Sunday, August 8, 2010

Film #133: Inception

It is difficult to transmit how much stress Inception caused me--and no doubt others--before seeing it. But I'll try.

Back when The Dark Knight was vying for a Best Picture Oscar, Kristopher Tapley, of In Contention, and I had a terrible, too-nasty (I love his site) quarrel about the merits of that film, directed by Christopher Nolan. You can see my opinions of that film here. Kris and I, on his website, went round and round on the merits of the Batman sequel, and even now, I remain unconvinced of its quality (even though I have always admitted that (a) I love Heath Ledger's performance and (b) I really enjoy Batman Begins).

Our argument turned way-too-mean, and I eventually apologized to him (though he did not to me, as is his right and wont), but I was truthful in steadfastly believing that The Dark Knight would not receive a Best Picture nomination. No sequel had ever gotten such a nod without its original getting a like nomination, no matter how much the public complained, so the possibility was out of the question. And when The Reader "stole" the nomination from The Dark Knight (I maintained that it "stole" it from The Fall), I turned out to be correct.

But Kris and his fellow fans ultimately were correct. In the following year, reacting to the Dark Knight snub, the Academy decided to expand the list of Best Picture nominees--for the first time since the 1940s--to ten nominees. This, instantly, made The Dark Knight into one of the most influential movies of all time. After all, no one was crying over the fact that the superior but less-seen Wendy and Lucy or The Fall got cheated out of a nomination, not to mention any of the countless movies left out of the race beforehand. This decision was clearly arrived at because the insanely popular Dark Knight, even with eight nominations, got left out in the cold. The Academy, always looking for ratings to boost its boodle, had to respond.

And so The Dark Knight, as undeserving a film as it was (beyond a delivery device for Ledger's performance, which went on to win the movie's only Oscar), had made its mark. And this decision to expand the field, in lieu of this unjust movie, made me angry. So angry that I kept my hairy eye out for Nolan's next film, a film that was called Inception. And then, all each of us had to do was wait.

Nolan was careful. When his film was about to hit, he let only the people who loved his previous film take a look at it. What I mean by this is that he let only ONLINE critics--for now and always, a sci-fi, horror and genre-loving crowd--take a gander at it first. And, predictably, they all loved it. I was immediately suspicious, because, as a former sci-fi fan, I knew how this crowd could be. In my mind, they were going to love this thing no matter what.

So I waited. Waited for the first level-headed reviews. And David Edelstien, bless him, as wrong as he was, came first. I knew, deep down inside, that this was a movie to reckon with when his piece landed. And I felt sorry for Edelstien when he couldn't get with it. In fact, I took his review as a notation that I, myself, wouldn't able to get with it, either. I did, however, see Rex Reed's obviously mean-spirited and frankly stupid review of the film to be obvious bunk (that guy really need to retire--in fact, ouside of the NY Times' square Bosley Crowther and the New Yorker's hip Pauline Kael--a writer disliked by Kris Tapley, by the way--do movie reviewers EVER retire?).

Before I saw Inception, I read virtually no good reviews of it, and almost all middling or bad reviews of it. Frankly, in my mind, I was still battling Kris over The Dark Knight.

And when I sat my ass down in the very front rows of the Empire 25 on 42nd Street in NYC, with the 2nd week crowd crunching in on either side of me, after seeing the obviously different The Kids Are All Right and Winter's Bone, I was sure I was going to hate this movie.

And now, I can tell you. It only took five minutes, and this image:

and I was hooked. I never even questioned things later. There was something about all that water flowing in on this one man, overwhelming him--water, the stuff of life, is very important in this movie--and that's all it took. I gave myself over completely to Nolan's work, and kept on adoring it top to bottom (with Wally Phister's photography, Lee Smith's incisive editing, and Guy Dyas' gorgeous art direction in assistance).

