The first thing that came out of my mouth when Inception was over was one word: “Bastards.”
I meant it, too. I’m positive that I liked the movie, and I’m enthralled by its apparent depth and complexity. It’s a movie that I look forward to watching several more times. It struck me as a little slow and clichéd at times, but those are traits of a dreamlike state – I could accept that given what the movie is about, provided it all holds up to a little scrutiny.
I need it to all hang together in one piece, and make sense. I want to watch it later and see a hundred little details I didn’t notice, and I want them to contribute to the story. I want to figure out what just happened here, because there’s no point denying it. I currently have no idea.
The reason I called them bastards at the end is that they did the equivalent of sticking a question mark after the words “The End.” The last and greatest use of such a melodramatic close-out was, as we all know and agree, the end of Flash Gordon, followed by voiceover of Ming the Merciless’ diabolical laughter.
Quite a few movies have messed around with other realities, whether they are dreams or computer generated simulations or implanted memories. I’m thinking of Dreamscape, The Matrix, Total Recall, Vanilla Sky, and Existenz. The mindbending question of how anyone ever knows that they are “really” awake and not in the other realities is rendered considerably less mindbending by its prevalence, front and center, in all five of those films.
Movies didn’t make it up. Philosphers like Descarte have been asking how we know that we aren’t brains in vats for many, many years, they just didn’t have computers and a hundred million dollars to set it all to action.
So when, at the end, we get another dose of skepticism toward reality, I was a little surprised to see that kind of lack of inspiration in an otherwise really imaginative and original take on the concept.
This time, the hero is Dom Cobb, a guy with such a weird, clunky name that there has to be some pretentious reason for it. Maybe it’s an anagram for something, who knows. Leondardo Di Caprio plays Cobb, and he’s a guy who can enter other people’s dreams, and thereby steal information which is only in their mind.
The manner in which he does this is one of the things that I don’t fully understand. This is a movie which moves itself along very quickly, they tell you something once, in a quick, urgent voice, and that’s it, hope you got that.
I didn’t. Cobb works with a team, including Ellen Page from Juno, who plays Ariadne, a student who creates finite structures of dreamworld, and then what they do is administer chemicals to the knocked-out target and Cobb and anyone else who wants to be a dream trekker. Then they are all in the dream structure somehow built by Ariadne, and populated by the thoughts and subconscious mind of the dreaming target they all linked up to.
You heard them – that’s what they do, there’s a funny little box with a Dream Button on it, and some Dream Hoses they plug into themselves. How does it work? It works just fine, that’s how.
There are some really original aspects to the storyline – dreams within dreams within dreams – and for once, getting killed in the dream doesn’t do anything but wake you up. Later on, of course, the stakes go up and getting killed develops into something with a very serious and possibly worse-than-death consequence.
Other aspects smack of Narnia – time seems to move slower in dreamland, and if you’re having a dream in dream land, it slows down exponentially. So if you were having a dream within a dream within a dream, then you might live ten years in the dream world, and finally wake up five minutes later.
Keeping track of all that as the dream team navigates through three layers of sleepytime craziness is part of what’s so exhilarating about the story. You start to get a sense of what’s at stake, screwing around in the subconscious mind the way they are – sanity itself.
The storytelling aspect of this unfolding awareness is really masterful and meticulous. Christopher Nolan clearly spent a lot of time carefully crafting this thing.
I will confess that at the end, I wasn’t quite sure what they were doing or why it was so important or really much of anything. It was loaded with action, but I found myself not really caring about the action.
In the dreams, most of the people you see are projections, not real people. So when the dream team was suddenly skiing around corners on a snowy, mountaintop set from Halo 2, and shooting the projections, and going for snowmobile rides, I had a hard time being interested or excited or scared.
From what I can tell, this was all a receiver error – just me being a bit dim – and so I’m looking forward to watching this movie again, and seeing whether it shines or falls apart under scrutiny. If there’s a solid story here, the way there looks like there is, then this movie might be brilliant.
Learning that I am growing slow in the head and this time really, truly didn’t get it, that would be awesome news.
If it falls apart, well, it’s still so ambitious and slick and full of eye-popping effects that it’s probably worth watching anyway. At least once.
But I’ll be a little annoyed if I find that there are holes in the movie which were just left in place, knowing that average jackass like me wouldn’t catch them until I was twenty bucks deep.
Complexity is a easy thing to dress up as depth. I really hope this movie is – unlike the characters’ experiences in it – something close to what it seems to be.