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A little cheese and a little whine

Film Log: Inception

Details here.

The main conceit of Inception is one with a fairly well-established history, with films like Total Recall, eXistenZ and The Matrix pitting their heroes against virtual foe in different kinds of imaginary worlds. The idea of setting the action inside the unconscious of someone other than the protagonist (Inception’s particular spin on this idea), however,  probably owes more to Red Dwarf than anything else. This sort of conceit gives writers three opportunities: first, to really go to town on the visual effects; second, to expose the characters to novel and exotic dangers; and third, to complicate the plot with a myriad technical details that explain how the various realities are being maintained.

Of these, Inception only really does the last. There are a few good visual moments, but nothing groundbreaking: any comparison to the first Matrix is well off-beam here. Similarly, although we see some extensive reality manipulation early on in the film, as the action progresses, nothing is done with this possibility. On the other hand, the rules by which the various levels of reality are maintained in the final act are so involved that you can barely hear the dialog over the scratching of heads in the cinema. At one point I found myself admiring Nolan for being able to keep his head straight around material which was so pointlessly complicated.

Remove this conceit and what you have is a fairly weak quest-thriller where the central characters go from location to location in order, essentially, to get someone to open a safe. There are some exciting moments along the way, but not enough to make up for the fact that the character who has to open the safe is, emotionally speaking, more or less an extra, and the opening of the safe is several steps removed from the protagonist’s goal, which is to be reunited with his children. In effect, the main events of the film are largely unrelated to the outcome we’re supposed to be rooting for, so that there’s no real sense of climax.

On the other hand, the conceit doesn’t really add very much: it makes it difficult to relax during the action sequences and in the end leaves the characters in the same sort of danger that they would be in if this were just a Bond movie. The coup de theatre which the conceit makes possible – the problem of getting everyone to wake out of the multiple dream levels together – needs too much explanation (much of which is omitted) to really keep us on the edge of our seats.

I dare say that, if I watched the film again, now that I’ve got the hang of kicks and drops and the odd machines that look like egg-poachers, I’d enjoy it much more. If there was anything likely to make me want to watch it again, it would be Ellen Page‘s excellent performance as Ariadne. Ellen has an assured presence on screen and her performance adds an emotional depth lacking in the scenes between DiCaprio and Cotillard. Other than that, I can’t say that this is one I’ll be rushing to buy on DVD.

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Filed under: Film + TV

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My Bookshelf

The Golden Bough
The Value of Nothing
The Fire
A Wolf at the Table
Devil Bones

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