Sunday, July 18, 2010


Lo and behold, it’s the last original idea in Hollywood—tread carefully, lest this rare beast become startled and disappear back into the smog from whence it came. As a rare big-budget film that is neither a sequel nor based upon an old television show, Inception earns a lot of good will right from the start. True, Christopher Nolan’s story of dream thieves trying to plant an idea in the mind of the heir to a giant business empire is completely convoluted, but I’m just happy to see a blockbuster that taxes my brain and not just my senses. Too bad the film totally squanders charismatic performers like Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt on expository sidekick roles and features Leo DiCaprio doing his typical sad-sack tortured husband routine (better than Shutter Island, for what little that’s worth). It’s an intriguing dream, yet it fades too quickly once you wake up.

Only a supremely disciplined and organized mind could hold together Inception’s complex dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream narrative, but rationality can be a bit of a liability when dealing with the subconscious. Save for a few bursts of ostentatious special effects—a street folds on top of itself, a series of Parisian shops explode in slow motion—the dreamscapes are mostly just generic action-movie set pieces, each feeling like another level in some videogame (I’m pretty sure I already played this snow level in Modern Warfare 2). The film’s excuse is that these are collective dreams, designed by an architect and then dreamt by another. They’re meant to be generic, because anything too unique or weird draws the attention of the dreamer’s subconscious—here represented by an impersonal horde of everyday people that descend upon intruders with the implacable violence of a zombie mob. Show a bit of ingenuity and the crowd is likely to turn on you. Too much personality, too much creativity is dangerous in these blockbuster dreams. And if that is Nolan’s view of the audience and his role as an architect of dreams, is it really surprising that he should build such an elaborate labyrinth of a film to hide within?

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