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Round 2: Inception

Beau DeMayoRound 2

Having seen Inception twice now, I feel the need to clarify a few points in my earlier review, as I said that my review — in all fairness — was half incomplete as Inception demands a second viewing.   After having now seen it twice, I would definitely say this is a movie that must be seen twice.

I’ve seen many reviews cite Inception’s lack of character development, and the sometimes loose or vague backstory of its characters.  They talk about its many plot holes and such, and it’s odd pacing.  Perhaps not entirely justified, these choices — while seemingly maybe a writing error on Nolan’s part — are in fact a meta-tactic that contextualizes most of the film and further thrusts it past The Dark Knight.  And this goes beyond Nolan just being clever, having Cobb planting a train of thought into his wife’s mind that results in her death and then also using a train to run over his wife’s head — or just the idea of errant thoughts or trains of thought grumbling through our minds as characters are literally hit by a train made up of thought.

Inception Round 2 - Spoiler Alert!This is in line with The Prestige or Memento, where Nolan constructed a film that emulates the very thing it discusses.  Memento’s structural fragmentation emulates the main character’s retrograde amnesia, and The Prestige is a magic trick where the word “magic” can be replaced with “filmmaking” to get a treatise on making films.

Inception is no different.

The film drops you into the middle of the action — not once, but twice — forcing you to catch up and giving you the “lack of a dream’s beginning” that Cobb explains to Ariadne in the film’s first half.  We are really never given much firm footing with “Inception,” always floating somewhere in the ether of the dream world — the narrative — as Cobb slowly comes home.  The ending of the film is not simply a “tease” as some have described it.  Like snapping out of a dream, so does Inception end — cutting the audience off from any answers much like a dreamer is cut off from any closure to their dream when they snap to.  As much as we don’t remember the beginning of a dream, we rarely reach a satisfying end to one either.

Also notice the vague backstory to the characters, whose motivations always seem to be shifting according to what’s needed by the dream.  Michael Caine’s character is especially relevant in this regard, as his almost ghost-like appearances on both sides of the world and his ambiguous relationship with Cobb (is he Cobb’s dad?  If not, why isn’t he a tad madder at his son-in-law considering his role — not the actual inception — in his daughter’s death?)  Notice how even the backstories of Cobb and Mal — architects turned thieves — are left undeveloped, oozing with that loose-goosey ambiguity of the dreamworld.  It’s like they just sprung into existence in our minds, possessing this innate emotional weight, yet then vanishing just as quickly.

The levels of dreams push this emulation of dreams as well, paying homage to film influences while playing at the idea of how media polluting our dreams — we go from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a must-see James Bond film that will no doubt enjoy a surge of watching now [damn you, Nolan, because I’ve been telling people it’s the best Bond film for years now]), and cutting to street heists of Michael Mann, to the sleek art deco sexy of The Matrix or Dark City.   Who hasn’t heard the friend tell a dream where the only logical transition is “and then…”?  Here, we have characters in a hotel “and then” an avalanche comes out of nowhere…

Even reality itself is questioned.  Sure, Cobb has his top that he spins twice in the film that seems to signify that the film did indeed have reality at these points.  But we are also told explicitly that one’s totem should not be touched by another, and that the top totem was first Mal’s — not Cobb’s — thus casting the totem reality-checks in major doubt.  And how much time does Cobb (like Nolan who builds elaborate rules only to then intentionally break them much like a dream’s logic collapses here and there) spending doing things he says he shouldn’t?

Why all this ambiguity?  Why the lack of logic at times?  Why are we dropped in and yanked out? Well, again, “Inception’ is a dream.  I don’t mean that as a compliment to Nolan.  I mean it as a literal definition.  And like most dreams, they have no single meaning.  Everything is everything and nothing at once, much of it left up to our own personal subconscious to determine what it means (again, Nolan making the film the concept).  As Cobb says, “you bring the subject (i.e. audience) into the dream (i.e. movie) and they fill it with their subconscious.”  Again, Nolan making a statement on film as a medium, and the quest by most filmmakers to find the universality in their work with which audiences connect.  And just like a dream that ends, when the film cuts to black abruptly, we are all left to to analyze this dream and figure out for ourselves what it means to us.  Left with the many themes of the movie, one of which speaks both to film and dreams in that it doesn’t matter if what you’re seeing in a dream (or film) is real, what matters is the emotional experience as you engage it.

This is a film that truly defies definition.  It defies any firm “this is what definitely happened.”  Anyone who does so, is simply trying to act like “they got the answer.  Inception is a dream — a shared dream constructed by Nolan and into which we pour our own subconscious.  A film whose ultimate plot and happenings are to be ultimately determined by the dreamer — which in this case, is us.

Easily one of the best films of the past decade.

7 Comments on Round 2: Inception

  1. I’m not sure of Inception yet, I better see it again, but Dark City is still the ‘original’ for me. Still, best of all I loved your ‘Prospero connection’, excellent!!!

  2. And I agree with Randal, except for the best films of the decade comment. That call is so subjective that I wouldn’t take it away from Beau, especially after such a well observed review.

  3. I agree with Brian. “Inception’ was clever and original. But it lacked any emotional resonance. It tackled no important themes. Most of the characters, being motivated only by a payday, were uninteresting . Ellen Page’s character made no sense. For those who like puzzles, the movie is a thrill. For those of us who prefer honest conflict, deep characters and real emotion …it was a nice, little movie. ‘One of the best films of the past decade’? Hardly.

  4. Then again maybe the lack of character development really did have a purpose. I retract that part until further viewings!

  5. I love the movie 100% more for you explanation, Beau. However, a lack of character development should not be explained by the simple “it wasn’t supposed to have character development” argument. It’s a movie and the only way that I know how to care for a character is to know their past and watch them grow through either overcoming or succumbing to an obstacle.
    That being said, the movie blew my mind. It was beyond an impressive piece of filmmaking and it is by far one of the craziest and most ambitious movies, I have ever watched…go team Nolan.
    I look forward to your next review!

  6. Sherry and Beau. Wow! I love listening to smart people talking. That said, I have awakened from dreams to find myself in all kinds of moods; happy, scared, weeping and yes… even satisfied. For me, I walked out of Inception impressed but feeling nothing. I cared for no one. The outcome was more of a mystery than a goal. (again, for me) It was surprising to see such skillful film making and so little emotion. Glad I saw the film but it left me cold.

  7. Nice attempt at explication, Beau.
    I enjoyed the film and appreciated the studio’s decision to avoid giving much away in all the advance marketing and promotion. The visual effects work beautifully, seamlessly transporting the audience into the world of the film/dream. All the ambiguity and complications don’t seem all that impossible to grasp; one need only surrender and pay attention, lay back and enjoy the ride. Leave your linear brain at home and let your subconscious do the work for you. You know it’s the very best part of you. Spin that top.
    Dream within a dream within a dream indeed.
    As Shakespeare’s Prospero put it:
    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on; and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep

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