I knew some things going in. This helped. When I saw Ken Watanabe in extreme old age makeup at the outset, I understood some things. Indeed, when I saw Leonardo DiCaprio's face first planted in the sand, I understood some things, too. With this, I knew that this is a movie that is spoiler-proof. In fact, spoilers might HELP the viewer, though I wouldn't necessarily wish them upon anyone.

Inception is a masterwork, a film of ideas, of emotion, of action and excitement, of character and believability. It is a film that left me with a feeling unlike any movie I have ever seen before,

I am a musician--a drummer--and after drumming, after practice, there is a certain sense with which your brain is buzzing. It's difficult to put into words, but it's a rapier sense that your brain has been putting mathematical equations into practical, definable, tonal use. Inception, with its insanely air-tight timing, is a film that exercises that very part of your brain. You need not be a musician to feel this; in other words, if you've ever wanted to experience what it feels like to play music, Inception is the movie for you (for sure, this is Hans Zimmer's most clever score). Now, what other movie in the history of movies has led you to feel this? It's a unique work.

I'm not going recount the plotting of Inception here. See it for yourself to get this. However, I am going to talk about other REVIEWERS' perceptions of the plot here. Here we are, almost a month after the film's debut, and even though Nolan's film has earned only a fraction of what it deserves at the box office (at this writing, about $215 million). Still, there's no need to talk about what the movie's about. If you're reading this, you already know.

Lemme take a look at David Edelstein's review primarily, because it's his that I defended BEFORE I HAD SEEN THE MOVIE. His first jab comes when he recounts some of the plot: "Why is an “inception” more difficult than an extraction? “The subject’s mind always knows the genesis of an idea. {True inspiration is impossible to fake.}” explains one character—which strikes my unoriginal and highly suggestible mind as dead wrong." However, the dialogue continues:

Cobb: That's not true.
Saito: (to Cobb) Can you do it?
Cobb: Are you offering me a choice? Because I can find my own way to square things with Kobold.
Saito: Then you do have a choice.
Cobb: Then I choose to leave, sir.

If you haven't seen the movie, then you don't know where we are. This proves that the movie is more detail-laden than your average (or, at least, this average) film review can cover. And thus it's instantly worth much more inspection than the average one-time film viewing can offer.

I'm not going to try and explain Inception here, either. Maybe I'll try that some time in the future. But, while watching it , getting all the nooks of the story takes away some of the fun you could have while watching it unfold on the big screen (which is where it NEEDS to be seen). I tried to explain what I thought Lynch meant with Mulholland Dr., and at the same time accepted what others thought the movie meant. And I refused to explain what Kubrick meant with 2001, though I know without a doubt what the movie means to me. That I lump Inception in with these two landmark films lets you know what I think of it (though, truthfully, it doesn't achieve absolute greatness to a degree matching those two cinema landmarks; let's don't go overboard, here).

Back to the bad reviews. I had absolutely no problem with the characterizations, as Edelstein did. DiCaprio gives his best, truly adult performance as Cobb (he may be dumb, or at least not very self-reflexive, but I forget the first name, unlike Mr. Edelstein; however, the first name may be important). DiCaprio has never seemed so insistant before. I have loved him in many films--and Edelstein praised him outright. However, even if you don's believe in this actor, he is indeed this work's persona.

Ellen Page delivers the film's most difficult role as the receptor of all rules with great aplomb; her wide eyes and determined delivery do it all, and always when the film most needs it. In fact, she is the film's true brain.

Tom Hardy as the Counterfeiter is funtime superb. He provides the humor that Inception has been accused of not having. How could one miss it? This is the definable sign that he is, after his indescribable show in Bronson (is this the goddamn same guy?), the Next Big Thing. He is the film's swank.

And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is absolutely perfect as the second in the story. His performance is the film's most physical, and yet he is ever-present as both a caring and an active participant in the story. If it's not a breakthrough role, then it's right near close to it. He is the film's muscle.

