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Monday, 26 July 2010

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Doctor Memory

I wouldn't say I hated it, but I really wish that Nolan had spend as much time on the script as he put into making the zero-G fight scene work.

Tom Elrod

You are certainly NOT the only people who hated it. Give it a few months, and I'm sure it will have either faded from the public consciousness or looked at by many people (though of course not nearly enough) as lightweight piece of summer trash.

Emily

I agree with your criticisms, but I still enjoyed it as visually-appealing empty entertainment. The character I was most interested in was Cillian Murphy's, but I thought the choreography and images were worth the price of the ticket.

The thing was rather over-sold.

Wally

I'm sure yours will be the majority opinion soon enough, once the rush of WOW SPECIAL FX excitement has worn off. Even the trailer looked stupid, like '2012' for people who go to cafes, set a newish copy of The Dialectic of Enlightenment on the table in front of them (spine 'accidentally' facing the other customers), spend an hour waiting to be noticed by pretentious attractive people of the opposite sex, then leave without even opening the book.

Just writing this comment was like punching myself in the balls with Zizek's fist.

tomemos

My take: fun, visually trippy heist movie. Not a great script (tedious and thudding exposition, indeed). Not particularly insightful about anything, including dreams. And yes, the "here's why you care" mechanics were a joke: "We have to break up the company or they will Control All Energy!" "Oh, uh, sure. Here we go!" And don't name a character Ariadne, particularly if she's involved with making labyrinths. But still fun to take in.

JPool

I'll post a version of what I wrote on FB over here.

I loved it, and I don't imagine that I'll be able to convince you that you should have loved it, but hopefully I can persuade you that those of us who did enjoy it were not suffering from false consciousness.

I thought the over lapping dream worlds both completely fit with a dream-like logic and offered compelling narrative. I didn't find it an excercize in "empty formalism" (and I've no idea what that would even mean in the context of film, though I would imagine something closer to Godfrey Reggio's work), I found it viscerally compelling.

Other than the fact that it's Ken Watanabe, I don't see how the character is Ra's Al Ghul. Like, at all.

We're generally not expected to care about the characters in a movie like this. Do we care about anyone in "Oceans Elelven" or "The Italian Job" (either one really, though the original is a much better movie) or say "The Dirty Dozen" (to give something of an anti-hero example)? All that matters is that we find them interesting. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the possible weak link for me there, but I later realized his stiff performance earlier in the film made it possible for me to buy his calm demeanor in the elevator scene.

In terms of a depiction of dream world, "Waking Life" is still my favorite, but this took the representation of dreams in film and the question of what's at stake in really interesting directions, where the texture of a dream can only bend so far before it breaks. (Dreams are actually a really tricky thing to represent filmically. Witness the goofy whimsical melodrama of "The Science of Sleep".) Certain aspects felt like cheats, as in the removal of moral danger in a shoot-em-up by having all the dream people be projections. I questioned the ending, but within the rules set forth by the movie, it doesn't throw everything into question. There's no possibility that it was all a dream (except in that fundamental epistemological uncertainty where you could be dreaming right now, dude!) just an open question about Cobb and Saito's fate.

I could offer my own theories as to why you didn't enjoy it (say, you brought far too much auteurist baggage to the viewing experience), but really it seems more a matter of me being willing to let some elements slide, like the necessary but tedious exposition, that took you out of the film. If you then jump to a discussion of why it's an objectively bad film, then I think you've really missed a step.

Luther Blissett

JPool, I am not having any of it. I didn't see this film with any auteurish expectations. I disliked *Momento* and *The Prestige*, and I thought *The Dark Knight* was a fine action movie that insisted on beating me over the head with its rather thin message ("The Joker is a nihilist. He doesn't believe anything, Lebowski.")

All right. And I *love* heist movies. But the heart of the heist movie is its three-part structure: the gathering of the team; the training montage; and The Job. Nolan screwed up at each level. The only members who seemed to have any special or interesting talents were the architect and the chemist. However, after thirty minutes about labyrinths and non-Euclidean geometry, we never *see* that stuff in action. The dream-worlds are empty film sets, with no more visual imagination than a James Bond set. Then there's the problem of why the chemist even goes along. You'd think he'd stay awake on board the plane to monitor the sedation. The sedations-within-the-sedation should need a real chemist, any more than the guns within the dream need a gun-maker or a sporting goods store for bullets.

