Now that I’ve had seen Inception a second time and had some time to put some distance between viewings I can finally say I understand what Christopher Nolan’s “dream within a dream within a dream” heist film was about.
Just don’t ask me to try to explain it. Sam Adams in Salon wrote the ultimate user’s guide to understanding the movie. I can’t do any better (and I wouldn’t even try to write anything longer or in greater depth).
At this point there are three schools of thought on Inception: Those that saw it and were blown away by it. Those that saw it and shrugged their shoulders disdainfully and those that didn’t see it at all (you’ll get your chance when it hits DVD and Blu-Ray in December).
With the fall movie season getting off to a fine start with rave reviews for The Town, The Social Network (I gave my brother a pass for it and he liked it) and the documentary Waiting for ‘Superman’, the Oscar race is beginning to take shape. Just as The Hurt Locker became the anti-Avatar you can bet there will be something coming out of left field to cock-block Inception from dominating the award season. There is such a thing as a blockbuster backlash and Inception looks like a likely candidate to be faulted for being too big for its own good.
With the James Bond franchise up on blocks and the Bourne series for all intents and purposes put to rest until someone comes up with a script Matt Damon likes, Inception is probably as good as it’s going to get for a thinking man’s action film. Is is a perfect movie? Of course not; no movie is. There are a few draggy moments and probably enough exposition for three other movies, but it was as close to perfection as I’ve seen in a while.
Despite the fact Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Ellen Page still look like little kids playing dress-up their daddies and mommies clothes they carry the film and especially DiCaprio whose transition from teenage heart throb to convincing lead actor is pretty much complete. Superseding Robert DeNiro as Martin Scorsese’s favorite muse, his performances as Howard Hughes in The Aviator and the doomed Billy Costigan in The Departed proved once and all the kid once derided as “DiFaglio” had developed some serious acting chops. Next up comes a collaboration with Clint Eastwood in his biopic Hoover focusing on the infamous FBI director’s private life as a closeted homosexual and cross dresser. I’m predicting either a fat suit or DiCaprio spending a lot of time at the drive-thru window of Burger King pounding down double Whoppers.
In 1998 I was part of a local group of film critics and as critics do we were asked to offer a “Best Movie of the Year” Without hesitation I named Dark City as my choice. On that score both Roger Ebert and I were right and everybody else was wrong. Dark City was every bit as dazzling and visually astounding as Inception and director Alex Proyas didn’t rely on CGI technical wizardry to blow minds.
It’s possible to draw a straight line from Dark City to The Matrix to Inception, but Dark City seems to have been largely forgotten. Perhaps in part because leading man Rufus Sewell was somewhat charisma challenged compared to Di Caprio and Keanu Reeves. All three films deal with dreams, fantastic imagery and unreality and terribly flawed “heroes” who really have no wish to be one.
The one big difference is Inception andThe Matrix both killed at the box office. Dark City crept into theaters, dazzled the critics, ignored by paying audiences and was relegated to cult film status. Being a trail-blazer is no guarantee that you’re going to make money in the process.
At least Nolan doesn’t try to be coy in admitting he’s cribbing from a lifetime of watching movies.
“The film is shameless in its regard for cinema, and its plundering of cinematic history,” Nolan said in an interview, “What’s fun is that a lot of people I talk to come up with very different movies that they see in the film, and most of them are spot-on. There are all kinds of references in there. This wasn’t really a conscious thing on my part; I didn’t set out to make a movie about movies.”
Well, you might not have intended to Chris, but you sure did. Every summer the theaters are filled with blockbusters but few, if any that brains as well as balls. Inception did and it saved the summer ($800 million at the box office can’t be wrong). There might be better acted, better written and better directed movies before the year is over.
But will there be a better all-around movie going experience than Inception? I have serious doubts about that.