And here we get to Rex Reed, who said...well, fuck, I don't wanna quote his shitass review. But he didn't even know what Gordon-Levitt was doing in the elevators. He was looking for the drop, dimwit! Here, I become the one of the fanboys whom I previously slammed. Wake up, man. It's there right in front of you! You dismissed so much of what the movie had to offer! Yeah, it's a rich movie--so rich, it can withstand two, three viewings. But just because that's the case, don't give it the heave-ho, Rex. Actually, I was glad I read something about Inception before I saw it; it gave me so much more insight. I would not have felt right about reviewing it before I'd seen it twice (which I have now). This just lets you know that most movies you read something about beforehand, they're so shallow that they're blown apart because of it. Inception is not one of these movies. No amount of pre-knowledge can ruin it for you, And than includes knowledge of its final moments. (NO SPOILER ALERT: The spinning top in important.)

Then we get into another problem many reviewers had: that of the content of the dreams themselves. They noted how the dream portrayed didn't have many of the qualities that their dreams, or film dreams had. There were no strangenesses, no sexual notes, no absurdities. But why was this a problem? This was explained, too, and very lightly. These guys chasing our heroes with machine guns, they were PLANTS that were put there to upset the "normal" yarn of the dream. This seems simple to me; I don't think I would've needed previewing to understand this.

Now I think we should get into the time travel element of Inception. If you can't get this, even on a subliminal level, while watching it, I'm sorry. But I'll try and help. The meat of the film takes place in four different time positions. This is where the "music" of the movie comes into play. SPOILERS EVERYBODY!: There is the first level, where the sleeping heroes are in the falling van; there is the second level, in the hotel with the elevators; there is the third level, with the snowy climbs, and there is the fourth level, with Cobb's subconscious (and here I can praise Marion Cotillard's singular performance as Cobb's confused and dead wife; I'll never forget that pool of tears upon her eyes). She is the film's soul.

And with that, I'll finally address the most insulting exclusion of those reviewers who disliked Inception: the accusation that this is a cold, unfeeling movie. By no mean is this the case. This is a movie that is ABOUT emotion. It is about one man's inability to let go. And it is about another man's inability to let go. (Cillian Murphy, the nominal "villain," who becomes one of the heroes, may own the most moving moment of the film.) And it begins with yet ANOTHER man's inability to let go (the always reliable Watanabe). In fact, in the end, it is about the audience's inability to let go of whatever they are holding on to. It is, also, about the filmmaker's inability to let go of his past success (which I think he thinks he doesn't deserve). Inception is remarkable because it is about so many things. It really comes from the heart.

What a movie. What an experience!!! What a great gift! I hate to do this, because it can seem corny. But thank you, Mr. Nolan, for proving so many, and me, wrong, and so many fans correct. Inception is proof that genius cannot be ordered up, a la The Dark Knight. It is a quality that must be massaged.

NOTE: Inception is so multi-leveled, so superb, it deserves a more detailed review, which is forthcoming, after a few months have passed. A link will be provided here.


J.D. said...

Well said! I couldn't agree more. The negative reviews seem to either complain that the film is too complicated (Reed) or not complicated enough! You just can please everybody, I guess but I was thoroughly entertained and riveted for every minute. As has been said elsewhere, I think that Nolan deserves kudos for making a film that is NOT a remake, reboot, sequel or an adaptation from an existing work. And the fact that it is racking up impressive box office numbers would seem to suggest that moviegoers think likewise.

Anonymous said...

Regarding THE DARK KNIGHT. I saw it in the theaters and honestly, I could NOT see what all the fuss was about. Why THIS movie was chosen to be the blockbuster it was, I'll never know. I'm sure it had to do with the season it came out in and the lack of competition. And of course, Ledger was the best thing in the movie. Now, I'm a huge BALE fan, but for the life of me, I couldn't figure out why he used that gavelly voice. The director should have said, NO! Anyway, as far as action films go, hell, the Indiana Jones films still kick the Dark Knight's ass! Thanks for letting me put in my 2cents. Chris from NY.