more unsettling. The trouble with past interpretations is that in imagining the imagination, past storytellers have drown in sentimental whimsy. It won’t be so with Nolen, who will make dreams the last thing you want to have.

Dan: Well, here’s something we never see: a summer blockbuster that’s also deeply layered and intelligent. After Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolen has returned to his Memento style, writing and directing Inception.

The idea is, well, about ideas. Entering someone’s dreams to steal their ideas, or in this case, plant new ideas. The movie’s natural landscape, dreams, gives Nolen his favorite set to play with. He’s always been a director who’s best at blurring psychological lines. And now he has the budget to make it look amazing as well.

But the real star here is the idea itself. Let’s start with that. Dream plots have been a staple of the movies since well before special effects. In Bergman’s Wild Strawberries an aging professor must confront his past in his dreams. In Hitchcock’s Spellbound, the locked dreams of an asylum director hold the key to a man’s innocence on a murder charge. In Until the End of the World, the main character is on the run from the CIA because he has a device that allows you to record your dreams, which it turns out are addictive.

Inception goes the Philip K. Dick route and plays with the idea of identity as well. If our dreams, and ultimately our ideas, can be infiltrated, then our identity breaks down. Who or what does that make us? And for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, an extractor, paid to steal or plant ideas in people’s dreams, his own identity begins to collapse when his own past begins to haunt him in his dream missions.

Heady stuff, which will likely be shrugged off by a summer movie audience more interested in blowing things up. But it appears that Nolen may have even out-Scorsesed here as the similarities to Shutter Island are hard to miss. Perhaps, though, it was that movie’s DOA that finally convinced DeCaprio to get out of Scorsese’s dull shadow.

And yes, Michael Caine is in this movie, as is Ellen Page. But under Nolen, Caine’s Alfred gave

The Dark Knight humor and heart. And Page, well, she’s Kitty Pryde.

If you’ve had enough of explosions and 1980s remakes, Inception may be the first original movie of the summer.

GLENN Responds

“...first original movie of the summer”

Seriously? Even Nolan has stated that his inspirations for Inception are rooted in the Bond franchise and the stylised cyber/gothic action films of the ’90s a la The Matrix and Dark City. I’ll grant that Inception is going for different, but it certainly isn’t original. And wrapping it in the heist genre, one of the most hackneyed and trod setups, isn’t doing him any favors other than an excuse for pulp banter.

You’re comparing this terribly expensive misfire to its betters in defense when really you should be warning people  of Inception’s empty mimicrky of what came before.






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