With the team-assembling and training sequences rendered trite and without wit or imagination, that leaves us with The Job. Each level of the dream was unimaginative. Each seemed like an empty pastiche of an action film, but without the wit of an Ocean's or Bourne or Bond film. A zero-gravity fight in a hotel hallway might have been visually interesting, like, 10 years ago, before Crouching Matrix, Hidden Kill Bill.

Finally, while a heist film doesn't need a complex psychological level of motivation, we do need some ethical differences between the villains and the thieves. Nolan steals the *Superfly* "one last job" idea, thinking we'll sympathize with Leonardo's working for one evil corporation against another because he just wants to get home.

But who watches that film and wants Leonardo to get home? The character's a sociopath. He doesn't *belong* near his children. It would be like if *The Odyssey* was about a child molester and wife beater trying to get home to his wife and children.

What bugs me is that Nolan's film is still justified as being "visually interesting." No, it's not. No more than all the MSG in my ramen noodle cup makes it flavorful. Visually interesting is *Sunset Boulevard* or *Inland Empire* or Greenaway's *Nightwatching*. These are films with crews that know how to use lighting and cameras and set design. Watching Paris fold in half is about as visually interesting as an Escher print: it's a gimmick, not an image. Watch what David Lynch does with shadows in the first ten minutes of *Inland Empire* -- there's real non-Euclidean geometry, with light coming from all the wrong places, with shadows not matching the lights within the frame. It is haunting.

tomemos

Luther, that's so funny! I was sure you would like this movie. I mean, I saw that you had posted a comment, and I thought, "Oh, here's Luther, to tell us all one more time about how great modern blockbusters are." So imagine my shock…

Pardon my smartassery. I actually think you make good points about the flatness of the actual heist (although I personally liked the zero-g fight and the folding Paris). And I don't think, pace JPool, the heist participants were very interesting—the British guy is just low-rent Jason Statham, and his rivalry with JG-L is a pure snooze. The things they can do are cool, but they themselves are not very.

At the same time, I do think Nolan succeeded at making an interesting heist movie with no real antagonist, only Ciaran Murphy's mental resistance and Leonardo DiCaprio's haunted memories of his dead wife.

NickS

I disliked *Momento* and *The Prestige* . . .

I'm glad that somebody else feels that way.

Actually, I should qualify that; I strongly disliked Memento and then, when I saw The Prestige I didn't particularly like it either but I decided that I had to give him some credit for taking the thematic aspects of Memento that made me wince and exaggerating them even further.

It made it seem like he had some particular artistic interest in the question of what circumstances might lead somebody to commit murder over and over again while (a) being in some way emotionally dead to the act and and/or having no motive that gives them any reason to have a particular animus towards the victim.

I haven't seen either The Dark Knight or Inception (you wouldn't think that would be possible, as a reader of this blog) but I did think there was something interesting going on in the way that the two films of his that I have seen were both built around a specific theme that I happen to dislike.

J.S. Nelson

I liked it, and I can offer no words to support my position other than that I am a film snob, and I don't like most things. It was stylish, complex, fun to watch, and at least not dumb. I don't think Nolan was actually trying to impress any philosophers with the "is this a dream or real life?" thing, but was content just playing with the complexity of how the different "levels" interact.

Scott, have you seen Primer? I would be very interested in hearing your reaction to that film.

Also, I thought until just now that I'd given you my (partner's) phone number, and that you had just never called me, but now I see that I actually said that I'd call you.
So I apologize for being a total flake.

Sisyphus

My sister liked it, but said "it was an amusement park ride," which is how we talk about certain visually interesting and fast-paced but not deep or well-plotted films.

Didn't you also hate The Cell and The Fall? She liked those as something visually cool but you can't think about them too hard or else they will unravel. It sounded to me like this one might be similar?

