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« Inter-Inception | Main | Creating Critical Distance; or, on Teaching Avatar: The Last Airbender »

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


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Doctor Memory

Let's make this brief: I'm a parent. The scenes with Cobb's children -- both the backs and the front of their twee little heads -- were a cheap, manipulative stunt, notable primarily for both the transparency and complete ineffectiveness of their lugubriousness. Oddly enough, a repeated shot of a pair on anonymous-seeming tykes running away from the camera is insufficient to build sympathy or longing with the audience. YMMV I guess, but it shouldn't.

Adam Roberts

"my inability to sympathize with any of the characters is the result of my living a barren, childless existence ... Perhaps if I had children ... but because I don’t have children ... "

Now I feel like a dickhead: sorry, Scott, if my post appeared to bait you for childishness. I didn't intend to. And actually, my reaction to the film was pretty similar to yours until the very end (I wondered, indeed, if you'd stuck it until the very end -- you say you 'walked out'). And of course you're right that on the level of plot the film was predictable and holey. Doctor Memory (and commentator at my blog) are probably also right -- the implication is in your post too, although you're too well mannered to bash me on the head with it -- that my becoming a father has turned my critical faculties to mush. Conceivably so. I'd say I don't think it's that (though I would say that, wouldn't I). It wasn't the kids, really (and the final moment didn't make me 'sympathize with any of the characters'). It was the look.

Otherwise, well, it may be hard to find any ground on which somebody who is not moved by a work of art can usefully discuss it with someone who is. You feel it, or you don't: 'right' and 'wrong' doesn't seem the best vocabulary, really: millions of Victorians wept genuine tears when they read the death of Little Nell. Oscar Wilde thought Little Nell's death utterly unmoving, and indeed risible. Who's right? I'm tempted to suggest it's easier to endorse Wilde, here, because normally I'm exactly that kind of ironical, postmodern, keep-emotions-at-arm's-length repressed Englishman who finds the sight of people weeping vulgar. Except that: there I was, in that cinema at that time, feeling acutal feelings. Weird.

I wouldn't argue with 'manipulative', either: as a description of what Nolan is trying to do in this film, or of Dickens's mode. I'm not sure it's quite as pejorative a term as you suggest, though. Isn't cinema generally manipulative? Don't we go to these texts in part to be manipulated?

Adam Roberts

"Now I feel like a dickhead". On the other hand, we could occam's-razor this. Perhaps I feel like a dickhead simply because I am a dickhead.

Also: you paid $32 to see this movie? I paid £6! What did they do, put you in a solid gold seat?


So what you meant to write is that inception is not as good as Nolan's other work. Fine. I think OK Computer was much better than Hail to the Thief. By that logic alone, must i conclude that the latter isn't very good at all? Probably not. I should, then, have self-sufficient reasons for not liking Hail to the Theif as much as the band's other work. You may be making both points: 1) that the movie, in and of itself, was not good 2)Its not as good as his other work.

If 1), then i praise your genius. You solved a puzzle that by design isn't meant to be solved, without seeing the film entirely. My god! thats like solving a rubik's cube thats missing half the squares.

If 2), then as much as you know and may appreciate his work, you'd really like him to make movies the way you would, if you were him...'oh Mr. Nolan, you're so typaically you. Can't you prefigure how I think you should make movies? With all that talent, why waste your time with elaborate puzzles? make me feel something, like the director of all those Meg Ryan movies.'

It seems silly to walk out of a movie becuase it does or doesn't do what other moveies have already done. Incidientally, i resisted the urge the other day to get up from the dinner table in anager because my wife's meatloaf was derivative. I realized that if i want meatloaf, on some level, it will taste like meatloaf.

This guy has a way addressing the film without quite as much self-importance.


Milijov is a dick, but not entirely wrong. Similarly, the LP post he links is very good, but also chock full of self-importance.

I agree with or consider valid some of your ciriticisms, SEK, but that's entirely separate from the tone the discussion, which was what was getting my hackles up. "I didn't like it" or "I was dissappointed that this artist didn't go in a more interesting (to me) direction"* are different kinds of statements from "[the film was] designed to make idiots feel smart." They are different in about the same way as "Your blog post did not provide me with the guidance I was looking for" is different from "YOUR BLOG IS A LIE!!!" or "my comment about my initial reaction to the film wasn't what I went with" is different from "my initial reaction was ungenerous and incorrect."

