…Unless It’s Tuesday: My Reaction to Inception

Exhibiting once again my tendency to avoid the Fresh and Now, I’ve finally seen Christopher Nolan’s latest. Even though the Inception Writing Train has left the station, I might as well put my thoughts down on e-paper (especially since I’ve gone on about Nolan in a prior post).

I dodged the reviews/articles since the film opened and tried my best to have a clean slate going into this screening (which we all know is impossible). I gave Nolan my best shot. 1   Since straight-forward film criticism isn’t really my bag, I’ve decided to take on this film–and its hype–from three angles. (I’ll do my best to keep the snark out of my reactions since I don’t want that to mask my real displeasure with the film. I don’t “snark” terribly well, but gratefully I have the conviction of my feelings to support my writing.)

Inception versus Nolan’s prior films. I’m on-record as not liking Momento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I easily see the connections to those films in this one: overwrought, clunky, with action scenes that leave me confused. I’ll grant Nolan consistency in his body of work, though it certainly works against me seeing any of his subsequent films.

Reliable sources tell me that The Presige is the Nolan Film to See When You Don’t Like the Batman Films, so, yes, I’ve added that to my Netflix queue. But he’s 4-and-0 with me. (Hmmm…would you go out on a 5th date after 4 shitty ones? I must be a glutton for punishment.)

Inception versus films by others. Since yesterday, I’ve caught up on the reviews of this film and am shocked by claims of Nolan’s homages to other films and filmmakers. I certainly don’t see the positive influence of any of the more respected filmmakers.

For example, has he ever seen a Hitchcock film? If so, he clearly missed the point of the McGuffin, Hitchcock’s name for a plot element that’s “ambiguous, undefined, generic, left open to interpretation or otherwise completely unimportant to the plot” (Wiki). Nolan invests so much importance (READ: dialog) in his plot devices that Cobb’s emotional throughline has to constantly share our mental space with silly claptrap, like talk of “sedative strength” and “limbo.” If Hitchcock were handed this script, the first thing he’d do is rip out two-thirds of the dialog. (The second thing he’d do is hand the script back.)

And then there’s critic Anne Thompson’s bold proclamation “Nolan Delivers Kubrickian Masterpiece with Heart.” Inception is as Kubrickian as my last shit. (OK, there has to be some snark.) As far as I know, Thompson is the only critic to make that claim in print, though I sense others second her vote. She only makes a parenthetical reference to what “Kubrickian” means within this film (“repeated homages to the late great auteur beyond the obvious use of moving sets on gimbles”), but I’m stumped as to what Kubrick films/motifs she could be referring to. There’s about 600 times more dialog in Inception than there is any Kubrick film. Likewise, Kubrick’s films have a tremendous visual clarity (even when plot points are purposely vague), and, generally speaking, a low ceiling on the number of characters. None of that’s going on in Nolan’s film. (Somewhere, in Film Heaven, Alfred “Hitchcockian” Hitchcock is snickering at Kubrick: “Now you know how it feels!”)

Inception on its own merits. As you’ve already gathered, I didn’t enjoy the film. Here’s the random thoughts I had while watching Inception, all of which were recorded into my phone:

        Ken Watanabe says, “Mr. Cobb,” like a Bond villain says, “Mr. Bond.”

        Why couldn’t the digitally fix that thread!? I’m referring of course to DiCaprio’s scene with Michael Caine where they used varying takes from Leo’s angle, which meant this one errant thread on the right shoulder of his blazer would disappear and then reappear based on what take they used. Distracting? Fuck yeah. For the money spent on that film and all of the (supposed) attention to detail, it’d be nice if they used some of that technology for the straight scenes. I mean, shit, an intern could have fixed that problem in Final Cut Pro in half a day. And, I kid you not: I thought it was a plot point (Is Cobb dreaming that he’s talking to his father? A few scenes ago, Saito was talking about the threads in a carpet, so it’s possible this damn thread is a clue of some kind…)

        If I’m not emotionally invested in the characters in their waking state, how in the Hell am I going to care what they do in their sleep?

        Did Tom Berenger swallow a cop?

        When you have all the money and technology in the world at your fingertips to make the film and the “rules” for the reality within your film are always in flux, always changing, then what is there for a viewer to believe? What are the stakes?

        Y’know, I’d like to see this film with Bill Murray as Cobb. The character is an unconventional guy with a past he can’t come to grips with…yeah, I could see Bill Murray playing that role. That’s the film I’d want to see.

