Conversations 2010 #18
You guys are both way ahead of me now, but here's my response to some of what you posted earlier today.
"I don’t think that you have considered what is possibly the worst facet of rape which is the emotional aftermath. Murphy’s character didn’t even know what happened to him."
Yikes! On the contrary, I have considered it. It's Nolan's avoidance of consequences that is part of the problem. Cobb slips Murphy a roofie (literally), then "rapes" him. When Murphy wakes up, he feels like a new man. WTF!? I don't think that I'm grasping at straws with this analogy; the uninvited invasion of someone's mind (not to mention changing the fundamental way they think about the world) surely constitutes what I'm calling psychic rape. For Nolan, what that drunk girl at the party doesn't know about what happened when she passed out doesn't hurt her. It makes her stronger.
I won't push this any further. The main point was that Cobb and co. are engaged in an unexamined evil act, much worse than your typical "one last job" bank heist.
That's really all I wanted to clarify in relation to your post. Reading all of your posts about Inception, I think that it's safe to say that this isn't going to be the debate of the year between us, as fun as this all has been. All things considered, it looks a lot like we're in agreement on most things. I've focused on the negatives, but I do respect Nolan and see plenty of positive in the film (otherwise I wouldn't still be writing about it). [In other words, I'll probably be there with the rest of the fanboys when Batman 3 opens.] You've leaned slightly the other way and highlighted the positive elements, but it's obvious that you're aware of the negative.
The only thing that could have saved Inception would have been the sudden inexplicable appearance of Jar-Jar Binks.
Anyhow, here's a response to your list:
"1) The shifting gravity fight in the hotel. It was so skillfully done- graceful and fluid. I felt like I was on an amusement park ride."
1) What? I felt like was on a movie theater seat. And I was confused. In reality, everyone is on a plane. In dream level 1, everyone is being tossed around in a van until they reach a free-fall state, then crash. In dream level 2, the bumpy van of level 1 is causing everyone to be tossed around until zero gravity state is reached. So, level 1 environment that affects the dreamer (Murphy) affects level 2. In dream level 3, we find our team invading a snow fortress. This level is stable in spite of the dreamer (Murphy) in level 2 being jolted around, turned upside down, and ultimately losing gravity. In level 3, the status of the dreamer in level 2 is apparantly irrelevant. In level 3, our dreamer dies and goes to limbo. Limbo makes less sense than any other level. Is limbo a level, a fourth dream within these dreams? The film seems to suggest that limbo is a place independent of the dreamer's dreams. Or does each person have their own private limbo? How does Cobb enter Murphy's limbo? If he didn't make it out, what would happen to him upon awakening? Would he be trapped in Murphy? How could they share a dreamspace apart from using the contraption doohickey that enables the "sharing?". Oh well. To be honest, I don't care about these questions. My rambling point is that the 3rd dream level being unaffected by level 2 while level 1 affects level 2 seems arbitrary.
"2) The sets in general, but specifically the post-apocalyptic limbo setting."
2) I hated the sets in general, especially the "post-apocalyptic" limbo. Limbo is stupid.
"3) The notion of dreams-within-dreams and how one could use them in an extraction-type scenario. I could probably get a couple points from this one, but I felt that Nolan set up and executed logically and clearly how something like that could work. Which brings me to..."
3) I actually mostly agree that "Nolan set up and executed logically and clearly how something like that could work." I just don't find the execution, logical as it may be developed, all that thrilling.
"4) The exposition. I knew precisely when certain scenes were written to explain what was going on, and I appreciated them. When a premise is simple, I don't need a film to explain to me what's going on, and it's irritating when it does. But the idea of exploring dreamspace in the way the film does was new to me, so I liked hearing the characters explain what they did. And even though I knew it was exposition, I felt that it was inserted naturally into the course of events. I went to see Inception because I wanted to see a movie that explored the subject of dreams and their relation to reality in an exciting way, and not an action movie that used it as a hook to get me to see an SFX fluff piece. I was not disappointed."
4) We just disagree here. I'm happy to be clueless and hate this sort of heavy-handed exposition. There are a few moments that felt natural, but most of the time the characters were talking to each other so that the audience could be filled in. When the exposition is this obviously forced, it draws me out of a story, not further in.
"5) The special effects. You can have a movie about the strangeness of dreams without them, but grandiose effects in a dreamworld setting can really engage me in a way that telling me something is a dream and throwing a midget in there to prove it doesn't. I especially liked the scene where Page's character folds the street on top of itself and then they walk around it like an Escher drawing. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is another good example of effective SFX to create a visually compelling dreamworld."
5) I won't argue with this. Some of the special effects are astonishing. My defense of Alice may make my next statement seem like a lie, but I have to confess that I've never been a fan of cgi and think that it still has a long way to go. Models and costumes and cardboard are still the wave of the future. I offer up Moon as a recent example that fits all three of your criteria. Have you seen it?
"6) The fluid nature of reality throughout the entire film. Nolan throws a dream-within-a-dream scenario in there right from the start that makes you question throughout the entire film whether or not anything that's happening is real. And he doesn't answer that question in any kind of definitive way ever."
6) I question whether or not this movie's fans are for real. I can't answer that in any kind of definitive way ever.
"7) The discussion potential the film. I felt that Inception contained a number of events around which substantial conversations could be formed. I love and could discuss over again many times the nature of reality and what that means, so the fact that this was a central theme of the movie makes it all the more attractive to me."
7) Yes. These posts of mine prove this point of yours.
"8) The cast. Granted, not a lot of time was spent on character development, but the actors did an excellent job within those constraints. Yes, Page was a little flat, but only a little. And I don't blame her for it. Joseph G-L is always fun to watch, and Tom Hardy's solid performance was a nice surprise."
8) G-L and Hardy look like they're having fun. I'm not so sure about the rest.
"9) The director. I like Nolan's style, and have enjoyed so far everything of his I've seen. It was nice to see that post-Batman (straightforward premise, great SFX, inconsistent character development), he could still tell a compelling story."
9) I saw Memento when it first came out and hated it immediately. I felt like Nolan was reveling in his own cleverness like a pig wallowing in its own shit, shouting "look at me!". As much as I hate to admit it, I think that Armond White is dead right in comparing Inception to Memento. I do remember liking Insomnia, but I've disliked everything else Nolan has done, including both Batman films. I still need to see The Prestige.
"10) The ending. When the camera panned towards the spinning top, I knew that Nolan was about to wedge himself between two cliches for the sake of a dramatic ending. That final minute was going to affect in a huge way my perception of the film: a crappy ending will undo for me two hours' worth of enjoyment, and my anxiety at that moment had almost more to do with whether or not the ending Nolan chose was going wreck the whole thing than the question of whether or not what was happening was real. I don't think he could have executed it more deftly. Everything from the timing of the pan, to how long the camera rested on the spinning top, to the slight wobble just before cutting to the credits was just perfect. The response of the audience was wonderful (gasping, chuckling) and, as I found out in a discussion with Adrienne, it wasn't as straightforward as I thought (I thought that it was obvious that it was meant to be "real" and Adrienne was sure that it wasn't)."
10) The ending needlessly calls into question everything that has just been resolved. It's clever, but I honestly wasn't on the edge of my seat or impressed at all. I was a bit annoyed, not because I need things settled, but because the spinning top felt like a gimmick tacked on to a conventional happy ending. Nolan wants to have his cake and eat it, too. That said, I can't argue with you about Nolan's technique and the way he stages this last moment.
That's all for now. Maybe that's all I've got on Inception. We'll see.
Jonah Hex Forever!