On formalism, my confusion stemmed from the fact that in visual art, particularly sculpture/3d art, "formalism" means quite literally an emphasis on physical/visual form, rather than on representational meaning. It makes sense that it would have a different meaning in literary or film studies.

*I'm picturing an analogy here to post-Uncle Tupelo recording, where you were hoping that "Inception" would show Nolan to be Jeff Tweedy, but are afraid that it has revealed him to be Jay Farrar.


Sorry. First time reading this blog. Didn't know everyone would be so sensitive. I feel like I just walked into a room of self-serious grad students. Didn't Philip Roth write a book about this? See, I can play the part...but apparently not without being a dick.


"Didn't know everyone would be so sensitive."

We're not sensitive; you're just an asshole. Sensitive would mean getting hurt and upset by what you said, which no one was. Instead, we're annoyed that you call the author an idiot while sounding like an idiot yourself: your sarcasm is at about a tenth grade level and your analogies look like my cat threw them up. No one feels offended by what you said except on the level of basic intelligence.


Who's the asshole now?


I feel like I just walked into a room of self-serious grad students

Right first time! Don't mistake "semi-serious" for humorless, mind you.

John Emerson

Fuck this shit, review "Agora", with Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, a pagan neo-Platonist philosopher torn to pieces by a Christian mob. Brief nudity, parental discretion advised.


Dear Typepad,

Thanks for not alerting me that there were any comments on this post. Now I look like the dickhead. More lesson-planning to do today, but will respond in full tomorrow.


This is a kind of tangential point to the main discussion, but I just want to mention that the reason the dreams weren't as surreal and far-out as dreams usually are depicted in cinema is because the dreams are supposed to be experienced as reality by the person they're "robbing" or "planting". I think depicting a "real" dream, a dream as it is actually experienced by a dreamer, is impossible to do in a film; even Lynch struggles with it, and in the end Mulholland Drive feels like a Fuessli painting; an allegory that uses the dream as playground rather than a depiction of the artist's dream. In the same way, Inception uses the concept of "the dream" in order to generate a narrative, just like Memento used the concept of "short-term memory loss" to generate its own narrative.

J.S. Nelson

I've been on a road trip this entire time, so I'm a bit late to the party here, but have you seen this:

I think it's a pretty solid analysis, but could use a little commentary here. I haven't read the comments on that site, so I apologize if what I say overlaps with whatever is there.
The end is really a sort of false cliffhanger, presented to thrill audiences who didn't see it coming, and didn't want to think about the movie very much. Really, the elements needed to resolve the "is this a dream or not?" question are totally present within the film. Long story short, it's a dream. The above link makes most of the arguments I was going to make, but leaves out a few tiny things and one big one: the music, which is a really blatant clue. See:

There are two ways you can argue the meaning of it all being a dream, depending on whether you think the logic of the "real life" sequences can be applied to actual real life (not pictured), and that shared dreams are possible, etc.
If you think it can, you end up with what I naturally came to: the whole thing is some kind of inception for Cobb. There are some clues for this one, relating to how he interacts with Saito and various people. I'd argue that they are trying to plant some form of the reverse of the idea he gave to Mal in his head; that he needs to wake up and take reality seriously. A lot of questions are left unanswered by this approach though, even though I think there are a couple hints that it might be the correct interpretation.

The second interpretation is that the entirety of the "shared dreams" thing isn't real at all. This is what the above author concludes and it's a little bit more pleasing, because it allows you to view the entire movie as a metaphor about film making. By that interpretation, this is Nolan's 8 1/2, and it's all about himself. I'd write but it's best to just read the above post, as it makes all the worthwhile points.

So anyway, I can't really say anything to address your rhetorical issues with Inception, but I hope this convinces you that there's at least a little more going on under the surface of the film than meets the eye.

Re: other dream movies. I regrettably haven't seen Mulholland Drive, but my favorite filmic presentation of dreams is in the anime Paprika, which I'm surprised hasn't been brought up. Paprika is pretty good about doing what Inception didn't, and acknowledging the bizarre internal logic of dreams. Things constantly change when you're not looking, characters make use of the malleability of dreams for their own advantage, and seem to have no problem accepting the strange twists as reality. My favorite point (from memory) is where two characters are stuck far away from the action and one is just like "why don't we take these jet skis?" and points to a billboard advertising jet skis. Moments later they burst out of a scene depicted in another advertisement aboard powered watercraft.

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