Sunday, July 25, 2010


Friday Night Movie Review--Inception

Finally went to see a movie in a theater and it was Inception by Chris Nolan, whom I quite like for his earlier work, Memento, rather than the more recent Batman vehicles. It was quite good but more like the recent stuff and it annoyingly followed two rules of bad movies: The bad guys can't shoot worth beans while the good guys are amazing shots; and, any car the good guys are in is invulnerable to bullets. At least the bad guys cars didn't explode every time they crashed. Not every time.

This movie is I think science fiction. There is a device which allows people to share a dream state and to create the dream (the latter of which I guess we do each time we dream but not in a logical, conscious way). Since this machine does not exist and it is the central organizing plot device, this is not just a somewhat weird thriller like Memento, and the earlier quite good but little seen Following. But it is mostly thriller with a hint of epistemology for us eager for a deeper content types.

It has quite a large, competent cast. The lead, unfortunately, is Leonardo DiCaprio. He is by no means a bad actor (he was excellent and convincing in What's Eating Gilbert Grape) but he is not much of an action hero type leading man, at least by former Hollywood standards. He is certainly not a manly man like Wayne or Gable or Harrison Ford (or our last extant young manly man lead, Russel Crowe). He is more a Jimmy Stewart type, who was excellent, but I never saw Stewart as an action hero type (the Mann westerns possibly excepted). The excellent Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also an unlikely action hero here. The lesser known Brit actor, Tom Hardy, about to become the new Mad Max, is better suited for his role and has to do most of the heavy lifting here. Ken Watanabe, to his credit, does not fall back on his impression of Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu, but is a whole character here. The girls, Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard are both quite good, as are the marks, Cillian Murphy and Tom Berenger, as is good guy at home Michael Caine albeit in more of a cameo than a supporting role.

I won't go into the plot in detail, but will spoil a bit by saying that DiCaprio (whose character is called Cobb, like the baddish guy in Following) and his crew use the dream sharing device to steal ideas from industrialists. Use of the device involves some semi-logical rules for users (time dilation being the most challenging--minutes in reality is hours in dreamland) which create a complex plot with split second timing, elaborate planning, clever improvisation to unexpected problems (and a whole bunch of unnecessary risk taking) to pull off.

Some of the details of the rules of the dream machine are clever, as was the third dreamscape of the big con (all that was missing was the James Bond music). I'm not sure the "antibody" projections made any sense nor the "kick," a sense of falling, which supposedly woke the dreamers, although its use was selective as the plot provided both good and bad times for people to wake up after the kick and only in the plot convenient times did it work. But there was no real sense of dreams during the dreams. Indeed, the chase scene in Mombasa, which was set in the supposed real world of this film, looked as phony and contrived as the Bond like Alpine fortress chases. I don't actually think it is possible to recreate on film the intensely emotional, anti-reality mind movie we create and display, what, 7 times each and every night.

I was also pretty underwhelmed by the question posed by the abrupt ending. In a sense most mystery religions, including Christianity, tend to think of real life as a middle level, a transitory phase before the eternal real life in Heaven or Hell. In this sense, death indeed wakes us up from this brief dream of life to our eternal life. In that sense, the ending was, in context, profound and satisfying. In a non-religious context, it was cheap.

I wholeheartedly recommend this flick, but it is more a sound and light show than a profound meditation on a slice of human eternal truth. Perhaps I was expecting too much.


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