        All these special effects have a finite impact on me. They reminded me of my 3-year-old son endlessly and gleefuly repeating the alphabet: he might say it faster and faster—even sing it—but ultimately it’s just a string of letters and I won’t be impressed again until he makes real words out of them.

         Putting the Good Guys and the Bad Guys in all-white ski suits, head-to-toe, is a real deterrent to following the action. Duh!

        “Unless it’s Tuesday.” I kept thinking this line, over and over. It’s not said in the film, obviously; in fact, I don’t think it’s said in any film. But it’s my catchphrase for those awkward moments when a filmmaker dodges logic with a line of stupid dialog. 2  For example, after Saito gets shot, he should wake up (a “rule” that is clearly explained a few times earlier in the film), but not this time. Why? Well, the sedative is too strong. Or as I say to myself, “Yes, Saito should wake up…unless it’s Tuesday. That rule doesn’t apply on Tuesdays. Oh, you didn’t know that? Well, you do now. Whew, lucky for us he got shot on Tuesday.” This lame-ass easy-out happens repeatedly in Inception, some bullshit excuse to change the rules Nolan’s asked us to believe in the first place.

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And that’s all I have to say about Inception. I can’t wait to cleanse my palatte tonight when Debbie and I see Chaplin’s The Kid at Film Forum. And most likely I’ll be bawling my eyes out!

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BACK TO POST 1 A filmmaker couldn’t ask for a fairer shake. I arrived early and got the perfect seat. Armed myself with popcorn, baby carrots, and Hershey’s chocolate with almonds. Shoot, I even came equipped with Trailer Guard® (my own personal invention: ear plugs and sunglasses covered with duct tape, so I can avoid the pre-Feature Presentation headache I get from all the bullshit they throw at us; I just sit there deaf and blind until the film begins.)

BACK TO POST 2 Remember the lame one in Cameron’s The Abyss? Their underwater hospital or whatever it was was just raised to the sea level by aliens in a matter of minutes, when it should have taken days. “We should be dead. We didn’t decompress,” one crew member says. “They must have done something to us,” another replies. Oh, how convenient!

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12 Comments

Filed under Film, Gripes

12 responses to “…Unless It’s Tuesday: My Reaction to Inception

  1. jen

    berenger ate a cop, alright.

    and what was with ellen page’s character? she’s the shizznit ace natural that the team needs but how did michael caine determine that? she gives good blue prints so she should be the best dream designer ever? who the hell is she that every time leo tells her to NOT do something, she goes and does it – invades his privacy in the crassest ways and breaks every “rule” of the dreamscape…and then has the nerve to wag her finger at him for off-roading? there’s one character with a hackneyed story and a bunch of devices with mouths running around him, setting up action sequences and trying to justify the visuals.

    and it’s memento, dude. not “momento.”

    • ‘it’s memento, dude. not “momento.”’
      Thanks for the catch!

      I think all the characters had their flaws (not human flaws, but flaws as created by the writer), such as Saito’s insistence on participating. I think if there was a lot less of the ancillary rules, Cobb’s turmoil could have played better. Clutter, clutter, clutter–and, yes, Page’s character (Miss Exposition) is kind of an asshole. I felt bad for Ellen Page since she says the same line of dialog (You’re issues are jeopardizing this whole mission!) like, what, 8 times?!

      I’m also getting bored of Leo’s Blue Steel face. His charms elude me, both as a charismatic type and an actor. I see potential, sure, but less and less with every passing year. Oh, and I never felt like he was more of a helpless bachelor than when I saw him play “Daddy” on the phone in that film. Not terribly convincing, not to me.

    • “berenger ate a cop, alright.”
      Seriously. For a moment I thought it was the Tom Berenger Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade balloon version of him. That or he was wearing a Gary Busey body suit. Take yer’ pick. Where did you go, JT Lancer?!

    • Jansen

      Yeah the E Page character was too much. She’s the smartest 22 year old on the planet! And Cobb trusts her more than people he’s worked with for years. And as Stephen says, she reminds us many times that leo’s subconcious guilt will be jeopardizing the whole mission. There was so much setup for this, including Mal shooting Arthur (joe Gordon Levitt) in the leg and causing total havoc in the midst of a job. I kept waiting for Mal to appear and start wreaking havoc on the set piece heist, but she doesn’t appear until the very end of it. How much more interesting and moving could it have been if he is wrestling with her ,and thus the whole team is threatened, from the start. The mission would have really been about the inner soul of Cobb. Implanting the idea simply the means to that end. It’s one thing to leave this out, but another after setting it up so heavily and then leaving it out. very strange.

