this article contains major spoilers
Recently, I read the phrase "the medium is the medium" in reference to social networking and how fitting that I was treated to a trailer about that Facebook movie whilst I waited for Inception to begin. I'll get back to that. Given that there will be thousands of online reviews about the film, I'm going to offer some thoughts on one aspect of the film (and reaction to the film) which vexes me.
First, some quick impressions:
• I liked the internationalist aspects of the film, Japan, Paris, Mombasa, Los Angeles, some rocky, snow-capped mountains; it this respect the film has been compared to James Bond movies, my favourite part of James Bond movies. The bit in Kenya had that post-colonial yet colonial feel, white men doing shady deals in a exotic and dangerous locus. No, it's not politically correct but I would have been fine with the film spending most of its time in Africa. More Hollywood action films should be shot there.
• No character was written to fulfill a stereotypical role (like comic relief or the best friend) except for the crazy wife who had to played be a French actress. But even then the idea is sufficiently understated to pass muster. Ellen Page is not only luminous but you can see her think about what a character had just told her. I was not familiar with actor Tom Hardy. Good find. The entire cast is great.
• Fisher Jr. having his subconscious trained against extraction. I love it when a movie is honest about setting me up for something, makes me forget it and then surprises me with it again later. Advantage Nolan.
• With so many levels of reality, what's at stake for the characters is watered down. Hitchcock could build scenes of almost unbearable tension with the simplest of ideas. When ideas get too complicated and a same life can be lost to limbo in three different levels of dreams, the effect nullifies itself.
• Also, limbo did feel like enough of a threat for me to feel a sense of urgency and danger. So many abstractions in the film gave you the notion from the get go (a notion confirmed in the last scene) that the entire thing could all be in the mind, thus reducing, if not obliterating, a sense of danger.
• I realise Nolan doesn't do sex, but are we to believe that men have such tame dreams? Doesn't anybody realise that aside from Mal, the only woman that appears is a projection of Eames? But the dreams in Inception aren't dreams, are they? This made up world belongs to the world of gaming with a designer, different levels to complete, car chases and everything exploding all the time.
• I have a bone to pick with some of Inception's action scenes. It's clear that if any of us were to find ourselves witness to an epic battle or a car chase in real life, we would be so overwhelmed and confused, we would find ourselves unable to give the police anything like a complete description of what went down. Films have for a long time given us an objective view of such scenes, and even when the camera is positioned to make us feel as though we were in the scene ourselves, we are always given enough overall P.O.V. to understand/verify that the stunt people and stunt designers have done a sound job. We are shown that what we saw makes cinematographic sense. This contract between filmmakers and audience, that an action scene should make some empirical sense as understood within Hollywood suspension of disbelief, is breaking down fast. Now, under the guise of reality (I'm guessing) we are too often given the reality of what would be a partial view. We are given a camera P.O.V. of the shocked and the sense of being overwhelmed by fighters, gunfires, car explosing, glass shattering all around us. This "more" realistic sense of disorientation is not entirely dissatisfying, I just hope filmmakers realise we know they are cheating and, in some ways, dampening our enjoyment. The satisfaction of a good fighting scene or a car chase is to see the artistry that went into making such complicated scenes make sense. Compare the eighteen-wheeler scene in Terminator 2 with the very confusing car chase scene in the second Matrix movie. Actions scenes don't need to make any geophysical (or for that matter scientific sense) anymore. I believe that is a pity. Inception is not the greatest offender in this but it is worth noting.
Mental masturbation cannot be intellectually fertile
So, I come to the aspect of Inception which bothers me on many levels (hahaha). Simple: the idea that Inception is a thought-provoking film offends me. In my view, it's anything but. This matters to me because summer is still young and I've got BBQs and all manner of social events to go to and when Inception comes out on DVD before Christmas, it will be just in time for another very social season. This means roughly six months of listening to people, mostly guys, argue the minutia of Inception like they are participating in a truly philosophical discussion. They will argue about whose dream is whose, the implications thereof, is the entire film a dream, are our lives just about dreaming. Philip K. Dick and then Ridley Scott got there decades ago with Blade Runner and it was hardly a philosophical question then. Books and movies about solipsistic notions are attractive and it's easy to understand why. For the artist, it affords the ability to toy with boundaries of reality and to the young or geeky readers, it gives them the hope that their actual lives may be much better than the one they are entrapped in right now.
Solipsism is a seductive idea, but a circular one that doesn't lead anywhere. I believe this is why certain types are so enamoured with it. A movie like Inception derived from vaguely solipsistic ideas will give rise to thousands of discussions everyday because to talk about ambiguity in the film gives pretence to complexity of thought.
Inception is only the latest fetish object in a long string of cultural items in a collection of subjects for a certain type of geeks. Trekkies have been around since the sixties and have always been deemed innocuous. It is however the elevation of geekdom which has brought obsession upon the mundane into the mainstream. It became cute to dedicate one's every spare moment, or one's every moment in life to the dismantling of every aspect of a TV show, scifi book or film. The advent of the internet and social networking allowed disparate geeks to "meet" and grow and validate each other. Asperger has become a desirable condition, one that many geeks satisfactorily brandish proudly upon self-diagnosis.
Asperger is a mild form of autism and one hallmark of this terrible disease is the inability and difficulty to bond. Autism is in part the difficulty to understand the human condition and to have empathy. A person with Asperger or autism may be able to recognise patterns, identify weak signs the rest of us would overlook but that maybe due to a lack of interference from the understanding of certain complexities.
We are talking about different types of complexities and ambiguities when we discuss, for example, David Lean's A Passage to India based on the novel by E.M. Forster rather than Inception. When we engage in a discussion about whether or not a Muslim Indian man raped a white British woman, we plunge into far more challenging grounds. A conversation about ambiguity that touches upon real life and real life concerns can lead to enlightenment, self-knowledge and greater knowledge of the other. A conversation about details of Inception will likely be pornographic. Obsessed with meaningless detail and circular. Such forensics amount to mental masturbation and mental masturbation can never be intellectually fertile.
I'm not saying people shouldn't talk about Inception, I am saying that we should stop pretending the film is thought-provoking and that discussions about it have value.
In a sense, I'm as guilty as anyone else, for we speak and type words endlessly these days without putting much meaning in them. Whether it is in blogs, social networks, or on the mobile phone, we waste words every day. Inception proved effective to me on one level (ha...), it was a gigantic, hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars Hollywood hammer. Only a few minutes into the movie, I dreaded how Nolan, as one of our realm's major architects, had made the world outside just a bit more artificial with rooms across the world filled with masturbatory discussions about his film.