Thursday 22 July 2010

Movie Review: Inception: My Dream Critique

My movie review in one word: deception.

My wife and I saw the movie in IMAX and while she loved it, I walked away thinking, "Mmm." The film is well crafted with a superb group of actors. The images were sometimes stunning and the special effects were in places quite amazing. So, how can I go against the tide of public opinion?

The Story
Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a thief who steals information from people by entering their dreams. By using a device which seems to furnish a drug intravenously to more than one person at a time, Dom can create various scenarios between the people in the dream of the "target" who is also hooked up to the device. Dom is hired by the owner of a corporation to do what is presented as "never been done before": implant an idea in the mind of a rival so as to change the rival's plans and derail said plan to the benefit of the owner. The subplot is that Dom is accused of murdering his wife and so cannot return to the United States. The deal presented by the owner to Dom is that if Dom is successful, he, the owner, will ensure Dom is cleared of all charges and can return to see his children.

The Premise
Every movie has a premise. For Superman, we have to accept a man with superhuman powers. For The Matrix, we have to accept humans can be plugged into a computer system which generates an alternate reality. For Star Trek, we have to accept that it is the 23rd century. Each of these premises requires our suspension of disbelief; we must accept the premise in order to follow the story.

Inception's premise is quite simply that one can create dreams, one can participate in the dreams of others and these dreams represent an "alternate reality" in which the normal laws of physics are suspended. However, unlike other movies which explain quite clearly and plausibly how this alternate reality was achieved, Inception's use of dreams paints an incomplete picture of the process leaving unanswered questions and holes in the original assertion. How can one enter the dream of another? How can a group of people share the same dream? How is this dreaming achieved? How is this dreaming different from the dreams one has when one sleeps normally?

Alternate Realities
The computer generated reality of The Matrix allowed within the context of the story for a complete suspension of the laws of physics. As such, this opened the doors for the makers, the Wachowski Brothers to put together visually stunning scenes of what is impossible in the real world. The result was some jaw dropping special effects including the ground breaking "bullet time" movie technique.

Nolan's Inception attempts to do exactly the same thing: an alternate reality suspends the laws of physics and we see scenes which defy the real world. Nevertheless, the connector, the logical glue which binds the story together is weak. Humorously enough, any premise requires us to believe in the unbelievable, to accept the impossible or the entire movie doesn't work. Mr. Nolan has aimed high but failed to fill in the blanks to provide a premise which although impossible is plausible.

Nevertheless, the film goes ahead with its plan to exploit the alternate reality by creating movie scenes which defy physics. While these scenes are startling visually and on their own, taken out of context provide a stunning example of what modern special effects can achieve, the imperfect premise of the entire production leaves one with a furrowed brow. It is no longer a question of defying credibility; it is a question of leaving one perplexed, confused and searching to fill in the blanks to work out a logical explanation of the story.

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan, the director and the screenwriter has a substantial string of successes under his belt. Going through the list of his films is astounding and surely is indicative of a talent far above the norm. Most people would know him as part of the very successful "reboot" of the Batman movies, especially the last one in the series The Dark Knight which saw a posthumous Oscar going to Heath Ledger.

Let me repeat the Wikipedia entry showing a list of Mr. Nolan's films showing their ratings from Rotten Tomatoes:

Following: 80%
Memento: 93%
Insomnia: 92%
Batman Begins: 85%
The Prestige: 75%
The Dark Knight: 93%
Inception: 85%

The average rating for the above films is 86%. Obviously, this man would seem to spell gold for any film company buying into one of his projects.

Time Travel and Parallel Universes
Science fiction has been dealing with the subject of time travel for a very long time. Considering that such a topic is the realm of theory not reality, it reminds me of science fiction's alternative name: speculative fiction. I remember quite well the first book I read which had a theme of time travel: The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. I was 12. Interesting, thought provoking, a host of adjectives have probably been used after consultation with Mr. Roget to expound on people's fascination for this idea however, I have been progressively becoming disenchanted with this premise. I seem to be seeing more and more instances of where the author develops a story and inadvertently paints himself into a corner. How to get out? Time travel! What? The butler didn't do it; some other unknown character went into the future or back in time and "did it".

The same holds true for parallel universes. The butler didn't do it; a character from some other plane of existence went through a worm hole and did it. Huh?

I am now adding "dreams" to the list. Like time travel and parallel universes, dreams open the door to the infinite number of possibilities and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub. It is no longer a question of stringing together the probable: yes the butler did it; you can construct absolutely anything you want based on the original premise: the butler didn't do it, you dreamed who did it. Who cares about what's probable; let's just pull any time traveled, parallel universe dreamed up rabbit out of our hat.

On top of that, I note that authors sometimes up the ante by telling us how really, really, really difficult something is in the context of the story. I'm afraid I cringe at the point of any film or story which presents me with a premise I've never seen then has one of the protagonists utter something like, "This has never been done before." Since I've never seen the premise before, I have absolutely nothing to which I can compare the idea of "never been done before". For me, it's not impressive; it's meaningless. It comes across as a deliberate, calculated attempt to impress me which fails... ah, impressively.

Alert: No Spoiler Alert
I'm not spilling the beans. I'm certain those of you who love science fiction will go see this film. After all the coverage elsewhere; after all I've said here how could you not want to go check it out? The opening weekend for the film clocked in at $62 million which is considered quite respectable however the list I've found of the biggest opening weekends (see below) is an interesting look at the public's taste in movies. Avatar, for a comparison, came in at $77 million but we could say that Mr. Nolan is under-performing with this film since his last project The Dark Knight is at the top of the list with $158 million.

In any case, this review shows my own particularities in taste. I like Star Trek; I've watched all the TV shows and have seen all the movies but when the entire family went to see the latest Star Trek, the attempt to reboot the franchise, I was the only one in the family who seemed to be lukewarm about it. We all saw Inception; I'm the one who says, "Ho hum". Picky, picky, you say? Well, how about The Matrix? There's a film that truly captured my imagination and somehow, I don't quite see Inception Reloaded and Inception Revolutions coming out any time soon.

Did you read this review or did you dream you did? I for one will be dreaming about Batman 3, supposedly Nolan's next project. By the way, if you have the choice, you might as well see Inception in IMAX. I'm just sorry Inception did not come out in 3D; that would have been an interesting addition.


Wikipedia: Inception

Wikipedia: Christopher Nolan

Films: Biggest Opening Weekends

Wikipedia: Batman 3 (2012)

Wikipedia: The Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury (1952)
--> the most re-published science fiction story of all time.

Inception in 5 Seconds
Uploaded by HouseOfFlyingSporks on Sep 24, 2010
Five seconds = 5 minutes = five hours = five years...


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