Sisyphus

Let me go see if my sister thinks it's like a heist movie...

Yeah, she said it was a lot like Ocean's Eleven or any other heist movie. She said it works as a heist movie and was pretty good. (It may be that going into it with your brain turned off and no intention of deep analysis is the key to enjoying it).

I'll go see it, soon ... I have to deal with packing and moving first, though.

JPool

Tomemos, I wouldn't claim that the crew were particularly interesting, just intersting enough. They're almost all ciphers, but I think that works fine in this context, by which I mean both the context of the heist film (and Luther, you don't have to buy any of the conceits, but if you don't think everyone was given something specific to contribute or some reason as to why they had to be inside the dreams then you weren't paying attention) and in the context of dream logic, in which motivation are sort of announced (not that I think the whole film was supposed to be a dream, just that our position as viewers is meant to be akin to dreamers).

Luther, I didn't say you had auterish expectations, just Scott. You don't have to have any of it, but if you claim that the rest of us can't reasonably have any, then I think you're full of it.

JPool

NickS,
Are you sure you weren't thinking of "The Illusionist"? Cause, man, did that suck.

NickS

Nope, The Prestige. My summary is accurate, and I don't want to go into to much detail because it is a bit of a spoiler, but think about the final reveal of how the trick is performed.

As soon as I noticed that it was directed by the same person who did Memento I thought that it was an interesting comparison to be made between the two movies.

Luther Blissett

Like I wrote, there's no reason for the chemist to be in the dream. If the sleazy looking guy can conjure up a big gun with his imagination, anyone should be able to conjure up the special sedation he uses on them in the van. And the film even says there's no reason for the architect to be in the dream. She only comes along because she sees so deeply into Leonardo's tortured psyche (in five minutes, while his friend who's been with him the entire time has someone not figured out his issues). The sleazy-looking guy's ability to "forge" faces is the only skill that is both mentioned *and* used in the plot inside the dream.

But hey, sure, to each his own. And I'll continue to be outraged that David Lynch has to beg for funding while shit like this gets produced and marketed.

JPool

NickS, I was joking, but, yes, I think you're right about Nolan's preoccupation in those two films. There's a similar kind of tension in his remake of "Insomnia" (which I liked fine enough, even though I thought both Pacino and Williams were miscast; still not nearly as good as the original).

Luther, sorry, I wasn't clear. You're right about the chemist, though you could justify his presence based on numbers (someone needs to stay in the first dream) or narrative efficiency (the bit about the effects of sedation wouldn't be as instantly convincing coming from anyone else). What you wrote before was "The only members who seemed to have any special or interesting talents were the architect and the chemist," which, as you acknowledge in your last comment, just wasn't the case.

Anyway, that's all in quibble town, but I think that if you're going to complain about the shit that gets produced, this film is an odd choice to focus your ire on.

Stephen

As far as summer movie fare goes, Inception was better than most of the Hollywood cinema this year. But it's by no means a classic. The best filmic representation of a dream, in my opinion, is still Lynch's Mulholland Drive, which actually takes the parallel between dreams and cinema seriously.

A good example of a genre-based television episode that used dreams more effectively than Nolan does in Inception was the season finale of Buffy, season 4, where Buffy and her friends fall asleep and are pursued in their dreams by the ancestral memory of the first slayer. Whedon brilliantly captures the architecture of dreams in a way that Nolan does not - i.e., the way that Xander crawls out of his bedroom into his icecream delivery truck into a scene from Apocalypse Now. Nolan's film would have had more impact if his dream levels were similarly constructed out of emotionally-resonant memories. Indeed, the only really effective dream sequence in the entire film is the one in which the Leonardo Di Caprio character shows off his own personal dream architecture - an elevator joining together various uncomfortable memories of his family life.

Mikhail Emelianov

To add to this expression of hate, we hated it too: I asked students in my summer class if they liked it, and then proceeded to show them why those who liked it are idiots. So hated it very much indeed!

p.t.smith

Mikhail,

You are either joking or you are an awful, awful teacher.

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