Thursday, 22 July 2010
(Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2010)
Why does the inception mission - and so the Inception movie - matter? Unanswerable questions are tolerable, and can be fascinating if meaningful. But when an audience is not being spoken to - as much-compared movies, the socialistic The Matrix and the romantic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, intimately do - then the sci-fi adventure hastens into wan casuistry. Christopher Nolan, awesome director of Memento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, has drawn an impenetrable circle around any clear synopsis or shared analysis his thinking audience might otherwise have attempted. He has drawn a profitable blank. The bulk of the 2 hrs, 28 mins, is taking place in a dream (within a dream) (within a dream) while its characters are sleeping on a flight: time is greater in dreams than it is in reality.
This spin is Nolan's saving grace, and it is incarnated in various scenes as a continuous spinning top which gives each dream its heartbeat. Sometimes this motion is the military, white mountainscape of a wintry 007 modernized into compelling cinema. Often it is the business-class glow of shimmering restaurants and half-baked dream-theory in the mouths of suited, gifted actors (Ken Watanable, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page). Mostly it is the playful outlining of psychodynamics; protagonist Leonardo Di Caprio has an elevator in his dreams whose levels map his unconscious fears and desires - in the basement awaits his wife who he has promised to spend eternity with, who, having preferred suicide to the real world, is now a disturbing projection in his dreams. Di Caprio is in exile and in order to return to their children he must complete one last mission. This is hardly explained in personal terms. Di Caprio, whose business is to extract and sell information from other people's dreams, must now use inception, planting an idea instead of stealing one. The reason for this mission is to stop the inheriting son of an energy company's CEO from dominating the global market. And this is hardly explained in apocalyptic terms.
So even if we forget for a moment that character-development and the supposedly political (or monetary?) cause are snubbed then we are still left with a funny, film-refuting flaw: why can't Nolan's characters fly in their dreams? Why can't they breathe fire or simply point and extract and incept? Crucially the noun inception has no companion verb: no such incept exists. I, for one, doubt Nolan is above language. It is more a mathematical than a philosophical victory; and without the latter, however ingenius its world of mazes, a film of coffee (or cannabis) table pseudo-science about the dream within the dream within the dream is impossible to commit to or remember seriously. "Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." Not true. Latency in dreaming does not boil down to whatever Inception says, goes. Had there been another two hours of character-painting dialogue - particularly for the husband-wife and father-son relationships which the inception mission is so dependant upon - or had Nolan made a biopic about one of the psychoanalysts he has misread, then maybe we would have had a film on our hands. Budget or determination have stopped short.
Millions will emerge from these pictures wooed by the high-concept, yet there won't be a thought for any of Inception's arbitrary persons - the striking Cotillard tapered one-dimensional, and Di Caprio somewhere between his leads in The Departed and Shutter Island, now a widower and a dream-hero who we have no emotional investment in since we are viewing an absolutely disciplined, dazzling but spineless blockbuster of fascsistic ceremony.