      It’s sad. There was a good movie inside the main film. A movie that would never get funded and would be a huge downer but awesome. The interesting story is the one about the room in Marekesh. The men who dream on sedation in the dream “opium den” for eight hours a day, so that they can “wake up”. Dream addicts, for whom the real world is the threadbare illusion. The story of Cobb and Mal, lost in a deep level for fifty years, when only a few hours of waking time…So many rich possibilities there. that would hardly be a summer action film though, would it?

      • You make some excellent points in your second paragraph: perhaps the strongest elements in the film, if explored fully, would have made a very un-Summer-y film.

        And I totally agree about setting up Mal to be a CONSTANT distraction and then holding off for too damn long. It’s a bummer that what you’re talking about is a sore thumb that should have been caught in the screenwriting stage. Have producers/studios become so whipped by the “Director’s Cut” notion that they won’t insist on judicious edits at the writing stage? Irving Thalberg would have never let this script be shot.

  2. Sorry you didn’t like it. I mean, I know there are, like, a lot of plotholes, but I still found it enjoyable, y’know? I’m never very nitpicky the first viewing, anyway.

    Bill Murray as Cobb actually would’ve been amazing, but we may only dream.

    • “I know there are, like, a lot of plotholes, but I still found it enjoyable, y’know?”
      I suppose that’s a HUGE factor in my reaction to the film. I’ve never been a fan of the mind-bending films (i.e. The Matrix), so the odds of me enjoying it were a long shot in the first place. Lord knows they serve a need in our world–escapism for the viewer, challenging for the filmmaker, super-challenging for the special effects team, etc–so I’m just an outsider there. On those terms–that my relationship with a film like Inception is doomed from the get-go–I tried to cage my comments on the film as “from where I see it” as much as possible.

      Lately, I’ve been enjoying the Chaplin films at Film Forum, and when you have an itch to see a film where the biggest special effect is an in-camera dissolve, safe to say Inception is overkill!

      • Jansen

        Inception shows what a feat the Matrix is. They explain the whole world and its physics with a minimum of exposition and always in an entertaining and engaging way. They even have Philosophical discussions in the middle of action sequenses and it never feels heavy or strained.

      • My God, so true. The Matrix decides that we–the audience–would be happier NOT knowing all the damn rules right away. Or ever. (Having not seen any of them beyond the first one, I don’t know if they stay true to their policy.) But, yes, The Martix succeeds where Inception fails.

        I don’t think Inception is a rip-off of The Matrix, but I do think there were some upper echelon conversations about Inception’s possible box office appeal where The Matrix (and other successful mind-bendy films of the last decade) were sited as proof that a ka-ching market exists. Which is why it bugs the Hell out of me that so many Inception cheerleaders are giving him credit for originality, saying that his film is proof that it doesn’t need to be a sequel or a re-make or in 3-D or from a comic book in order to be a hit. Disarming your audience via trippy notions is nothing new (Un Chien Andalou, anyone?). The abundance of details–those are new, but also generally regarded as the film’s weakest link.

  3. Glenn Davis

    You lost me at “I didn’t like Memento”. Oh, excuse me, MOmento.

  4. Pingback: When Not to Edit, Pt 6: Kubrick’s Breath Control « Peel Slowly

  5. Well, all I can really say is that I warned you not to go into it thinking you were getting anything more than a run of the mill mindless summer/action blokcbuster.

    When put it up against stuff like Commando, Rambo 3, The Mission Impossible films, The Transporter films and the Bourne films…I’m sorry, but I think it holds up…and I think it was a hell of a lot better than Salt and Nolan’s Batman films. I also think it was better than Shutter Island…in which “Leo” plays basically the same character.

    I think the problem was that even though you tried not to, you still brought too much baggage…but as you admit you don’t like this kind of film in general. So who knows.

    I can’t defend it, because I didn’t love it either…but I definitely enjoyed it more than you did…what can I say? I’m a Sci-Fi nerd…and also have never given Nolan 2 seconds of thought other than right now and when I wrote my Inception review. So I was kinda nuetral going into it…even though I can’t stand The Dark Knight…though keep in mind that just about every other director who has attempted to tackle that subject matter has already shown us how easy it is the f*ck up a Batman film.

    I will tell you this, with your reaction being this strong, you can skip The Prestige. It happens to be the only one of Nolan’s films that truly and genuinely like, but if you hated Inception, I can’t see you liking it all that much.

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